Friday, 9 September 2016

Vodka at the ready, it's time for a new set of Freshers...



It’s that time of the year again when excited teenagers are raiding the homeware department of Wilkinsons, stocking up on vodka and waving goodbye to their parents for the next three years of their lives. For most of them it’s their first time living away from home and embarking on the experience of a lifetime can be quite an exciting, if not daunting, prospect. It’s been 10 years since I went on that journey – but is university really worth it?

I made the decision to go to uni slightly later in life. I’d gone to college straight after high school but not known what to do with myself; I knew I loved to write but wasn’t sure whether it was more of a hobby than a career. With the lack of direction, I under-achieved: mediocre grades followed – and so did a career in retail. Not that working in retail is a bad thing. For the first couple of years I loved it: I met so many friends and the job itself was fun and sociable. But I began to wonder if this was it for the rest of my life.

My parents said the same. I was still indulging in creative writing as a hobby when my Mum suggested going to university for study for a degree in what I loved to do. At this point I’d written on and off for the Manchester City fanzine ‘King of the Kippax’ for a number of years and was building up a portfolio of work. I worked voluntary for BBC Radio Manchester and had actually applied for a few trainee media jobs – and always received the same generic ‘sorry but you need a degree at the very least to be remotely considered.’

Could I do it? Could I go to university at the age of 24, surrounded by hundreds of 18 year olds who were all there to party? For six years I’d worked full time, so to go from that to the infamous university lifestyle would be quite a change. But Mum was right: would I rather be left to rue the day or go for it and at least say I tried? Mum had even found the perfect course for me at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston studying Sports Journalism: I’d read through the syllabus and it was everything I wanted and more. The only sticking point was my dodgy college grades. Would I even be considered for a place? I completed the UCAS application, aided unequivocally by a sparkling reference from my English teacher, Mike Gregory, sat back and waited.

By this point I’d really got my head around going. I wanted to live in halls and embrace the lifestyle. I’d become disinterested in my retail job- all my hopes hinged on the verdict from UCAS. When that day arrived, I was petrified. I was shaking when I logged into the site. There it was in black and white- unsuccessful. My heart sank .The dream was over before it had begun. But there she was again – Mum. Fresh from a devastating break-up from my Dad, her husband of 29 years, she was going through the hardest period of her life. But she was urging me not to give up on my dreams. Telling me to phone the university up and beg for a place.

‘Tell them Emily, tell them it’s now or never for you. Tell them how much you want it.’

So I did. I phoned them up and spoke to a lovely man called Andy Dickinson. I poured my heart out to him: I didn’t cry, I remained positive and determined, telling him how I’d realised how much I wanted this, how hard I’d work if given the chance, how my college grades were no fair reflection on the life experience I had gained since. He put me on hold to go and ask the Head of Journalism. When he came back, the answer was still no. This poor guy wasn’t prepared to hear my sob story on a Thursday afternoon but he had to. He was my only chance and there was no way I wasn’t giving my final shot my all. After 15 minutes of basically begging, he put me on hold and went and asked the question- again. It was heart in mouth time, this really was it.

‘Well Emily, this must be your lucky day,’ Andy said. ‘We are prepared to give you a chance and offer you a place.’

With that, I was in. Sneaked in through the back door, but I was off to university. After raiding several homeware stores for my uni essentials and doing a substantial food shop, I was ready to spread my wings and move into halls. September had come round so quickly and the hardest part was saying goodbye to Mum, particularly when she was going through such a difficult time. I assured her I’d be home at weekends – and off I went.

The living situation

The whole moving into halls and meeting my new room-mates process was so daunting. It was a lot like I imagined Big Brother to be: it was a matter of waiting to see the door go and seeing who walked through it. Whether you liked them or not you had to live with them. I chose private halls as I needed a bathroom (imagine the state of shared bathrooms though!) and waited to meet the boys and girls I’d be sharing living quarters with for the next nine months.



In Squires 'VIP' with flat mates Ashleigh and Caz (and a barmaid)

Girl-wise, I was lucky. I loved Ashleigh and Caz to bits. Still do. But the boys were an absolute nightmare. Noisy, messy and smelly didn’t even begin to cover it. Living with them was how I imagined hell to be and we’d regularly encounter girl v boy arguments. Sometimes it was all-out war. The management of our halls had to get involved at times it was that bad and it did put a cloud over the first year at times. They’d cook fry ups at 3am, set fire extinguishers off, run in banging on the doors on purpose when you had a 9am lecture and walk round with their cocks out. No girls, not what you want to see from a fat, hairy Irish guy. At one stage we had to hide our plates and cups from the front room because they’d use it all and not wash it – or they’d eat our food. 


A rare moment of harmony between the first year flat mates

The next two years had their ups and downs accommodation-wise, ironically more so because of living with just girls. It was great because you could choose who you wanted to live with, but if you didn’t know anybody too well living with them would always expose any personality clashes and ultimately led to disharmony. It can be a wonderful thing living with your best friends, but it can be downright biblical if you encounter a detrimental fall out along the way. This happened in both the second and final years and it was awful: looking back you know the petty arguments were ridiculous, but at the time they seemed colossal and added unnecessary tension and friction to what was supposed to be an enjoyable experience.


Just your average Monday night in Squires with Sarah and Frankie

But when it was great it was amazing. The time of our lives: we thought we were the bloody Spice Girls. Whether we were lazing around in our nightwear and sweats or dolled up to the nines in thigh boots and bum-skimming dresses, it was always a laugh. We could talk to each other about anything and everything and always had each other’s backs. Some nights we’d just go to Blockbuster (remember that place?!) and grab a DVD and ice cream, others we’d actually stay in and study. Most nights we would start drinking in the flat at 6pm, head to a club then finish drinking back at the flat at 4am.


Thursday nights in 53 Degrees

I think what I struggled the most with living-wise was the first year and having to co-habit with total strangers. Perhaps this is where the age divide came into play: don’t get me wrong, I could (and did) act more immature than some of the 18 year olds, but some of them just didn’t care. Mostly the boys, but a couple of the girls too – first time living away from Mum and Dad, cutting loose, doing whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. It was a lot to get my head around.

That notorious lifestyle

Nothing quite prepared me for the uni lifestyle. This is going to sound pathetic, but for the first couple of days during Fresher’s Week, I seriously came close to packing it all in and going home. I’d not even been on a night out – I’d stayed in with my flatmate Ashleigh, who was also quite homesick at the time. It was just so different to anything I’d experienced before; I didn’t know if I could adjust myself that much to a point where people stayed up all night and slept most of the day. It was a culture shock.



Embracing the lifestyle head on

I suppose in the end I adopted a mentality of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ and threw myself in at the deep end. I embraced every aspect of uni head-on: the booze, the raving and the misbehaving. My decline into debauchery didn’t take long. Some days we’d only have a lecture for an hour so we’d scrape ourselves out of bed, lie on the sofa recovering before heading to one of the local pubs (The Adelphi, The Ship and Roper Hall) for hangover food. Then do it all over again that night.


Just an average Wednesday night

I suppose in the end I adopted a mentality of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ and threw myself in at the deep end. I embraced every aspect of uni head-on: the booze, the raving and the misbehaving. My decline into debauchery didn’t take long. Some days we’d only have a lecture for an hour so we’d scrape ourselves out of bed, lie on the sofa recovering before heading to one of the local pubs (The Adelphi, The Ship and Roper Hall) for hangover food. Then do it all over again that night.


A state of 'man down'

But it was super fun getting dressed up with the girls all the time – getting ready for nights out with your music on, dancing in your underwear is always fun. Most nights would have themes, which offered an ideal excuse for dressing up – something that happened all too often. I look back now and wonder how I got away with some of my outfits: schoolgirl, sailor and cat-woman all seem pretty tame compared to the ‘pimps and hoes’ night where my outfit consisted of stockings, suspenders, heels, tiny black PVC hot-pants and a pink vest that said ‘sexpert’ on the front with names and accompanying scores of ex-lovers on the back. That was my standout ‘what was I thinking’ moment! But on the most part, getting glammed up, heading out in tiny skirts and wearing Ann Summers costumes in the nightclubs was all part of it – coupled with sambuca shots and double vodka red bulls.


One of the outfit regrets - what was I thinking?

Some of our most memorable (through the alcohol haze) nights out were: the back to school night with Pat Sharp at Lava (I always wanted to be on Funhouse!), chav night at 53 degrees, Fresher’s Week in the second and third years, my Barbie birthday where everybody had to wear pink and glitter and, of course, every Hallowe’en. Hallowe’en was by far the busiest night of the year: where you were witness to the most weird and wonderful costumes going. Everybody made an effort and it was always a quality evening – even if it was a bit sweaty under the spotlights in a catsuit.


Chav night and Hallowe'en

As for the boys…well, I started uni in a relationship that had already run its course. By the time we returned after Christmas in the first year, I was single. I remember our first night back on the Monday in Squires and it was fantastic. Not a care in the world, just on the dance-floor throwing shapes with the girls and acting daft. I ended up dancing with one of the lads from my course – who I’d never looked at in any way apart from as a friend – and so began a dalliance that only ended a few months before we finished uni. In fact we kept in touch up until I met Adam, but that’s when the contact ended. He had a girlfriend back at home (at the time I didn’t care, mortifying) and together we had a lot of fun. He’s now marrying that same girl – if only she knew!


If you can't beat them...

It’s safe to say I definitely had my share of fun boy and girl wise at uni, like most. I can’t share some of the stories because they are either a) too explicit or b) illegal. Far from being the only one, we would sit around the next morning in equal states of disarray and disbelief at our exploits the night before. Shout-outs go to Paul, Shaun, Ashley and Tom. Some of the tales of alcohol, drugs and sex will remain very fond dirty little secrets – probably the best place for them. All of that ended in the third year when a very old friend got back in touch with me. His name was Chris; he came along at a point in my life when I needed a bit of stability and calming down. Six years later, Chris became the father of my child. The rest, as they say, is history.


Out for a meal with Frankie

Money-wise it was never really that much of a struggle. Student loans coupled with grants and bursaries all helped and I worked a few part time jobs along the way to help fund my lifestyle. Spells at Subway, Carphone Warehouse and working the breakfast buffet at a Premier Inn all brought the extra pennies in to help pay for food, toiletries, booze and clothes. The day the loan came in was always special – we’d nearly all go on a mad shopping spree to buy new outfits and make up.


Casual Pizza Hut

Sometimes we’d do our food shopping together and cook for each other and sometimes we’d all go for meals out. We’d go on trips out to Blackpool, Manchester, Southport and even London. I don’t think I ever lived off beans on toast – and I was a stickler for drinking decent wine! You just learn to cut your cloth accordingly – working part time definitely helped make life slightly more comfortable for me.

The education

I should really get round to talking about the reason I went to uni – the education! Yes for me an education did actually happen. For others who weren’t overly bothered about getting a degree and who were all about the party, it didn’t. It’s true that you get out of it what you put in. I loved some of my modules – some I didn’t really find relevant to what we wanted to do, but the core journalism modules were fantastic.



Just some of the boys off my course

I remember on the first day of uni walking into a room full of males. With our course being Sports Journalism, it was dominated by teenage boys. I’d say the ratio was around 45 boys to four girls. It would’ve been easy to be intimidated by that situation, but I used it to my advantage. I wanted to prove that my gender wasn’t an excuse and that I could be equally as good as the males, if not better. I became the very best of friends with Frankie, one of my female course mates, and we stuck together through any episodes of chauvinism and misogyny (despite us knowing more about football than most of them).


With my Frankie

Perhaps I’m being sexist, but I relished the gender divide: often when put into groups I’d plan quality projects with excellent contacts and the boys would just be along for the ride and contribute minimally. That always provided some level of personal satisfaction – I was merely preparing myself for battle amongst a male-dominated industry. I had to say some of the males on the course were fantastic and treated you as an equal, but some couldn’t look past the fact you had breasts and knew more about certain sports than them. They’d scoff and look down their nose at you – more fool them. Thanks go to Sam, Dean, SVG, Chris, Andy, John and Ali for being the good guys.


Charlie's speech at our final meal together

It was also a privilege to be taught by some of the best in the business. Our course leader, Charlie Lambert, was nothing short of phenomenal. He’s since retired, which is a great shame, but he brought years of industry experience and infinite wisdom throughout our three years and really guided us all on our way. One of our modules was taught by Peter Stevenson, who continues to report for Sky Sports News to this day. I know gaining a degree is an expensive task, but you can’t put a price on that experience. We even had a guest lecture from Janet Street-Porter – one of my industry idols. Lecturers like that bring not only their expertise but they inspire you even further to gain your degree to aid you towards your chosen career path.


Presenter Jake Humphrey invited me to London to interview him

I opted for a tricky approach during uni. I kept up with my voluntary work and even applied for more. I figured that the more unpaid work on my CV and the more media companies and contacts I knew, the better shot I had at a career post-uni. I worked for all four mediums: online, print, television and radio. I did my work experience at FourFourTwo magazine in London and I never once rested on my laurels. I always adopted the approach of doing the very best I could. I’d be on air on Key 103 Manchester radio Sunday nights contributing briefly to a sports segment, Nuts TV would phone me in the week to contribute to football debates, I’d be writing content for FootballFanCast.com and keeping up with writing for King of the Kippax too. Sheer determination kept pushing me to take on more and more.


Gabby Logan was one of many wonderful interviewees

When given an assignment for my course, I always tried to find the best interviewee possible for the chosen topic. Gaining interviews with television presenters, Premier League footballers and football club legends are all achievements I’m proud of and contributed significantly towards my degree. I’d spend hours researching contacting, emailing, pestering – what’s the worst anybody can say to you, no? Even when they did, I didn’t give in. It took three attempts to Gabby Logan’s agent to gain an interview with her. Eventually I was invited to London for an exclusive – persistence and determination is paramount to succeed. I worked hard on creating and running my own blog, Football Pundette, all of my interviews and articles can be found on here.


Manchester City legend Colin Bell agreed to an interview

To a certain extent, I think I stretched myself so thin I compromised my overall grade. I finished with a 2:2 and I do believe I could’ve done better. But my contacts book was impressive and I believe I left myself in the best position possible to gain a paid job in my chosen field. I look back and feel a great sense of achievement at having graduated by gaining a degree through dedication and spotting opportunities where others potentially didn’t. I gave it my best shot – you can’t do any better than that. I’m also proud of what my fellow course-mates have achieved since graduation, with a handful now working for BBC Sport, The Mirror and other significant media organisations. Well done us.


So proud that my Mum and Dad both attended my graduation

My Mum and Dad set aside their differences for a few hours to both attend my graduation and that was a special moment. Uni is a truly unique experience and I think if you have the opportunity to go then don’t even hesitate – and throw yourself into it. It helped massively for me that I knew exactly what I wanted to do – I was focused in a season of 18 year olds who weren’t too sure if the course was for them or even what they wanted to do with their lives. A handful did get their heads down and unlike the majority, didn’t just go for the piss-up.


An unforgettable experience

But the experience itself: the independence, the course, the nights out, it’s all collectively indescribable. Some of our nights out were fantastic, but I often had just as much fun watching a film in our pyjamas. The people I met, the memories we shared, will forever stay with me. It’s only with hindsight that you can appreciate just how easy a life it really was back then. Now, the petty squabbles seem minor, some of the girls I met were absolute diamonds, and as for going out every night – I can’t remember the last night out I had! I was a very special three year window of time that was daunting, challenging but ultimately amazing – times I will cherish for the rest of my life.

The legacy

The career? I guess this is where people turn round and say ‘so where did it all go wrong?’ Well, it didn’t. My life goals just shifted. I’d achieved my degree, I went on to achieve my dream job at the football club I support for a few years (all that glitters isn’t gold) then my life on its head when I lost a baby. Since then, my career took a back seat while my maternal instinct kicked in. For most of my life all I could think about was being a sport journalist - that changed to spending my life longing to be a Mum. It’s funny what life throws at you and how grief can affect you, it just turned all my aspirations on its head.



Working at City for three years during their initial trophy haul was a privilege

I’ve been blessed to now be a mother to Vincent, my beautiful little boy. He’s almost two and he’s also now going to be a big brother at Christmas time. I work part time in an administration role for a wonderful family company and I believe I have a perfect work-life balance. I couldn’t be happier. I still love to write – these days it’s just finding the time. But I’d love to keep the door open as it’s a shame to work so hard and not to keep up with that passion and a subject you are highly experienced and qualified in.


Relishing my life as a Mum to Vincent

Some might say I have under-achieved since graduating. That’s your opinion and one you should keep to yourself. It’s easy for people to judge without knowing how difficult circumstances have been. I wouldn’t have got my job at City if it wasn’t for going to uni. It was a pleasure interviewing some of the best players in the Premier League and an incredible experience: I was at the club at a very special time and the insight was surreal and fascinating. Working on BBC Radio Manchester’s Blue Tuesday show was an opportunity I would’ve been highly unlikely to gain had it not been for uni. Both Ian Cheeseman and Sarah Collins were wonderful to me and a constant inspiration: the day I left was a sad day indeed. I've known Ian for many years and he often went out of his way to help me, something I'll always be grateful for.


Working alongside Ian Cheeseman and Paul Lake at BBC Radio Manchester's 'Blue Tuesday' show

University not just about the drinking. It’s not about who you wake up with the next day. You don't necessarily need it to get certain jobs these days, but others you definitely do. It gives you not only a wonderful education, but a fantastic grounding in life. You learn life lessons along the way and, among the immaturity; it instills a level of maturity in you to continue forward with your life. You meet friends for life, Frankie is somebody I will always have in my life and who I wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for uni. It taught me the value of money: from going through a bad period in my life financially when I was a teenager, I learnt how to budget and save. It’s taught me to forgive and forget because life’s too short. It taught me to apply myself and always keep trying, never give up. Ultimately, it taught me to be eternally grateful to my Mum for urging me to follow my dreams: I just hope I’ve made her proud somewhere along the way. 


Still the best of friends with Frankie ten years later

So to all those Freshers: enjoy – they’ll never be a time in your life quite like it ever again. 

Thursday, 31 March 2016

GET READY FOR A SUMMER OF LOVE...




Cast your minds back to August.



Ah, the start of the 2015/16 season, when Jose’s Chelsea were title contenders, Leicester’s main priority was survival and Brendan Rodgers was still in the dugout at Anfield. Over at the Etihad, a revitalised and pumped Vincent Kompany was back to full fitness and ready to lead his Manchester City team into battle to secure their third Premier League trophy in five seasons. Rumours had been rife that Manuel Pellegrini was set to be replaced by Pep Guardiola – something that hadn’t been confirmed nor denied. So City issued a statement revealing that the Chilean had been offered a two-year contract extension that would see him stay at the club until June 2017.

Well isn’t that lovely; a contract extension that will stop everybody from talking and writing about Pep. A strategic move intended to allow the manager and players to focus solely on winning silverware and to put a stop to those rumours once and for all. Well done City, very holistic of you. Well, holistic, naïve or completely pointless.




Five games in and City were flying. With no goals conceded and some stellar performances, including an awe-inspiring 3-0 thumping of Chelsea, everything had clicked for the Blues. The defence solid, the midfield full of creativity and flair and Kun Aguero upfront, no team had come close to looking quite as impressive and threatening.



‘Sheikh Mansour went to Spain in a Lamborghini,’ bellowed the home faithful. ‘Brought us back a manager, Manuel Pellegrini.’



I even penned an article about how at this rate, City could have the title sewn up by Christmas.



How wrong I was.



For nobody could have foreseen the seemingly implausible outstanding season that Leicester have had. Few would have predicted Jose’s departure from Chelsea and well, okay, more than a few would’ve bet on Rodgers appearing in more of a pundit role than a managerial one this year.



But nobody would’ve predicted the cataclysmic collapse of Manchester City. From title favourites to struggling to maintain top four status in a matter of months, the wheels on the bandwagon have come flying off in every which way. Injuries aplenty, insulting prices for a Champions League quarter final home tie and a manager so stubborn it raises even the most mild-mannered fan’s blood pressure; it’s both an embarrassing and perplexing end to a season that started with so much expectation and promise.



GREAT EXPECTATIONS


Expectation is a funny thing. The mentality of fans seems to be two-fold: we plummeted to Division Two 18 years ago so we should just be grateful that we have had this incredible takeover with world class players at our club. On the flip side, it’s time to stop living in the past. Winning the FA Cup, the Premier League, the Capital One Cup and the Community Shield has given a taste of success most fans could only dream about. 



That’s set the standard and left a certain acquired taste in the mouth. Once you experience your football team winning silverware, it’s infectious. The personal memories that accompany the triumphs can’t be underestimated. But success in itself breeds expectation – you only have to look at United and Liverpool to know that. Fans want more of the same – anything less is a disappointment. It can offer conflicting emotions – you don’t want to let go of the past and ‘the journey’, you know you’ll never have an ‘Aguero’ moment again, but that doesn’t mean you want the team to stop progressing and trying to win trophy after trophy.



I’m in the conflicted camp. I don’t want the club to become all corporate and it seems that’s the way it’s heading – targeting the money of the business client and pricing out the working-class hardcore element of the fan-base. It was inevitable. It’s understood that fans can’t expect super signings paying eye-watering wages and state of the art facilities without some form of increase, but where does it end? It’s dangerous ground when the club are constantly implementing cheesy gimmicks and marketing ploys to target a lucrative global audience – alienating and neglecting those 28,000 Maine Road regulars in the process.



DOCTOR, DOCTOR…



It’s an easy excuse to give, but injuries have taken their toll. Incurring so many muscle injuries has got to be looked at by the management and medical staff surely. It’s cost the club no end this season. Kompany, so influential in the heart of defence, has spent more time recovering than playing this season. David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Nicholas Otamendi, Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Wilfried Bony and Samir Nasri to name a few have all spent time in the physio room, leading to a dramatic loss of form for some concerned (sadly, I’m looking at you Spanish Dave). 



Sticking with that thought, under-performing has been a painfully reoccurring theme throughout the season. Sometimes you have to stop sugar-coating and call a spade a spade. Jesus Navas can run and run and run and spend all night running, but the chances are he a) won’t beat his man and b) won’t get a cross in. Maybe c) his shot will go out for a throw in. Bony has been nothing short of a flop in front of goal; with Kelechi Iheanacho impressing when given game time, how and why is it that Pellegrini has stuck with Bony time and time again? It’s indefensible loyalty. Otamendi, frustratingly inconsistent in defence, has a perchance for a slide tackle, which more often than not gets his name in the book.



Mega money signing Sterling has been all potential and no performance, Aleksander Kolarov is akin to a temperamental tortoise (if such a thing should happen to exist) and let’s not even go there with Martin Demichelis (the betting is not acceptable as a smokescreen). The jury is out on Fernando and Eliaqium Mangala is a hell of a lot of money to punt with not much of a result. Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy have been mediocre – they can perform on their day, but mediocre doesn’t win you silverware.



If I was Pep I’d be keeping: Aguero (obvious reasons), Silva (I live in eternal hope that he will find his magic wand again), Hart (England’s number one™), De Bruyne (Belgium’s Frank Lampard), Zabaleta (Mr City) and Fabian Delph (my opinion has changed on him this season). 



What about Yaya? The man who splits City fans’ opinions and causes many an argument on social media: a midfielder who can spend 82 minutes meandering round the centre of the pitch when City are a goal behind, looking like he’s walking through sand and thinking about what’s for tea, only to push forward in a surge of blistering pace and not only score the equaliser, but the winner too. He’s frustrating because it’s always on his terms; he plays when he wants to. He doesn’t defend because Yaya ‘doesn’t defend’ and apparently that’s acceptable. He can look like a petulant child who is being dragged round a shopping centre on a Bank Holiday, yet as long as he’s on the pitch he’s capable of producing match-winning moments of brilliance. The politics of Pep, coupled with his mischievous agent, means a question mark hangs over his future at the club.



THAT CHARMING MAN



Back to Pellegrini and that contract extension. It’s been nothing but a PR disaster for City. Of course the future of the manager is going to affect what happens on the pitch- it shouldn’t, but it does. Such instability and unrest has cost the club their third Premier League title. That’s not being arrogant, but having been in an enviable position five games in only to see Leicester run away with it…well, there’s more questions than answers.



Pep coming to City has every fan excited – but what effect has it had on Pellegrini? This Charming Man has transformed into Despised By Most Fans and in most respects, he has been the master of his own downfall, with a catalogue of damning errors/habits that crop up consistently. He never has a Plan B: too many times a team have been allowed to come at City from the off, grab an early goal and defend to secure all three points. We can’t cope with teams who get at us, come at us with pace and we then struggle to break said team down: see West Ham, Liverpool, Spurs and Stoke for further evidence of this. 



His stubbornness: Pellegrini has his favourites and it’s to his detriment that his loyalty has proved unfounded. Bony, Navas and Demichelis all fall into this category. It’s not his style, but a bit of visual passion wouldn’t go amiss – the majority of his time is spent staring into the abyss in an emotionless, hypnotic trance. Let’s be straight – the only trophy won by City this season was decided on penalties, after the team spent the majority of the 120 minutes wasting guilt-edged opportunities. Being wasteful in possession and in front of goal has been the story of the season, along with a criminally leaky defence that has barely been protected by its midfield. 



It’s not been the Pep announcement that proved detrimental to City’s season. The rot had already set in long before the rumours were finally laid to rest, the cracks appearing by October after a 4-1 mauling at White Hart Lane. At this moment, if City’s form doesn’t improve, Pep could realistically be coming to manage a Europa League side (thankfully, the deal is said to be iron clad). The danger is that it’s at no odds to Pellegrini whether City finish in the top four or not (apart from his bonus). Winning the Premier League and the Capital One Cup in his first season has almost glossed over the fact that he inherited a squad that Roberto Mancini helped build – and has merely steered the ship on autopilot. Txixi Begiristain has largely been calling the shots transfer-wise – with entirely mediocre results. 



There’s no doubt it’s an ageing squad with desperate need for renovation. Initially, it was signings like Robinho, Shay Given, Kompany, Zabaleta and Nigel De Jong that signalled the changing of the guard at the club. Then along came Gareth Barry, Kolo Toure, Joleon Lescott, Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez and Craig Bellamy. Building upwards and moving forwards, in came Yaya, Silva, Kolarov, James Milner, Mario Balotelli, Aguero, Nasri and Edin Dzeko. The balance of proven performers and winners at the most elite level in football, coupled with flair and grit, was a recipe for success.



The more recent signings at the club have tended to see City pay an extortionate premium based on a) the fact that it’s City paying and b) potential. I’d put Sterling, Fernando, Mangala and Otamendi in that bracket. A lack of organisation on the pitch, with Kompany invariably out, has been alarming. Yaya is not captain material, whereas Hart is.



But where’s the passion and desire gone, the team spirit, the focus and the will to win silverware? Surely with a new manager around the corner they’d want to be playing to impress, or are they just a bunch of mercenaries after all? With a current manager who has lost the plot, blinded by the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s proving to be a sad end to an era. There is the crumb of comfort that is the Champions League quarter final, but how can a team that can only muster 0-0 draws against Norwich and Aston Villa beat Zlatan and Co? Maybe Typical City still exists after all…



A MUCH NEEDED PEP TALK



Onto the positives and there’s plenty of those. It’s a time to clear the decks and start afresh. Let’s be realistic: rebuilding will be expensive. Sheikh Mansour can afford it and Pep will want, expect and have been promised only the best. It’s standard practise that City are linked with a multitude of players daily, but it’ll be interesting to see who Pep targets to help build is dynasty – and who he opts to show the door to. 


It’s not just at City either. Euro 2016 will fill a void that the Premier League leaves and comings and goings will be sure to fill the back pages during the balmy months. Will Jose replace Louis Van Gaal? Who’s set for the Chelsea job? Will West Ham hold onto Dimitri Payet? Similarly, will Leicester be able to persuade Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez to stay? As for Paul Pogba, that will he or won’t he just refuses to go away.




With only a couple of months to wait until Pep’s arrival, the only silver lining to City’s season (bar a Champions League miracle), is the excitement that a summer of change will bring. New faces create fresh expectation, but healthy optimism. Pep will be sure to guarantee he is fully equipped in all departments to create a force to be reckoned with moving into next season. Not only that, who doesn’t want to see a manager of that calibre in the Premier League? Not only that, but at your football club? As if you needed an excuse to get to the beer garden…




Thursday, 29 October 2015

A FOOTBALL PUNDETTE EXCLUSIVE






A lot of people think footballers are untouchable. Most tend to think they are ridiculously overpaid, self-absorbed and out of touch with reality. They live in a world with a fantasy lifestyle that us mere mortals just simply can’t relate to.



That was until recently, when a footballer’s cry for help struck a chord for me so deep, it evoked painful and difficult memories that I’d struggled to battle through and tried so desperately yet so impossibly to forget. It’s a curious world we live in where said footballer’s activities hitting the headlines made me realise just how lucky I am – and how unfortunate I’d been in the past.



I could never have thought I’d ever have anything in common with Jake Livermore. We are both English – and that’s where any common ground normally ends. He earns his wage playing football for Championship side Hull City. I pay my bills through an administration role and writing. He’s seven years my junior. Frankly, we couldn’t be any more different.



That was until the midfielder hit the headlines in August. After testing positive for cocaine in May and being suspended from his duties pending an FA investigation, the revelation that Livermore and his partner lost their new born baby in May last year gave the FA a moral decision to make. The 25 year old said he turned to the substance after spiralling into depression following their loss. The FA deemed the situation ‘extenuating and exceptional circumstances’ and offered the footballer a reprieve.



Most of the reaction to this has been sensitive, considered and respectful. But there is always a minority who mock and sit in judgement.



‘He was out snorting cocaine while his poor missus mourned their loss.’



‘Losing a baby is no excuse to go taking drugs as a way of coping.’



It’s the easiest thing in the world to sit behind a keyboard and pass judgement: tapping out 140 characters of bile with no respect or compassion for the feelings of the person concerned. It’s much more difficult to try and understand, to empathise and to relate. Losing a baby is one of the hardest situations anybody can go through. There are other despicable things that can happen and I don’t want to take away from that. But it takes two to make a baby, so both parties should be expected to mourn. Just because Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus doesn’t mean the woman should be the only inconsolable party, the only one grieving.



I can relate to Jake Livermore because I’ve been through it. I’ve lost a baby and I’ve grieved. I’ve searched for answers and struggled to make sense of it. When it happens, you are simply left to deal with it. There are no manuals, no after care, nothing. All your hopes, dreams and plans for parenthood are left in tatters and you are left to somehow pick up the pieces and move on with life.



It just doesn’t happen like it. I have told the story behind my miscarriage here, so I won’t go into the details of when and where it happened. But I’ve never spoke in depth about just how much an affect it had on my life and on our life as a couple. This is why the Livermore case struck such a chord with me. It was too familiar – too close to home.



My initial reaction was a feeling of complete numbness. Although it was early days at seven weeks, probably nothing compared to the pain Jake and his partner must’ve gone through after actually meeting their son, Jake Junior who passed at birth, we had discussed names and become excited at the family life that lay ahead. We had embraced the prospect of being parents – and that had suddenly been taken away from us in a matter of minutes.



Looking back, the initial aftermath was a blur. I went to the doctors and asked for help; not really knowing what the standard protocol was in these situations. Is there a typical way of coping with losing a baby? Ah yes, silly me. Of course there is. The doctor prescribed me Citilopram and sent me on my way.



It wasn’t really explained to me what the tablets were about, what the possible side effects were and the potential change they’d make to my life. I didn’t know they were anti depressants. In hindsight I was probably naïve, thinking I could rely on a doctor to turn my monochrome world back into colour again. Like a little girl, I looked at the GP as a fairy with a magic wand, who could take my pain away and bring the light back into my life. Was I depressed? I didn’t feel depressed as in having suicidal thoughts, I just felt like somebody had turned the lights out in my world. All the life had evaporated from me. Is that what depression feels like? I had no idea what to do with myself.



I wasn’t ready to discuss it with him. He had been amazing during the incident and my time in hospital in Antigua, but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t know what to say, I don’t think he did, so we couldn’t and didn’t take comfort in one another. It remained a taboo subject, one that was never to be talked about and that proved detrimental. Instead, we attempted to move on with our lives as best we could. Back to work, back to the future, minus our baby. Minus the future.



When Jake Livermore turned to cocaine, it was clearly an attempt to block out the monumental pain and loss that he had suffered. Nobody has the right to say he was selfish. Nobody has the right to act self-righteous and dictate what the right or wrong way to react in that situation is. There is no right or wrong. There is nothing. There is pain, inconsolable and isolating heartbreak and torrential devastation. A loss so severe it turns your world upside down; destroys the status quo. How do you suggest anyone copes with that?



Now tell me the death of a child is merely an ‘excuse’ to take drugs. Explain to me how best to deal with that level of pain. Of torture. People react differently to grief and should be allowed to do so free from judgement. When you’re at your lowest ebb, it’s anything to help ease the agony and anguish.



Our loss was profound to the interaction we had with each other. He also went to the doctor and, surprise surprise, was also given Citalopram. With both of us on anti depressants, skirting conversations about our loss and coming home from work to our apartment together tinged with awkwardness, my sense of loss was unbearable. I couldn’t cope. My heart had been set on our baby, a new life, an amazing blessing to anybody’s lives.



I didn’t sit and weep constantly. We just gradually started to drink more. Neither of us had read the small print on the box of tablets that warned against the consumption of alcohol with the pills, so we didn’t know the side effects. Hostility, anxiety, panic attacks, loss of sex live, mood or behaviour changes. They soon became apparent.



The arguments and fighting occurred normally after I’d had a bottle of wine and he had a few pints. Or wine. Sometimes it would turn physical (on my part), most of the time it was aggressively verbal. At first, we would kiss and make up the morning after, but as it became regular, I think we just accepted it as the new norm in our relationship. Drinking wasn’t just reserved for the weekends- it was a midweek thing now. It was a way of coping: the only way I knew how.



People would ask when we would be trying again to conceive. That was another taboo subject. Anything to do with children was. Our sex life was almost non-existent: I’m sure paranoia on his part in case I fell pregnant. The loss had started to change my personality: I became bitter, resentful and probably deeply unlikeable. Only at the time I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. I was in too deep: the mixture of alcohol and tablets proved to be my release. The two combined became my coping mechanism. My life was over as I knew it: the cocktail of drugs and wine or vodka made me feel alive again.



Certain personal relationships deteriorated beyond recognition: I’m not sure if people knew just how bad it got, if they understood what was going on or whether they just thought I’d had a personality transplant. I really tried to put on a front, a mask if you like. But it was so hard. Marriage and babies surrounded me and I felt like I was drowning. I knew nothing was right anymore. I just didn’t know what to do about it. So if I wasn’t as close to you if you had a baby during that time, don’t take it personally. Try to understand. I just lived in a zombie-esque trance. For it wasn’t life anymore, it was a mere existence.



We got engaged in June 2011. Looking back at the photographs from that night it was there for all to see: we were both drunk therefore we were both happy. Let’s put a ring on it. No plans were ever really made for a wedding. We bought pet chameleons- again an attempt to fill the drastic void left by our loss. Although they brought colour and fun into our lives, an animal can never truly be a substitute for a child. Particularly when the animal dies…



I thought about going elsewhere for sex. My high drive hadn’t been affected and I was in an impotent relationship with no sign of that improving: one night he caught me drunk texting an old flame from university. He retaliated but neither one of us would’ve actually done anything about it. As twisted as things had become, deep down we knew we still loved each other too much. I was tempted, but that’s as far as it went. We remained loyal and, as far as I’m aware, in love.



That was, until things reached breaking point for us over Christmas 2011: I’d had a deeply regrettable violent encounter with an individual whilst under the influence of my reliable drink and drug concoction and enough was enough. He told me he didn’t love me anymore- those words jolted me more than anything ever had since our loss. He was all I knew, my world: although we brought out the worst in each other, I still believed we were unbreakable. I was wrong. That was rock bottom. Dad invited me to stay with him for a couple of weeks in the Far East- and it was the best thing I ever did.



The two weeks in Hong Kong, China and Bangkok did me the world of good. It transformed my life. The break switched the light back on, illuminated my world and made my life technicolour again. I saw wonderful sights, spent precious time with my Dad and had a lot of time to myself, with myself. I think the time away brought a lot of clarity for me: I stopped taking the tablets, I didn’t think about them whatsoever. I was too distracted by my surroundings. I did have one night in Hong Kong where I drank a copious amount of vodka and met an adorable man from New York. Say no more (well, we were on a break). After 18 months of anarchy and destruction, I’d found an inner serenity I didn’t know existed. I’d finally come to terms with our loss- it was time to try and move on in earnest.



I think looking back we would both admit the relationship should’ve ended there. But it didn’t: he met me at the airport; we resolved our differences and both agreed to put the tablets and the past behind us. For a long time it worked; we even went on holiday to the Far East together for Christmas and New Year, going to the places I’d visited during my stay earlier that year, places that aided me so much in my recovery.



But it wasn’t to be. A drunken argument on his part in front of my family (and at New Year his) brought back painful memories, yet we still continued in the pursuit of happiness. I knew it wasn’t right, my friends attempted to scream sense into me, but I am a hopeless romantic who was blinded by insecurity, love and loyalty. Ultimately, it wasn’t my choice. We had spent five years together, 18 months of which before I fell pregnant were incredibly happy times, but he ended it in January 2014.



A week later I found out I was pregnant.



Fast forward almost two years and I am blessed to have a beautiful and healthy one year old son, Vincent. He makes me forever proud and there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t feel fortunate to have him in my life. I’m also privileged to have met the most selfless, wonderful man, Adam. Together, they both make me strive to be the best person I can possibly be, to live every day looking on the brightest side with nothing but gratitude. 



I could never have imagined I’d be where I am right now: I’ve never been so optimistic about the future and I can’t wait to spent my life with my two men – and add to our little family one day. I am lucky to be surrounded by love and happiness and that’s something I will never take for granted. I wish Chris nothing but contentment and good health: he was a big chapter in my life but that is over now and it’s time to look to the future in earnest.



I pinch myself daily: although I will never forget about the angel I have over my shoulder, I know that Vincent is never alone at play time. I see him smiling and giggling into thin air, I know who’s with him. It’s not just me.



I’m glad that life does go on. The memories are never forgotten, but time does work wonders as a healer. You develop coping mechanisms. Without Vincent I would feel like something is missing: I feel like my calling in life has always been to be a mother- and a wife. Most of us girls do dream of our picture perfect ending- but realise that life isn’t always how Disney portrays it. 



After being suspended pending an investigation, Jake is back playing football for Hull City- he’s had a second chance and is grasping it with both hands. There are struggles, pain and loss. There’s no harm in admitting that and you’re not defined by how you deal with that. Sometimes to have a second chance at it, another shot, is more than you can ever dream of.



Life is not a fairytale – but we are always capable of finding our Happy Ever After.