Veterans left to die

Yes, I am a veteran. I have quite a number of veterans and serving members of HM Forces on my Facebook friends list.

What worries me more than anything is the number of posts telling each other its OK to not be OK and offering helplines for suicide prevention.

This Government and those before it are in my opinion criminally negligent in the aftercare offered to service personnel of all arms.

We have too many of our veterans living on the streets. Far too many are suffering when returning to civilian life that they turn to drugs or drink, and eventually they end up in prison, on the streets or contemplating self-harm.

Meanwhile, we have charities that were set up to help injured soldiers that are sitting on millions of pounds of donations.

Why? What good is it in a bank, when we have personnel sleeping rough and in need of help?

At the head of it all, we have a government who are content to accept yet another pay increase and whose much-lauded Armed Forces covenant is largely a box ticking exercise.

I visit the USA and the way they treat their veterans is not just streets ahead of the UK, but decades.

You walk into an airport and they have their own lounges to use, they get boarded ahead of others and are generally treat with the respect they deserve.

We get a badge.

And later this year, a card…

When I told my GP practice I was a veteran, it was scrawled on a scrap of paper and I was told they’d update my file, but 5 months later, this wasn’t the case. So much for the covenant…

If those entrusted with my day to day health don’t care, then why should I expect those who hold elected office to be bothered?

Suicide last week took one of the most respected NCO’s in the Royal Engineers.

Robert ‘Rab’ McAvoy had served his country with pride and distinction when and wherever he was asked to.

Aged only 39, and leaving behind a family, how can we allow our Armed Forces personnel to suffer like this?

We have a soldier facing prosecution for doing his job in Northern Ireland while those terrorists he was shot at by are free to walk the streets with a piece of paper thanks to Tony Blair.

How on earth can any serving member of the forces have any faith in those who are in power when they are repeatedly stabbed in the back and let down?

Recruitment across all the arms is at an all time low. Some say this is a fault in the recruitment process and its use of civilian firms in the process, but when you see just how badly the forces are treat, would you join up to serve?

This is a failure from top to bottom. From the Prime Minister of today, and going back to when I served, the Government has let service men and women down repeatedly.

Sadly, Rab was just the latest in a long line of soldiers who suffered to the point where they felt unable to carry on.

Why is the mental health of our servicemen and women so important?

Because it is they who do the jobs around the world when asked to by politicians that others cannot or will not do.

They put their lives on the line to keep you, and others safe without thought of harm to themselves.

It’s impossible to verify how many former service men and women DO commit suicide as these statistics are not collected, which is VERY convenient for the Government and the MOD.

They are not just Armed Forces, they are British Armed Forces and they deserve better from those who are supposed to support them.

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2019 and the start of (another) new era

I do love a great game of rugby.

Note, I didn’t clarify that statement with either a “league” or “union” caveat. I like watching both codes. I was brought up in Hull by a father who had played union as a Marine, but when he moved to Hull in the late ’60s, his mates took him to Craven Park and he began to watch league, and Hull KR in particular.

Growing up, he happily took me to Craven Park and also sat me down to watch union on TV whenever possible, hence my growing up with an appreciation for both codes.

It’s only been in the last 10 years that I’ve followed league in a semi-professional capacity as a journalist and have also covered a smaller amount of union in that time, the differences in the game have become more apparent off the field than on it.

League has always been the lesser of the two in the eyes of both the public and mainstream media. Just look at the amount of broadcast time given to the Autumn internationals on both terrestrial and satellite broadcasters.

From what I can gather, Sky has no interest in showing international league at all.

The BBC were practically given the rights to England v New Zealand and only showed England games from the 2017 World Cup, meaning that Wales and Scotland’s fans had to shell out an additional £9.99 for Premier Sports if they wanted to follow games live.

Broadcasters are falling over themselves to cover union. BT Sport has been showing three games on a Saturday covering the European cup alongside Channel 4, Channel 5 shows the Gallagher Premiership and the BBC will be showing the 6 nations alongside ITV until 2021.

All of Wales’ home matches will be shown live on the BBC, along with France and Scotland home matches. ITV will screen England, Ireland and Italy home games.

I think Sky have done a great job of standing still where broadcast of league is concerned. Yes, they trialled 3D league, but only gave it 6 or maybe 7 games. To be fair, Sky has all but binned 3D as a broadcast medium for live anything, so to even have had that small amount was something, but there is no longer a “Boots n All” show, and I’ve yet to see an advert for the new season on there.

The problem lies with the game still thinking its small, which, compared to union, it is.

I’m really hopeful that the new structure brought in by Robert Elstone and his team will mean that Super League undergoes a period of controlled growth, with clubs in the Championship and below having the chance to grow organically and that promotion and relegation in the old-fashioned new way of one up and one down.

I’m hopeful that Mr Elstone will at least put the new broadcast rights out to a much wider process than we are led to believe the previous one was.

League is in desperate need of a great season in 2019. We are (again) at the beginning of (another) brave new restructure.

What is needed is a competition where the playoff spots are changing all the way until the final day, as is the relegation spot. A competition where players become superstars outside of their home town, but who can (like Jonathon Davies 30 years ago) make headlines on the front pages for the right reasons in National papers.

Until league can compete with union on the screens of the UK, it will always be second best.

I don’t believe league will ever be as big as union currently is, there is too much of a gap to close in that respect, but I do believe that with the right management in place, and the right people making the off-field deals, we can at least compete when it comes to getting the product on screens in front of viewers and then we can start to get people into stadiums.

If people can’t see what’s on offer, how will they know where to watch?

This season, I should be providing coverage of Rochdale Hornets for Roch Valley Radio

I hope if you can’t be at the ground, you will join me online using the link above

REVIEW: First Man (2018)

Charting the story of Neil Armstrong, Andrew Riley looks at the upcoming release of First Man.

This film could, in the hands of a less capable director, been a saccharine and sanitised affair, as it is, Damien Chazelle gives us a riveting look at the life of the man who will forever be known as the first human being to walk on another celestial body.

At nearly 2 hours 30 minutes, Its worth every second.

Known for his Oscar-winning hit “La La Land” and “Whiplash” Chazelle moves away from his usual musical fare and into territory that most of us would like to think we know about, that of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

This though is much more than the telling of Armstrong. It documents the loss of his daughter, Karen, in 1961 all the way through his selection to the Gemini program, the loss of his friends in the tragedy of Apollo 1 and through to his steps on the moon with Buzz Aldrin.

The script by Josh Singer, and based on the book by James R. Hansen is kept sparse, and the film is all the more compelling a watch for it.

Ryan Gosling plays the titular First Man and Stockport born Claire Foy his wife Janet, with both having to come to terms with the strains that the space race placed on their marriage and family.

The scene when Mission Control shut down the contact between Janet and Gemini 8, and she rushes over to demand they put it back on is an exceptional piece, in which Foy manages to display the entire range of emotion you would expect of a wife whose husband is spinning in space, not knowing if he’ll ever get to see home again.

This plays nicely to the Apollo 11 mission itself when she admonishes him for spending all his time packing and not talking to their sons about the mission and what might happen…

The whole movie shows how close failure was at almost every turn for NASA and its crews.

Chazelle directs this with a deftness that was so needed. A less competent director may well have focused on Apollo and left the family as an aside, but he manages to keep the story moving without resorting to base emotion. By showing how the job affected not only Armstrongs family, but also showing how everyone was affected by losses elsewhere, we get to see the real astronauts and how they looked at each other.

This is so much more than a biopic. Its a look at how the Americans were desperate to catch and overtake the USSR in the early years of the space race, one which although they ultimately won, it’s telling that no one has walked on the surface of the moon since Gene Cernan in 1972.

Overall, this is one hell of a good movie, and it’s worth setting aside the time to watch.

 

REVIEW; Dave Giles & the ’79 Sound @ Night and Day Cafe, Manchester.

About 10 years or so ago, I asked my daughter what she wanted for her birthday. Her reply? VIP tickets to see Dave Giles at the Cockpit in Leeds. You got to meet up with Dave before the show, have tea, listen to the sound check, get a bag load of signed and exclusive goodies, and then watch the gig.

Being the great dad I am, I duly obliged, and a small part of his fan base grew.

Back then, I was working on a local radio station & managed to grab a chat with the man himself for my show.

Here I am, all these years later, and I’ve just taken her to see Dave and his Nashville backing band, the ’79 Sound, at the Night and Day cafe on Oldham Street for the penultimate night of his new album launch tour, and I have to say, found myself very happily whiling away a few hours, listening to some great music, played by some ass kicking musicians.

The album, Tennessee and 48th, was in part crowdfunded and recorded in Nashville in January of this year. It’s a very accomplished piece of work, and hangs together beautifully.

Hearing it live can sometimes be a different beast altogether.

Dave has either been very lucky, or very wise. His backing band of Nashville musicians plays to each other’s strengths and the whole set simply bounces off the walls and you can’t help but tap your feet.

Dave wrote most of the album before heading off to the USA on what was probably the biggest gamble of his career, and it comes across as a really polished set. The whole idea of this short tour is to get the album out there to audiences who have supported him in the past, as well as hopefully a few new fans who may have heard it on Spotify.

If the finished product is what you can achieve in Nashville with £20k, more power to him!

For the gigs themselves, Dave is supported by Nick Parker and Pete RG, two very different and contrasting acts to Dave’s laid back style. Both acts in their own way doing what opening acts are supposed to do, warm up the crowd for the headliner.

To be fair, Dave Giles knows his audience, in some cases personally, such is the fan base he has built up over the years, and he moves easily through the venue before taking the stage greeting fans as if they are old friends he’s not seen for a while, which for the most part is true, having also done a series of living room gigs for fans up and down the UK.

Dave Giles on stage at the Night & Day Cafe

Dave Giles on stage at the Night & Day Cafe

Once on stage, it’s easy to see why Dave has built up such a loyal following. His easy going style plays perfectly with the mixture of people in his audience, and there is soon a decent crowd around the front of the stage happily moving to the new album, most of whom already seem to know each new track by heart.

Its great to see an act who is not only in touch with his fans, but so approachable both before and after the gig.

Sadly, this was the penultimate night of the tour, but rest assured, as soon as he announces another gig in the North West, get on to the tickets as quick as you can, because although he has a “pay what you feel like” policy (‘…and if you feel you’ve paid too much, come and see me, I’ll refund you.’) his gigs are always pretty much sold out well in advance of the night.

Dave also has a very interesting merchandise stall (run by no other than his Dad!) which includes the usual T-shirts and hoodies to different teas and mugs. All available on line as well as at the shows.

Easily a 5* show from beginning to end.

 

C’est magnifique! Catalan Dragons stun Wire at Wembley

But is it time to look at the showpiece event, and specifically, is it time it left Wembley?

Firstly, the match itself. There is no doubting that Warrington certainly looked stunned when Catalan went ahead inside the first 5 minutes, bur from that point on, the victor was hardly ever in doubt.

Warrington looked like staging a late comeback, but the Dragons defence was strong enough to hold on for an historic 20-14 victory.

Ahead of kick off, I bumped into Alex Simmons of Rugby AM, and asked him how he felt the game would go…

As it was, Catalan Dragons went home with both the Challenge Cup and the Lance Todd trophy for Man of the Match, which is voted for by the press, went to Tony Gigot.

There had been a Twitter campaign to #LetsFillWembley but it fell someway short as the crowd of 50,672 was the lowest of the modern era. Quite a few people blamed this on the fact that one of the finalists came from France, and traditionally, the month of August is a holiday period, and the short turnaround between the Semi final and Final.

Me?

I think the Challenge cup needs a MAJOR overhaul.

Wembley is too big to stage a rugby league showpiece final.

The amount of buildings that have gone up around the stadium means there can be no fan park for supporters to mingle and to build the atmosphere ahead of entering the ground, and this is important.

When you’ve a stadium that holds 90,000, generating an atmosphere with just over half of that really takes some doing. You can’t rely on a couple of 1/2 time games and a choir before kick off to generate one. No matter how good the stadium announcer is, and in Pete Nuttall the sport has one of THE very best in the business, he cant do it if there is no crowd to motivate.

Even the small fan park at the Grand Final gets fans in the mood for what is usually a really tasty encounter, even if you’re not a fan of either team, there is always something to do and see for fans of the sport, and a decent band during the break always helps.

Wembley without a full crowd is a soulless void of concrete with a nice green oblong of grass in the middle.

A soulless concrete void with a green oblong

A soulless concrete void with a green oblong

Credit to those Catalan fans (and those from other clubs sporting “Dragon for a day” tee shirts) who did their utmost to create an atmosphere, but really? I’m not certain Wembley would have filled 90,000 if it had been both Hull clubs in the final, let alone Wigan v St Helens.

Its played on a bank holiday weekend during the English school summer holidays. The RFL needs to look again at perhaps moving it back to its traditional May date, and hold it away from Wembley.

The London Stadium would be a better venue.

The former home of the Olympic games has been configured for a ball game, has superb transport links, has already hosted a big rugby league event and is easily big enough to accommodate a match of the stature of the Challenge cup. It holds 57,000 people, and given the outward lack of concern from the RFL about fan numbers, it seems perfect to move the game away from Wembley, keep it in London and actually fill a stadium.

May though is Magic Weekend.

I want to see the Magic Weekend stay in Newcastle, as St James park is perfect, but I think it’ll be moved in 2019, probably to the Etihad in Manchester as part of the RFL move to the campus full time, but surely, Magic Weekend can be moved to accommodate an early season final for the Challenge Cup?

From small acorns…

There is room at West Ham for a decent fan park, as provided by Rugby AM when England played the Kiwis there a couple of years ago, and if anyone fancies a spot of shopping, there is the Westfield centre within walking distance.

Sadly, the lack of imagination from the RFL means that they won’t even consider a move away from Wembley.

Perhaps if the mooted break away from the RFL by the top flight happens it will stir some action from Red Hall, but somehow, I cant see the breakaway happening either.

For too long, the sport I love has stagnated from the top down. It’s high time that there was some new thinking at all levels.

Next years Challenge cup final?

Not unless Hull KR are playing.