Thank you, Andrew Strauss. A cricketer and a gentleman

I dare say Andrew Strauss will never be considered a cricketing ‘great’. His stats simply don’t cut it.

He’s not a Bradman or a Sobers. He’s not a Lara, a Tendulkar or a Ponting. Neither is he a Boycott or a Botham.

He doesn’t even have the profile of Freddie Flintoff whose occasionally superhuman efforts and laddish charm won the hearts of a generation (even though, by his own admission, he should have taken more wickets and scored more runs).

No, Andrew Strauss will slip away quietly now that he has, somewhat unexpectedly, stood down as England captain and retired from the professional game.

There are all sorts of theories floating around about why he chose now to step down. A tough tour to India looms. The next Ashes is on the horizon. His form has been questionable of late (although no poorer than some other England players we could mention). And there was the ridiculous Kevin Pietersen (KP) affair which was a genuine googly for the England dressing room.

In truth I’m not bothered why Straussy chose now to make his move. I’m just saddened that I will never see this bloke open the batting for his country again.

There are many sportsmen – such as the flawed genius that is KP – who start to believe their own hype. Others act irresponsibly, act like yobs and forget they are in the public eye and that their actions bring their sport, their team and often their country into disrepute.

No-one could ever say that of Andrew Strauss.

He is a thoroughly decent, hard-working bloke who led England to back-to-back Ashes victories against the mighty Australians (once in their own back yard) and turned us into world-beaters.

Straussy is a man of no little talent with a bat, a good leader, an excellent fielder and a man with a great cricketing brain.

He also, in my opinion, possesses statesmanlike qualities which transcend the game and his previous roles.

No, he will never be considered a great. But Andrew Strauss was my favourite cricketer and I will miss him.

Thanks for the memories, skip.

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This Is The One I’ve waited for…

Music has that incredible ability to burn itself into your soul. To remind you of a place, a time – even a state of mind.

We associate certain tracks or certain bands with memories which keep us forever young.

It was 1989 when I first heard the Stone Roses. I’d like to say I was with them from the start but I wasn’t.

I caught the wave like most people during that unfeasibly hot summer when anything seemed possible to a 17-year-old at Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College.

For the next five years or so The Roses provided much of the soundtrack to my youth.

I couldn’t articulate it but, of all the indie bands I liked back then – from Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Carter USM to the Inspiral Carpets and the Happy Mondays, The Roses reigned supreme.

They had tapped into something within that generation and what is remarkable is that their seminal first album is as brilliant now as it was back then.

No, Ian Brown’s vocals weren’t the strongest but strangely that has never mattered to me and I guess many other people.

What matters is the barn-storming tunes, the wonderfully evocative lyrics and the ‘couldn’t give a fuck’ attitude from a band which thinks it can save the world.

And who would bet against them?

Long before Manchester United’s stars ran out to This Is The One at Old Trafford our pool team at the Duke of Wellington pub in Norton used to put it on the jukebox as our warm-up song.

When the Stone Roses reformed last year I was over the moon. When I go to see them at Heaton Park, Manchester, on Sunday it will be me realising an ambition I thought would go unfulfilled.

I’m not bothered about the support bands. The Roses don’t need support bands.

When Sally Cinnamon, Sugar Spun Sister, She Bangs The Drums, Made Of Stone, I Am The Resurrection and the rest weave their magic over 80,000 people I will be back in the early 1990s having the time of my life.

This concert is for the lads of the pool team at the Duke which no longer exists. This gig is for absent friends. This Is The One I’ve waited for…

Can Roy Hodgson’s England erase 46 years of hurt?

We’re doing it again, aren’t we? Building our hopes up. Having those ‘what if?’ conversations in living rooms, workplaces and pubs.

What if we can get past the group stage? What if Andy Carroll comes good? What if Roy Hodgson’s appointment is actually a stroke of genius? What if Rooney doesn’t get sent off?

Despite years of crushing disappointment and the failure of the ‘Golden Generation’ to shine, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and roll out the Three Lions song from Euro ’96.

It’s no longer 30 years of hurt. Or even 40. It’s, er… 46 years since the England football team actually won anything.

Since then we’ve had odd flashes of brilliance, the occasional dalliance with a semi-final and plenty of penalty shoot-out misery. But, for my entire life, it’s been soul-crushing, gut-wrenching, toe-curling disappointment and endless frustration. It’s been a montage of tears, tantrums, bizarre dismissals and the obligatory elimination courtesy of Teutonic spot kick efficiency.

OK. So we may not have had the most technically-gifted footballers in the world.

But we humble England fans would just like someone to explain to us why talented individuals who play out of their skins for their clubs in what is billed as the best league in the world become useless donkeys when they pull on an England shirt. Why does a lion of Istanbul become a lamb in Bloemfontein? Why does the top of the bill at the Theatre of Dreams suddenly get stage fright?

Is it because there’s no money at stake? Is it because their club contracts are so much more important? Is it because our many and varied managers have been deficient?

Or are we just, well, rubbish? Do we delude ourselves that we have ‘world class’ players when, in actual fact, they can’t do it on the biggest stages?

If we are being honest, it’s probably all of the above which explains the love/hate relationship England fans have with their team. Combine that with some pretty tepid or downright dire performances and we could be forgiven for chucking our St. George foam hats and red novelty wigs in the bin with our dog-eared copies of Hoddle and Waddle’s Diamond Lights.

In spite of all this, we can’t help ourselves but be reinvigorated with renewed optimism every time a major tournament comes around. It’s tribal, so I’ve been told.

We simply can’t prevent the hope of the glory.

We all have our favourite moments but some bond us together in the way that only sport can.

Moments such as captain marvel Bryan Robson scoring the fastest-ever World Cup goal against France at Spain in ’82.

Or never-booked Gary Lineker scoring a hat-trick against Poland at the ’86 World Cup in Mexico.

We get all choked up remembering Gazza’s tears at Italia ’90 and eulogise about THAT goal he scored against Scotland at Euro ’96.

We talk about Shearer and Sheringham dismantling Holland on that memorable night when we put four past the pass masters.

We recall David Platt’s sublime volley to end Belgium’s World Cup challenge.

We remember lion-hearted Stuart Pearce having the bottle to take a spot kick against Spain after messing up in a previous tournament shoot-out.

We savour shaven-headed Becks’ astonishing free kick against Greece and his fearless penalty against the Argies which exorcised the demons of his youthful indiscretion against Diego Simeone.
We enjoy replays of the 5 – 1 demolition of Germany in Munich when even Emile Heskey managed to score.

You see, England may have won nowt in the last four decades but we now have a rich history of glorious failure.

It is a heritage which marks us out as the nearly men of European and world football.

Roy Hodgson may be as dull as a dissertation on the Yellow Pages but that’s maybe no bad thing as, for once, expectation levels have not gone beyond the borders of reality.

Not just yet, anyway…

For now, at least, he’s our Roy and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is this year’s Theo Walcott.

As always, hope springs eternal in the birthplace of the beautiful game.

It’s back to two banks of four, men behind the ball and a big bloke up front.

All is well with the world.

Come on Engerland…

Celebrities saddle up for mammoth bike ride in aid of Donna Louise Children’s Hospice

If my Sentinel colleague Martin Spinks’ masterplan is to pull a hamstring at Fort William in the hope that I will be his substitute then he is sadly mistaken.

The last time yours truly sat on a bike it was 1984 and that bike was a Raleigh Grifter.

Sitting on a bike these days is an alien concept to me. Riding 960 miles is clearly madness.

But that’s what a bunch of celebrities and media types have volunteered to do in aid of our very own Donna Louise Children’s Hospice at Trentham Lakes.

They’re an odd bunch – and I mean that in a nice way – who have been thrown together for a mighty challenge to ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

We’ve got stalwart Donna Louise supporters Nick Hancock and Tony Pulis, Tony’s daughter Steph, fashion guru Jeff Banks, actor Dean Andrews, BBC Radio Five Live’s Mark ‘Chappers’ Chapman, BBC Midlands Today’s Dan Pallett and, of course, our Spinksy.

You learn a lot about someone when you are stuck in a confined space for several days.

So what have I learned so far in between sleeping on tiny bunks on our tour bus which is following the riders as they take turns, in pairs, to ride four to six hour shifts?

Well, I’ve learned that Tony Pulis likes Green Tea and hates Twitter.

I’ve learned that it’s best not to be around Dean Andrews when he’s had curry, baked beans or energy supplements.

I’ve found out that Jeff Banks smokes big Cuban cigars and has a penchant for embellishing the truth.

I’ve also learned that there are two types of celebrity. The ones who talk and the ones who do.

There’s been no moaning from any of the riders despite a nine-hour unscheduled stop at Lancaster services on the M6 when our tyre blew out.

There’s been no belly-aching about the lack of sleep, the cramped conditions and the camp-style food being served on trestle tables as we inch slowly south.

They’ve all given up their time for a brilliant local charity which is close to the hearts of so many people in North Staffordshire.

Over the next few days they will eat carbohydrates until they come out of their ears, be woken in the dead of night and be riding in all weathers for hours on end.

Give them you’re support please. They’re a great bunch and they’re earning it – and massive respect.

*Anyone wishing to make a donation should log on to: http://www.onyerbike2012.org and click on Sponsor The Riders

Waitrose snub is a wake-up call for city

I can fully understand some people wanting to stick two fingers up to Waitrose after it was revealed by The Sentinel today that it has decided against building a store in Stoke-on-Trent.

Apparently, the upmarket supermarket chain can’t find a suitable site in the Potteries because, according to a senior council officer, the demographic profile is wrong.

In other words, we don’t have enough money.

“I don’t think people in this part of the city want a Waitrose supermarket anyway,” said Ann Bowers of the Hanford Village Residents’ Association who seems to have missed the point.

Basically, the likes of Waitrose – presumably having done its market research – doesn’t think the good folk of the ST postcode area have enough dosh to warrant them opening a store in the city.

I don’t blame them. With our low-wage economy, high unemployment rate and levels of deprivation Stoke-on-Trent doesn’t comes across as being awash with disposable income.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not one for talking our city down. However, it is important that people realise that we still have a long way to go in terms of regeneration.

Having a Waitrose store may not strictly constitute success but not having one is clearly an indicator that Stoke-on-Trent remains a poor relation to other comparable cities.

Thanks Mr Harrison, I won’t forget you


When you are growing up you come across people who leave a lasting impression on you. They help to shape who you are and how you think.

Roy Harrison, who died this week at the age of 84, was just such a man in my life.

Mr Harrison, as I always refer to him, was a colossal figure locally who leaves a proud legacy.

I can’t tell you about Roy the family man, Roy the scientist or Roy the man who was instrumental in raising the funds to build Wesley Hall Methodist Church in Sneyd Green.

However, I can tell you a little about Mr Harrison – the strict but kindly man who was a father figure to many young people like myself who attended that church.

I recall the numerous shows and fund-raising fayres which he seemed to organise almost single-handedly.

I remember him as the extremely dedicated captain of the 14th (North Staffs) Company of the Boys’ Brigade.

I remember his voice and his valiant attempts to teach me and the other lads a bit of drill. I never did nail that ‘about turn’.

I remember him leading our little band through the streets of Sneyd Green on a Sunday morning with yours truly bashing away on a side drum.

I recall his pride when I represented the 14th Company in the Bible Quiz and didn’t get a single answer wrong.

I remember Mr Harrison the sportsman, the choreographer and the musician.

Never judgmental, always supportive, he was an incredibly inspirational man.

He was one of those rare breed of genuinely driven, community-spirited individuals who enrich the lives of others through their endeavours.

Thanks, Mr Harrison. I won’t forget you.

Why, amid the furore, I’m still proud to be a journalist

The outrage from all quarters at the latest phone-hacking allegations levelled at the News of the World is as predictable as it is understandable.

People simply can’t fathom how anyone could stoop so low as to intrude into the privacy of families dealing with tragic loss.

Phone-hacking by journalists is indefensible and, if these allegations prove to be true – and I think they will – then I hope that those responsible are prosecuted.

This sort of thing has, however, been going on for years and so I’m a little surprised that anyone is surprised.

Do you remember the infamous Charles and Camilla tape scandal of 1992? Or the the “Squidgygate” tapes involving the late Princess Diana and James Gilbey?

The fact is that some red-top tabloids have, for decades, been involved in some pretty nefarious activities in order to get the big story – usually involving celebrities or ordinary members of the public thrust into the public eye by tragedy.

People who buy these newspapers are deluding themselves if they think otherwise.

Don’t be surprised if, over the coming weeks, more skeletons are revealed. Perhaps members of the royal family had their phones hacked, or more celebrities. Nothing would surprise me.

It is fair to say that, in recent years, the pressure on national newsrooms has ratched up – in part due to the celebrity-obsessed culture we live in and in part due to the challenges posed by 24-hour broadcast media.

However, while this watershed moment should certainly be used to clean up the practices of a small number of journalists, there is a danger here that we throw the baby out with the bath water.
Like it or not, the free British Press is feared – and for good reason.

It is also true that some national newspapers do quality investigative journalism – such as the Daily Telegraph’s expose of the MPs’ expenses scandal.

Indeed, it is little wonder that so many MPs are falling over themselves to abuse the national press and calling for it to be reformed, given that a great body of them were embarrassed as a result of a cracking, relentless campaign to highlight their greed.

Journalists sometimes have to step outside their comfort zone to get a story – that is the nature of the beast.

Sometimes they deal with tip-offs and leaked information and our country is all the better for it.

God forbid we ever see the day when every newspaper is full of press releases and propaganda.

If you want some reassurance then look no further than the regional press.

There is a very clear distinction between the way in which some of the more sensationalist national newspapers operate and the activities of the regional press.

Despite years of cutbacks, the challenges posed by the digital age and very little in the way of forward-planning by industry chiefs, regional newspapers continue to provide an invaluable public service.

We don’t pay for stories, we don’t hack people’s phones and, crucially, we care about our ‘patch’.

Campaigning, challenging local organisations, championing its readers and highlighting great human interest stories is the bread and butter of a good regional newspaper and I’m proud to work for one of the best.

We shouldn’t let a few rotten apples spoil the barrel because the vast majority of trained journalists do a decent job because they see it as a true vocation.