Archive: World Cup

I was sad to read that Frank Sidebottom — or Chris Sievey, his real name — died today. I have vague memories of him being on television when I was very young, and it was a joy to rediscover him when he made his comeback four or five years ago.

He never returned to the heights of his late 1980s zenith, so I have had to make do with YouTube for my fix of Frank Sidebottom. Although I did buy and enjoy ‘ABC&D’, his best of CD.

I had seen that he was diagnosed with cancer recently, and clearly he was in a very bad way. But it didn’t stop him performing and just last week he released a World Cup song, ‘Three Shirts on my Line‘ (“35 years of dirt, just washed out by me mum”).

His former keyboardist, Jon Ronson, wrote a great article about Frank Sidebottom’s career a few years ago. Fascinating reading, and quite sad too.

I only learnt today that he worked for a few years on Pingu. Via the Cook’d and Bomb’d forum comes this video of an episode of Pingu that he wrote.

Wonderful.

(If you look carefully in the credits, you’ll see that he is even credited as Frank Sidebottom, not Chris Sievey.)

A Twitter campaign to get Frank Sidebottom to number 1 is gathering steam — @MakeFrank1. I think it would be very apt. Because going by the reaction from people today, while Frank Sidebottom disappeared from view somewhat in recent years, it’s clear that many people loved him.

Read on to view a selection of my favourite Frank Sidebottom videos.

Click for more »

There is something about the way that economists think that makes them different. Sometimes this makes them downright brilliant. Other times it makes them complete outcasts.

I often enthuse about the paradox of voting — the phenomenon whereby economists struggle to explain why people vote. But when I talk about it to anyone else, the idea is normally met with a combination of confusion and mirth.

I escaped early though. Realising early on that I didn’t really have a talent for economics, I switched tracks soon after completing my degree. I still retain an interest in the subject though, and it definitely still affects the way I think.

The core problem that economics is concerned with is the allocation of scarce resources. Poor John Stuart Mill was traumatised by the problem. When trying to take his mind off the dismal issue, he turned to music. But he only found himself worrying about the scarcity of different musical notes. This insight in turn led him to conclude that, one day in the future, every possible combination of notes will be exhausted and there will be no new melodies.

He needn’t have worried. As we all know in these vuvuzela-aware times, millions will happily make do with one solitary hooting B♭.

A thought about scarcity suddenly struck me today. It is widely thought that this generation will be vilified, but most assume that it will be because we’ve used up all the oil or something.

But what about those all-important usernames on that we depend upon as our identities on the internet? Everyone who has tried to sign up for a half-decent email address knows that it can be a complete pain finding a unique username that isn’t idiotic.

That is how I ended up with an idiotic moniker like ‘doctorvee’. Even this mad username was already taken up on YouTube and Skype when I tried to sign up to those sites. Moreover, some other chappie has decided to call himself ‘Mr DeeJay Doctor V€€’, thereby putting paid to my chance of buying doctorvee.com, should I ever have felt the urge to do so.

The problem is bad enough today. Maybe we can keep on signing up to Twitter with vaguely comprehensible usernames for a few years more. But what about 10, 50, 100 years in the future? Surely by then everything will be used up.

Or perhaps, like Mill and his music, it is just the paranoia that comes with the territory when you think like an economist.

Limited edition crisps

Walkers’ limited edition crisps are marketing genius, but culinary crap. Am I the only one to have noticed that Walkers just wheel out the same flavours over and over again? The only difference is the names.

From the current World Cup series, I have definitely had ‘French garlic baguette’ some time before. And surely there are no prizes for guessing that ‘Dutch Edam’ is yet another name for what was previously their Cheddar cheese flavour, which has also been ‘feta cheese’ and a few other things in the past.

Smaller packets than John Prescott

While I’m at it, why is a packet of Walkers crisps never enough? They are not exactly filling, are they? I am sure I normally polish off a packet within a couple of minutes, and I never feel any less hungry afterwards.

Unacceptable deviation from standard crisp packet colours

And has anyone ever got to the bottom of why their cheese and onion crisps are blue, while salt and vinegar are green? This policy completely goes against everything we learnt about the colours of packets of crisps when we were growing up.

I ask all the tough questions.

I see that The Scotsman has again been trying to wring another story out of a politician’s use of Twitter. This time it is Jo Swinson exposing her ignorance about football.

As she was overwhelmed by members of the Tartan Army at a railway station, Ms Swinson got out her BlackBerry, logged on to her Twitter site and wrote: “Have I missed something? What’s the football festivity? Can’t move at Queen Street station for folk in Scotland tops.”

Seven minutes later, Graham Barrie posted: “The Tartan Army v the Dutch Army tonight at Hampden Jo. You really need to get out more :)”

Jeff and Mr Eugenides both have good takes on this. I have to agree with them. For some, football is a matter of life and death. The Scotsman‘s David Maddox calls the match “do-or-die”. But in truth, it isn’t much more than a slightly tedious playground game.

The Scotland–Netherlands tie wasn’t exactly in my diary, though it is true that I was quite aware of it thanks to my football-loving friends. My own take on the match, as published on Twitter, would probably have got me into more trouble. I wasn’t merely ignorant; I was aware, but sarcastic and dismissive:

Advice to football fans: Scotland won’t win the World Cup, so I wouldn’t concern yourself with it.

I find it difficult to get excited about football at the best of times. My enthusiasm for Scotland internationals is marginally above zilch. In my defence, I was rather put off by the fact that last month I was taken by a friend to the pub to watch what I was told would be a football match but turned out to be a disaster film. Strange.

Really, you could argue that the people who don’t think about football are making the right decision. All that worrying over whether Scotland gets knocked out in this round or that does seem to be a waste of energy. And I can well imagine Jo Swinson has plenty of other things to occupy her time with.

This comes just a few months after Patrick Harvie was at the centre of another Twitter row manufactured by David Maddox. His crime was to discreetly tweet at the dinner table, something which I think many people do.

I don’t get this obsession with politicians having to be identikit robots who all have to be up-to-date on the price of milk, whatever music is in the charts and some tedious sporting exploit. I have written about this phenomenon before, and my views haven’t changed.

The fact is that there are 646 MPs and 129 MSPs. If you took 775 random people, you can be guaranteed to find people who couldn’t give two hoots about football and couldn’t tell you how much a loaf of bread costs. You would certainly find plenty of people who didn’t feel the need to contrive odd opinions about the Arctic Monkeys. Yet we expect all this from our politicians. Why?

On the one hand people criticise politicians for being almost like robots if they are perceived to toe the party line, talk in soundbites or reel off reams of irrelevant statistics. But then if they reveal a bit of their personality by representing part of the variety of society by not fitting a media-constructed template of what a “normal person” is expected to be, they are blasted for being “out of touch”.

I can more easily admire Jo Swinson for her personal choice not to worry about football than any politician who feels the need to pretend they are interested when they are so clearly not. Indeed, Jeff’s comparison with Gordon Brown’s uneasy comments about Paul Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland in Euro 96 reveals that this is one of those issues where you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

While you would expect parliamentarians to have a knowledge of certain things in order to do their job, there’s nothing wrong with them being human when it comes to their personal interests. In cases like this, it is those in the media who seem more out of touch.

Sorry to make my first post for a couple of weeks a meme. I was much busier than I expected last week, and with a grand prix this week my blogging activities were focussed on vee8. I’ll still be busy this week but Steven Hill has tagged me in a meme and these are quick posts to do so I may as well do it.

I have to say where I was when each of these events happened.

Princess Diana’s death – 31 August 1997

I was in bed. I first heard about it when my brother came into my room wanting to play the PlayStation but ended up watching the television a bit instead. At first I thought it must have been the Queen Mother who had died, and when I found out it was only Princess Diana I struggled to see what the fuss was about. Never liked her.

Margaret Thatcher’s resignation – 22 November 1990

No recollection whatsoever. I did know of a time when Thatcher was Prime Minister, and I of course remember John Major being in charge. But I remember nothing of the transition.

Attack on the twin towers – 11 September 2001

I remember this very clearly. I was at school in my German Writing class. The first time I realised something was up was when the lesson hadn’t started after we had been sitting there for ten or fifteen minutes. Our teacher was constantly moving between the classroom and the staff room. I didn’t mind because German Writing was my least favourite subject at that time.

Eventually our teacher wheeled the television through and said, “I’m going to show you this because it’s very important and there will be a lot of consequences” (or words to that effect). I was a bit peeved that he chose ITN over the BBC, but never mind. One of my strongest memories is the fact that one certain person in our class particularly struggled to grasp what was happening. In retrospect, I suppose he was right to be so sceptical of the idea that people would be mad enough to delibrately crash planes into buildings.

Of course, we did not get any learning done in that class. Of course, not everyone’s teachers wheeled the television through like ours did. I suppose most teachers will have been completely oblivious. It was the major talking point among my classmates after school, but people from other classes thought we were tacking the mickey.

It was also strange going home, and I got the feeling that I could kind of tell who knew what was happening and who didn’t. I remember seeing a few people driving cars who obviously looked like they were listening to what was happening on the radio. When I got home my parents were both in the living room watching the television (my dad had the day off for some reason that I can’t remember). I carried on watching it for around two hours.

England’s World Cup Semi Final v Germany in – 4 July 1990

Ciao I have no recollection of this match in particular, but I was aware of Italia 90. I liked the mascot, ‘Ciao’! I also took in the design of the graphics used during the matches — an early example of my interest in television presentation.

President Kennedy’s Assassination – 22 November 1963

I was 23 years away from being born.

I now I need to decide who to tag:

Well, I say “final thoughts”, but really I mean “first and only thoughts” because this is the first time I’ve actually managed to find the time and motivation to write about tomorrow’s Glasgow East by-election.

It’s difficult to know what I am hoping for. The party I am most sympathetic towards — the Lib Dems — has a pretty low chance of achieving anything meaningful. And let us face it, the only reason Glasgow East has interested people is because Labour have a chance of losing a safe seat to the SNP.

Watching the SNP and Labour battling for votes in Glasgow East is like watching the two biggest bullies at school trying to win a popularity contest. You don’t want either of them to win, but deep down inside you really like it when one messes it up, even if it gives the other guy an advantage.

It’s been quite fun to see, therefore, both parties messing it up a bit. Labour’s woes have been pretty well documented. The former MP, David Marshall, is involved in a slimy corruption scandal. He pocketed half a mill in office expenses when his office was his house and his office staff was his family — while representing the poorest constituency in the country. Yes, that sort of brass neck would make me feel ill as well!

Then the candidate Labour were going to put up for the by-election turned out also to be very possibly a corrupt bastard as well. And the two people who “stood against” him magically disappeared — presumably because they were never intended to have a chance of actually being Labour’s candidate.

So Margaret Curran was parachuted in. She is actually quite good, though the “fourth choice” jibes are pretty damaging. This also leaves “the Labour Party in the Scottish Parliament” in a bit of a pickle because she was going to be their leader. But that’s a worry for another day.

I said Margaret Curran is quite good. I meant that she comes across well on the telly. But of course since she is a Labour politician she is actually a honking liar. She said she’s lived in the east of Glasgow all her life, when in fact she has lived for years in a fancy house on the south side. And she mistook a 67-year-old Labour Party activist for a 93-year-old World War II hero “who looks not a day past 70, by the way”.

Not that the SNP’s candidate, John Mason, seems to be much better. In fact, he seems like the sort of person your mother warned you about. When asked about his views on an independence referendum, his answer was somewhat creepy.

When you ask someone to marry you, sometimes you have to persist.

Lovely.

John Mason also has a history of anti-English behaviour, demanding that a school remove England flags from a World Cup display. Given that the SNP is supposed to be trying to do away with the perceived anti-English element of the party — and does a good job of it, by and large — I am surprised that the SNP should give someone with these views a platform in an important by-election.

I don’t believe the SNP is an anti-English party per se (though undoubtedly many of its supporters are anti-English). But if they do not put a lid on this element more effectively might it become their Clause IV?

This is becoming a running theme of this blog, but I’ll say it again — you can’t blame people for not wanting to vote. And it looks like turnout will be very low in Glasgow East.

That is not just because the two front-running parties keep on fouling up. It is because of the decades of Labour neglect that have been inflicted on the area. Glasgow East is a part of the world that has been held by Labour since 1922. Yet it is in an utterly terrible shape.

The statistic about life expectancy in Glasgow East being roughly equal to that of the Gaza Strip is untrue. Life expectancy in Gaza is 71.01 years. In one part of the constituency, Calton, life expectancy is as low as 53.9 years. You can expect to live longer in Pyongyang than in Glasgow.

(Update: Bellgrove Belle pointed out in the comments that Calton is actually in the Glasgow Central constituency, not Glasgow East.)

It is staggering that this kind of poverty exists in the UK. And this is a seat that Labour have held for eight and a half decades straight. Labour is the party of the poor? If by that you mean they like there to be lots of poor people, then you are bang on.

You can blame the Conservatives all you want, but the fact is that in the 86 years Labour have represented the area, Labour have been in government for around 40 of them. And of course 11 of those have been the last 11 years. Given that it is such a poor area, you would have thought Labour would be eager to help them out. Given that Glasgow East is such a safe seat, where Labour have one of their most convincing mandates, you would think Labour would be eager and willing to repay their voters.

But no. As Fraser Nelson has shown, Glasgow East is the ultimate example of the utter failure of Labour and its policies.

Of course, it is also a shining example of the problems created by Labour’s best pal, the First Past the Post voting system. It was the very safeness of the seat that enabled Labour in the west of Scotland to become the arrogant, corrupt cesspit it became.

That is why David Marshall has absolutely no data on the voters of Glasgow East. He just didn’t care. It is the voters’ very loyalty that has meant that the Labour government has continued to ignore the area. “Not a marginal seat? Not a swing voter? Not interested.”

Given that these very voters are constantly lied to by the media and various other people that Labour is the only party that can act in the interests of the poor, it is no wonder that apathy is so widespread in Glasgow East. If I thought Labour — the party that’s been in charge since 1922 — was the best hope for change, I’d be pretty glum about it too.

The really depressing thing is that Labour will almost certainly win this election. That is partly because of the lies I’ve described in the above paragraph. Is it a cliché to say that a monkey in a red rosette would win in Glasgow East? That is the only conclusion you can come to when, time and time again, the voters keep on re-electing this bunch of failures that have done absolutely nothing for them. It is accurate to describe these kinds of seats in the west of Scotland as the modern equivalent of rotten boroughs.

As for the idea that Glasgow East’s voters will be confused between Margaret Curran and the SSP’s Frances Curran, thereby losing Labour some votes, I don’t buy that. The voters won’t be looking for the name ‘Curran’ on the ballot slip. They’ll be looking for the word ‘Labour’.

I was quite surprised therefore when at the start of the campaign political pundits based in London were confidently predicting an SNP win. I think they couldn’t imagine Labour winning any election in the kind of climate the Westminster Government finds itself in at the moment. But they didn’t count on the trusty voters of west central Scotland, who continue to vote Labour like a dirty old man who likes a good hard spanking.

It shows how out of touch the political pundits in London are with the rest of the UK. Since then, things have stabilised and received wisdom seems to point towards a Labour win, albeit with a hugely reduced majority.

Even though the SNP seem confident, I don’t see Labour losing. I think the SNP are making a big mistake by confidently predicting an “earthquake“. This will allow Labour to present a narrow majority (the most likely outcome) as a victory for them when it is anything but.

The fact that Labour’s victory is even in doubt is the real sign that Labour have failed. It shows that just now there is not really such a thing as a safe Labour seat. But the SNP have given them the perfect opportunity to bounce back.

What do I want to happen? Like I say, the choice between the SNP and Labour is a choice between shit and shite. I want neither party to win. I certainly want neither party to convincingly win.

As such, I want the result to be an extremely narrow Labour victory (1,000–500 votes or less). This would maximise the pain to both parties — Labour barely clinging on to what was one of their safest seats, while the SNP lose an election they predicted they would win. Fingers crossed!

And that’s saying something!

And would you credit it, it was by ITV-F1. WHY LEWIS IS TAKING THE FLAK, the headline screams, stomping its feet.

The article by Mark Hughes (who is normally one of the more sensible ITV-F1 people) starts as it means to go on, by taking a true event and completely twisting it out of shape:

When Lewis Hamilton put his car into the Shanghai pit lane’s gravel trap there was a lot of spontaneous and ill-concealed cheering in the non-British sector of the press room.

Yeah, do you know why? Because it was a spectacular event that turned the season on its head, just like when Nigel Mansell’s tyre exploded or when Michael Schumacher’s engine exploded last year. Not cheering when Hamilton beached his car in the gravel trap would be like not cheering when a goal is scored in the 89th minute of the football World Cup final. Only the most partisan of people would be unable to see this.

For an explanation from journalists — journalists who are British, but who aren’t hopelessly biased like the morons at ITV — of exactly why there would be cheering in the press room, just listen to the latest edition of the BBC (yes, that is British Broadcasting Corporation) Chequered Flag podcast.

David Croft: You mentioned a stampede in the press room. I hear there was quite a cheer in the press room as well when Lewis went out. Is that right?

Jimmy Roberts: Well, it was more a cheer of… Unbelievable scenes. We can’t imagine what we’re watching. The thing is, Formula 1 — it never fails to excite, it never fails to generate moments of sheer sporting drama. It reminded me of when Nigel Mansell’s tyre blew in 1986, and it was just one of those moments where you just have to shout. There was just pandemonium.

[...]

Maurice Hamilton: I remember the reaction in ’86. It’s an exclamation! “Whoa, look at that! How did that happen?” And the same thing, there’s Lewis Hamilton stuck in the gravel trap. I think the vision of that McLaren beached with its rear wheels spinning in the gravel will just live with Formula 1 forever. It’s one of those emblematic shots that people will forever remember.

In short, history was being made in front of our eyes. How can you just sit there? Despite the fact that even British mainstream journalists can see this, Mark Hughes is playing the usual game that British MSM journalists have been playing. According to them, it’s Brits versus the world (and Spain in particular).

You could even see this in some of the press coverage of the Stepneygate scandal, where some consumers of news were left with the impression that there was golden boy Britain’s Lewis Hamilton keeping his nose clean. It was those dirty Spaniards, Pedro de la Rosa and Fernando Alonso, who were at the centre of all this!

Let us just gloss over the fact that the real people who were at the centre of the scandal — Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlan — were both British. But this just doesn’t fit in with the story that the racist British media wants to project. In this ITV-F1 article, Mark Hughes is pressing all of the same buttons, albeit a bit more subtly. You ought to be able to expect better from the country’s biggest commercial broadcaster. But I have given up.

Mark Hughes carries on through the article. I really wish it was good, but I am afraid it is just straw man after straw man.

Even Hamilton’s summoning for the marshals to push him out of the gravel was greeted with jeering by onlookers.

Just as it was when Michael Schumacher did the same thing. British journalists weren’t too keen about Michael Schumacher got pushed out of the gravel either. But even Schumacher never used a crane to re-join the race. Interestingly, Mark Hughes makes no mention of the crane incident anywhere in his article.

He goes on to take a look at Hamilton’s “on-track etiquette” before going on to talk about a number of Lewis Hamilton’s moves. Unfortunately, he paints a picture that all of the complaints about Hamilton’s etiquette are about hard moves. This is simply not the case.

Even so, though, let’s not forget how put out Hamilton was when Alonso played a similarly hard move on Hamilton at the Belgian Grand Prix. It’s so different when the boot’s on the other foot, huh? The other drivers lived with it, while Hamilton just started moaning about it.

Mark Hughes then completely twists the tale of Hamilton’s erratic driving behind the Safety Car at Fuji, completely glossing over the real issues. He mentions the first re-start, when Alonso was behind Hamilton. There is one particular point about this paragraph that makes me laugh so much (emphasis mine)!

On the restart behind the first safety car in Fuji he was perhaps a little over-aggressive in getting the jump on Alonso, braking so hard that Alonso (technically illegally) passed him to avoid an accident.

I love it! When Fernando Alonso does something technically illegal it merits a mention. As one of Hamilton’s defenders, Tom, said in the comments on another post on this blog, this rule is really a grey area — particularly if the car in front is effectively brake-testing.

But when Lewis Hamilton does something which is actually illegal, it is completely glossed over or just downright ignored in this article. The incident that provided the most controversy — the one when Hamilton brake-tested Webber and Vettel — does not get a single mention in this article. Yet this is the incident where it has been proved that Hamilton broke two rules.

First of all, Hamilton was driving erratically. This is against the rules, and there is no room for games behind the Safety Car. Drivers are not racing, and the purpose of the Safety Car is to make the track safer and to stop drivers from doing dangerous things. Hamilton did the complete opposite — as we can see from the number of accidents that happened in Safety Car periods compared to during the race.

Secondly, Hamilton strayed more than five car lengths behind the Safety Car. This is not some technicality that the FIA put in there for the hell of it. The Safety Car is designed to bunch the drivers up. This is partly to give the marshals plenty of time to clean up on-track debris. If the cars are more spread out, the marshals have less time (and less safety) to do this. Hamilton had complete disregard for this rule.

The FIA have since changed the rules so that a leader is allowed ten car lengths. This trick of changing a rule after it has been broken is usually reserved for pro-Ferrari purposes. And oh, how many times the British media has lambasted the FIA for it.

Hamilton effectively brake-tested Webber. Webber slowed down to avoid being “technically illegal” just like Alonso was. This is what caused Vettel to go straight into the back of him. It was all Hamilton’s fault, and you can see this in the video. But the British media just aren’t prepared to admit this — and you can see this in the fact that Mark Hughes has completely ignored this incident in his article.

So anyone with some vague notion of “Hamilton being controversial behind the Safety Car in Japan” will have the impression that Hamilton was completely in the right after reading this article. In reality, Mark Hughes has skirted round the issue completely. Nice piece of obfuscation there.

I find the views expressed by Alan Permane and Steve Nielsen in the latest Renault podcast interesting. You could say that they had a vested interest in Hamilton losing the Japanese Grand Prix, although they also say that he shouldn’t have been disqualified from the race, but given a grid penalty for China. Besides which, I think you would struggle to find many sensible F1-heads (that is, F1-heads that don’t have a vested interest in a British driver succeeding) disagreeing much with what they say.

Steve Nielsen: During the race, the only time we became aware of it was when the FIA came onto the intercom to us and said that Heikki [Kovalainen] should watch his distance to Lewis. Which is very unusual. What was implied was that we were too close — dangerously close — and so we conveyed that message to Heikki. And it wasn’t really until after the race, talking to a couple of the other drivers, and then the now famous bit of film that was on YouTube, that we became aware that Lewis actually was far from innocent in all of that and that his driving was questionable — very questionable in a couple of instances. And my own personal view is that he caused the accident between Vettel and Webber.

Alan Permane: Yeah, I find it a bit odd that Vettel got penalised, then they realised that actually it was not his fault, but we’re not going to penalise anybody. To me it was Lewis’s fault.

SN: And at that very race on Friday in the drivers briefing, Charlie [Whiting] told both the McLaren drivers that their driving behind the Safety Car at Monza — which was two races previous — had not been good enough. It was too erratic. And Lewis had a kind of — not a problem with it, but he certainly raised concerns and said he thought it was okay and was surprised that it wasn’t okay. And yet here we are two days later and he repeated it. And as Alan’s just said, for that to go totally unpunished, I’m a bit surprised at.

AP: What I find strange is that they felt that punishment was needed. And Vettel got that punishment. And then when the blame was reapportioned, or it was figured out it wasn’t [Vettel's] fault, that punishment [should] still [be] there, so whose fault was it? I don’t think it was just a racing incident or one of those things. It clearly looks like Lewis stops the car and it causes a bit of a pile-up. I think to exclude him from Fuji would have been way too much. That really would have been unfortunate for the Championship. But maybe a grid penalty or something in China, I dunno. Anyway, that’s all history now.

It is painfully clear to me that the FIA were aware that Lewis Hamilton was driving dangerously behind the Safety Car. Not only had they warned him about his driving at Monza, but they were also aware that he was doing exactly the same thing during the Japanese Grand Prix. We know this because after the accident between Vettel and Webber, Heikki Kovalainen was told by the FIA to keep an extra distance behind Hamilton during Safety Car periods.

Yet, they didn’t punish Hamilton for it. Yes, Hamilton really is getting all of the flak, isn’t he!

Back to Mark Hughes’s article.

There was also some glee from his detractors when Ron Dennis revealed that the circumstances leading to Alonso’s blocking of Hamilton in the Hungary pit lane during qualifying had been triggered by Hamilton’s non-compliance with a team request at the beginning of the session.

This, for me — and many other F1 fans — is the defining moment of Hamilton’s career so far. Yet, once again, Mark Hughes completely glosses over it. He even implies that Hamilton’s actions were somehow mitigated by the fact that there was “glee from [Hamilton's] detractors”. Give me a break!

Why do we have to keep on putting up with ITV’s awful, biased coverage?

As the 2007 Formula 1 season approaches (only a week to go, wheee!), there is only one question on everybody’s lips:

Is the television coverage going to improve?

I am not talking about ITV’s coverage. Although we would all prefer there not to be any commercial breaks and would like to believe that there is someone better for the job of lead commentator than James Allen, that is not my target today.

Formula 1 is meant to be one of the very biggest sporting events in the world. Football might be more popular, but only at a local level. Each country watches its own domestic matches. Few football matches are watched world-wide on the same scale as an F1 grand prix is.

Formula 1 is only really beaten by the World Cup, the Olympics and the Superbowl in terms of world-wide popularity as a sporting event. And those tournaments (except for the annual Superbowl) only come around once every four years — there are between 16 and 19 grands prix every year.

So why is the television coverage still stuck in the dark ages?

Well, maybe not the dark ages, but Formula 1 coverage has barely changed in its approach since the early 1990s. Infact, for several years, Bernie Ecclestone has actually stunted innovation in order to teach the teams a lesson, or some other obscure political reason.

In some ways, Formula 1 fans are now suffering because its television coverage was originally a little bit too far ahead of its time. In the late 1990s Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM began experimenting with a high-quality digital television service, nicknamed “Bernievision”. Viewers had six different channels to choose from, ranging from conventional race coverage, to a channel focussing on back-markers, to one focussed on pit lane activity, to a data stream showing drivers’ times and speeds in detail.

To encourage people to sign up, though, Bernie Ecclestone had to deprive normal viewers of their normal service. That’s right — standard Formula 1 television coverage actually decreased in quality.

To take one prominent example, the director of the standard feed could only choose from two on-board cameras out of the entire pack. This usually meant Michael Schumacher and a local hero, leading to some pretty monotonous viewing. This is not to mention the patchy quality of the “world feed” which is usually controlled by a local director. Often the local director will concentrate on — you guessed it — Michael Schumacher or a local hero.

And there have been multiple times when the director has literally lost the plot and missed important events that were developing on track. This led ITV’s commentators James Allen and Martin Brundle to complain live on-air — often in quite strong terms, such as calling the director a numpty — about the shoddy quality of the coverage, which ITV was at pains to point out it had no control over.

Meanwhile, FOM had the best equipment and expert directors who often seem to have a sixth sense about developing incidents. On the one hand, that was fair enough and understandable from FOM’s point of view. There has to be something to encourage people to upgrade to the new digital service. Unfortunately for everybody concerned, Ecclestone’s ambitious digital project failed as it was deemed too expensive (or ahead of its time) for viewers. It was put to bed five years ago, apart from in Germany.

After that, standard coverage stayed pretty much as it was, while the top-of-the-range offering from FOM was left to gather dust. FOM has occasionally been used to provide the world feed as Formula 1 has increasingly moved into developing countries where television coverage is not up to scratch. Still, most European races are controlled by local directors, and the vast dips in quality are shockingly obvious.

Over the past few seasons, Formula 1 fans have seen a gradual improvement in coverage. The “world feed” had access to all of the onboard cameras, rather than just the two T-cams. There has also been a steady improvement in the on-screen graphics that can convey to the viewer differences in driving style between drivers.

But there has still been the feeling that Formula 1 coverage has been behind the times ever since it bit off more than it could chew in the mid-1990s. While other major sports have fully embraced, for instance, HD, Formula 1 has been churning out coverage exclusively in the old-fashioned 4:3 aspect ratio.

Thankfully, it appears as though we are indeed about to see a vast improvement in Formula 1 coverage. It has been confirmed that the world feed for all of this year’s Formula 1 races will be produced by FOM. Moreover, they will be produced in anamorphic 16:9 format (ie. widescreen) and an HD feed will be made available to broadcasters.

This news has been kept relatively quiet (although I concede that these details are probably only interesting to geeks) and it is unclear whether or not viewers will actually receive these pictures this year, or if these pictures will be for the archives. But seeing as ITV have bought a load of HD equipment for F1 races, it seems as though British viewers at least will receive the improved pictures.

I joked on F1Fanatic that since ITV has no control over the world feed, HD only meant that we would be able to see Steve Rider’s dandruff (if he has any dandruff — and with that perfectly coiffured barnet, it is difficult to imagine!). But it actually seems reasonable to put two and two together.

How about on-board cameras though? On-board cameras ought to be exciting, but they aren’t really. I don’t know if it’s just because we have become so used to it, but the T-cams seem really sanitised. They don’t really give you a good impression of how much skill a driver has to have to hit the apex lap after lap at high and quickly varying speeds.

Recently on YouTube there was a video from a 1994 (?) race featuring footage from a camera that was actually inside Mark Blundell’s helmet. Unfortunately the video has now been removed. But it was a much better illustration of what a driver goes through. Such cameras still exist today, so it is a puzzle as to why they are not used in Formula 1 coverage.

Could it be because drivers found it off-putting? It would be interesting to see what Mark Blundell thinks about it. Today he is a broadcaster, so he knows the story from both sides of the coin.

As Chris Applegate says, this was absolutely screaming out to be a meme. Jawbox has done it aswell. But I refrained from calling it a meme in my post because I didn’t want to be responsible for starting one. Looks like I’m getting the blame for it anyway. Uhh, it was his fault! No, his!

Anyway, at least this is actually an interesting one. I found both Chris’ and Ben’s posts fascinating — partly I think because they are at a similar-ish age to me (whereas my year was 1994, Chris lists Italia ’90 in his memories, and Ben recalls France ’98).

Even though I was only 4 or 5, there are a few things that I remember from Chris’ list. The biggest memory is the World Cup — although I only really strongly recall the Italia ’90 mascot (it looked a bit like Lego), and even that is a bit hazy. I do vaguely remember the fall of the Berlin Wall (maybe not from the time it actually happened), but I was not aware that West Germany and East Germany were actually separate countries until several years later!

I also remember a specific part of the Gulf War — the word ‘Baghdad’, which was always in the news. I distinctly remember one day thinking, “Whatever happened to that important place called ‘Baghdad’?”

I think I remember the completion of the Channel Tunnel, although maybe I only remember the opening. I definitely remember the opening. That guy with the moustache from Allo Allo was on the television, presumably because that was the only way to illustrate an Anglo–French connection.

I don’t remember Margaret Thatcher’s resignation, although I do remember Thatcher being Prime Minister. I don’t remember this, but apparently when I was young and Thatcher appeared on the television I used to say “of coouurse”, mimicking her condescending mannerisms. See? I was a hilarious satirist when I was 3! Where did it all go wrong?

What is kind of worrying about Ben’s list, as I said in the comments at his, is the fact that for him France ’98 is one of those dim and distant memories. That makes me feel very old. Even scarier is the fact that I don’t even remember all of the events that he lists! Canadian air crash? No recollection, although I never found aeroplane crashes that surprising when I was young. Big heavy lump of metal in the sky falls from the sky — what a big surprise! So goes the logic of a pre-teen Duncan at least.

Anyway, remembering news events from when you were nine is for pussies! Chris ups the stakes, and asks what is the earliest memory you have of the news, “not just in recalling it, but being able to have some understanding of the situation”?

I’m guessing the Gulf War doesn’t count because I only knew the word ‘Baghdad’ from it and nothing else. And I don’t think knowing what the mascot of Italia ’90 looked like quite counts as a news event, so I have to keep on looking.

Although I remember lots of things from 1990 and 1991, I obviously wasn’t watching the news. So we turn to 1992. And bingo!

George H. W. Bush is televised falling violently ill at a state dinner in Japan, vomiting into the lap of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa and fainting.

I remember this well! Vomiting is something that young children do quite a lot, so I could kind of relate. But let’s not kid ourselves here. The reason I remember this story is because it is hilarious! The President of the world’s most powerful country does a sick on the Prime Minister of another powerful country! Bahahahahahah!

Okay, so I recall the event — but does it pass Chris Applegate’s all-important test — “being able to have some understanding of the situation”? It’s not too difficult to even have full understanding of the situation: Bush sicks up, it’s very embarassing, everybody points and laughs.

So there you have it. My earliest news memory, at the age of 5, is of George H. W. Bush vomiting. I was as keen on the most important stories back then as I am now.

5–0 at half time. And Scotland usually embarrass themselves against the Faroe Islands. This is just as well — we need all the goals we can get when, as Garry notes, we have a World Cup quarter finalist and both World Cup finallists in our group. And only two go through.