Monday, 31 August 2009


Half past eight in the morning and I should be arriving in the Peter Kneale Media Centre in readiness for a long day commentating on the opening races of the Manx Grand Prix. Instead I am sitting in my window looking out on low, dismal skies, grey seas rolling in on Douglas beach, while raindrops clatter against the glass. Racing has been postponed until tomorrow.

The forecast yesterday made it pretty obvious that we would have no action today but I still had to set my alarm for 7am, just in case. At around the same time the clerk of the course Phil Taubman was making the decision to call it off for today and I received a text from Tim Glover, Manx Radio's sports editor, half an hour later to that effect.

Disappointing for me, all dressed up in my corporate Manx Radio gear with nowhere to go, but much more so for the competitors. They've had a rotten time so far this year with most practice sessions badly affected by rain, while conditions in the paddock are getting more like Glastonbury every day. Many riders and their families and crew are sleeping under canvas or in caravans and motorhomes. Poor drainage and lack of hard-standing is making their lives miserable.

The forecast for tomorrow is better, but the rest of the week is looking dodgy.

I'm looking out of the window again and the freight ferry Ben My Chree has just left Douglas harbour heading into the murk, bound for Heysham. It won't exactly be a scenic voyage today.


It has been a cracking year for journalism in the Daily Telegraph. Their MPs expenses scoop has been the story of the decade and the last couple of weeks has seen the sports team weigh in with the fascinating Bloodgate revelations.

This tale involves pre-meditated cheating by Harlequins RUFC in high profile rugby union matches, the unmasking of the villains and further revelations about a cover-up. It's great stuff, and perfectly tailored to the paper's readership which has a greater interest in rugby union than, say, readers of the Sun or Mirror.

Rugby union is, of course, no stranger to widespread deception on an organised scale. For decades the so-called amateur sport surreptitiously paid its leading players. It was often said that the only difference between union and the openly professional rugby league was that the league players paid income tax on their earnings.

More worryingly, the bloodgate scenario is part of a wider culture. The stakes are so high in top sport that cheating is sometimes too much of a temptation. The McLaren F1 team's attempt to deceive the authorities when Lewis Hamilton was overtaken under safety car conditions this season was another sign that integrity is not the thing it used to be. Now it has also emerged that the FIA are investigating suspicions that Renault ordered their driver Nelson Picquet to crash during the Singapore GP last year, knowing that the safety car would be deployed and that in turn would help their principal driver Fernando Alonso protect his lead - which it did.

Journalists must continue to expose this sort of action, whether writing about it in the Telegraph's print and online editions or using TV slomo replays to reveal footballers taking a dive.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


I'm on the Isle of Man for the second time this year. This time it's the Manx Grand Prix, a motorcycle event which is often described as an amateur version of the TT but is actually more complex than that. The Manx gives us the same awe-inspiring race track with classic and post classic bikes racing along with modern 600 and 750cc machines, plus a goodly array of two-strokes which are no longer seen on the Mountain Course at the TT.

Racing doesn't start till Monday but there are practice sessions every evening. Tonight I've been talking to a number of riders who are here for the first time. They've all got good stories to tell, none more so than Stefan Cook, from Letchworth, who started his racing career when his partner Lorraine gave him a Yamaha R1! Some gift. Some partner. And Lorraine will be working in Stefan's pit when racing starts. Max Faulkner, from Bude in Cornwall, has been here many times with a gang of mates to watch the racing. Four years ago, in a pub, they all decided they would try to enter the Manx themselves. Beer talking? Not quite. Two of that gang have made it and this year Max and his buddy Dan Millard will go to the start line to live the dream.
And I loved meeting David Mulligan from Portadown in Northern Ireland. For David, 2009 is not just the year he first raced at the Manx GP, it's also the year he qualified as a doctor.

It takes all sorts to make the Manx GP what it is.


I take a small amount of comfort from the closure of the freebie, The London Paper. I'm gutted for the journos who are losing their jobs but encouraged by the response of several media commentators who see this as evidence that Rupert Murdoch (owner of The London Paper) is moving towards paid-for news instead of giving it away for nothing.
The Guardian quotes Murdoch recently stating that his goal is to "increase our revenue from all our content." And that includes online content.
That is where, perhaps, a glimmer of light can be found in what has been a pretty dark sky this year. If Murdoch's News Corp really is developing a method by which money can be made from online news, then the long-term benefits to journalists will far outweigh the current gloom at The London Paper.
The Guardian quotes media analyst Douglas McCabe: "Murdoch is saying 'enough is enough.' He's saying newsrooms have value and by giving away free content you devalue them."
That isn't just music to my ears as an educator of journalists of the future - it should resonate with the entire industry as well.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


When a new kid moves into the street it's always a cause of gossip, and the arrival of a new presence in the TV football market is no different.
Generally, the columnists have given ESPN a positive reception although Martin Kelner in The Guardian complained that there was "scarcely a whiff of innovation." Oliver Holt in the Daily Mirror described presenter Ray Stubbs as "excellent" but Giles Smith in The Times was unimpressed by the set, describing it as "somewhere between the interior of a building society and the inside of a dishwasher."
The man who caught the critics' eye though was none of the players in Everton v Arsenal but Peter Reid in the pundit's role. "The world's first made-for-HD sideburns," was Smith's description, while Kelner reckoned that Reid's "patchy grey mutton-chop sideburns make him look either like a Dickens character or the new face of Special Brew."
High Definition is one of TV's latest advances but it does few favours to anyone with a less-than-perfect complexion. Smith used this to neat effect: "Who would have thought that Reid's facial hair would end up driving HD set-top box sales? But that's football in the 21st century."

Monday, 17 August 2009


At Molineux on Saturday where Wolves lost 0-2 to West Ham. Wolves lacked composure at both ends of the field while West Ham, without being outstanding, produced a tidy display and had a bit too much class.
Talking to Martin Keown in the press room beforehand. We were watching TV pictures of Hull v Chelsea and Martin was bemused that several of the press guys were taking no notice. "Maybe they're completing their preparation for this one," I suggested. "Should have done it before," growled Keown. The spirit of the Highbury back four lives on.
John Motson was the BBC commentator at this one. It's his 39th season, he told me, which means he's only one ahead of me. My first season as a professional sports reporter was 1971-72 when my debut was Rochdale Reserves v Southport Reserves and a skinny young lad called Peter Withe couldn't get a game in Southport's second string. A few years later he won the European Cup with Aston Villa.

Thursday, 13 August 2009


The FA has cleared the way for Chester to carry on. Our first game will be at home to Cambridge on Saturday. But it was a close-run thing. The FA fined the Conference £5000 for failing to apply their own rules correctly. If they had done so, we would have been expelled from the competition for failing to exit administration correctly. The additional 15-point penalty imposed by the Conference still stands, so we start our campaign on minus 25.
In the relief all Chester supporters feel at the club still being alive, I hope no-one overlooks the reasons why we ended up in this situation in the first place.
This blog will now move on to other matters!


This is another mega day. The FA and the management of the Conference are debating what to do with the game's basket case, us. That's Chester City FC. We expect an announcement today.
This evening I'm chairing a meeting for all CCFC supporters and whatever the FA announces will obviously fuel the mood.
I've just done an interview over the phone for Radio City about our situation.
It's getting horribly close to push coming to shove.

Monday, 10 August 2009


Things stagger from bad to worse. Our first home game of the season, against Gateshead tomorrow, has now been called off. The FA have still not accepted our affiliation and they're now having a spat with the management of the Conference for saying it was ok for us to start the season. The Conference chiefs have been summoned to the FA on Thursday to explain themselves. Meanwhile the supporters, players and manager of Chester City are left like King Charles I with his head on the block, waiting for the axeman to take one last swing.
I am not hearing many positive noises. It is not inconceivable that Thursday's meeting will sound the deathknell of the club. The FA are taking a tougher stance with Chester than they have with any other club that's hit a crisis. Trouble is, they are probably justified.

Meanwhile I have accepted a request to chair a supporters' meeting in Chester on Thursday evening. It could be grim.

Saturday, 8 August 2009


After a few days which have redefined the word ineptitude, the new Conference season kicks off today with my club, Chester, sitting on the sidelines like the class dunce.
On Thursday, the Conference announced that the imposition of a 25-point penalty on Chester had cleared the way for us to kick off as planned, away to Grays.
Yesterday, late on, the Conference issued another statement saying that the FA were still not happy with Chester's arrangements in coming out of administration, and so the game was off.

The lack of communication between the FA and Conference is astonishing.

But the real architects of the crisis are the owners of CCFC. Even when the Conference gave them the go-ahead on Thursday I could not see how this would be acceptable when the owners have so far failed to reach an agreement with the taxman and the vatman over the little matter of £982,742.61 in outstanding debts. The FA will not accept a club's affiliation unless an agreement is in place.

Chester may not have millions of supporters worldwide. But to those of us who do support the club, it means as much as any team of galacticos. It ought to be a good, lively, well-run set-up performing a valuable role in the community of one of England's smaller cities. Instead it has become a useless, washed-up embarrassment which will only change when someone buys out the Vaughan family.
The only very small consolation today is that the asking price must be more affordable than ever.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009


Today has been like waiting for an exam result through the post. Except that the postman never called.
We - Chester fans - were told there would be a statement today about the club's future, which readers of this blog will know is hanging by a tarnished thread right now. Readers will not be stunned to know that, up to this late hour, there has been no statement. But then the person who promised the statement is our owner, Stephen Vaughan, so maybe the failure to deliver even a simple communication to the fans is not a shock.
So while we wait to see if we can kick off the season at Grays on Saturday, and whether we will incur a further points deduction to add to the minus 10 we already have (the smart money is on another 15), and indeed whether the club will even exist on Saturday, we can ask a pertinent question.
How did we end up in this state?
Clearly the misguided policies of the current owner are almost completely to blame. But one can also ask what the Football Association, the guardians of the national sport, have been doing while the storm clouds gathered. Answer - nothing until it was too late.
The FA must learn a lesson from the Deva debacle. Small clubs mean a lot to their communities but can easily fall into the wrong hands. In Chester's case, no AGM was held for 17 years from 1991 to 2008. The meeting that was eventually held last year broke up in confusion when the owner reacted angrily to questions from the floor. In the meantime debts were climbing to £7 million.
The FA should insist that all clubs hold an AGM annually - that, after all, is what the 'A' is meant to represent - and should reserve the right to send an observer to monitor AGMs of clubs where a crisis might be looming. As the Chester case proves, leaving some owners to their own devices is like leaving MPs to monitor their own expenses.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009


It is still gloomy. Our owner and the Chester FC secretary had a meeting with the FA and Blue Square Conference chiefs yesterday. The outcome was silence with the promise of a statement tomorrow. No doubt the FA and the Conference guys will be consulting lawyers as well as accountants in the meantime. We are now four days away from the start of the season and we don't even know if we have a football club any more.