Wednesday 20 February 2013

Brit Awards 2013: Predictions, Preferences and General Ramblings of a Layman

Well I see that the Brit Awards are upon us again, which provides a handy reason for me to return to this blog. That telltale sign that we are all getting older as not only does it seem with each passing year as though we have bought/downloaded barely anything from any of the nominees, but increasingly it seems as though there are a few nominees that I haven't even heard of! With some admittedly patchy knowledge of some categories, here's what I reckon this year:

British Breakthrough Act Nominees:
Top 5 selected by Voting Academy. Winner identified by public vote promoted by and BBC Radio 1
• Alt-J (Infectious Music)
• Ben Howard (Island / Universal Music)
• Jake Bugg (Mercury / Universal Music)
• Jessie Ware (Island / PMR / Universal Music)
• Rita Ora (Columbia / Roc Nation / Sony Music)

Some great names in this category. Jessie Ware, I know her sister called Della. Come to think of it, I think I've come across Rita Ora's sister Kia. Or are they a car manufacturer? I digress. Going by what I have seen and heard this year, Rita Ora has been quite big in the airplay on the radio and done decently in the charts while Jake Bugg has had good write-ups in the music press and toured with Noel Gallagher and the Stone Roses. That suggests to me that it is between these 2 but the lovely Rita's greater commercial will probably just sway the vote in her direction.

My prediction: Rita Ora My selection: Jake Bugg

British Female Solo Artist Nominees:
• Amy Winehouse (Island / Universal Music)
• Bat for Lashes (Parlophone / EMI Music)
• Emeli Sandé (Virgin / EMI Music)
• Jessie Ware (Island / PMR / Universal Music)
• Paloma Faith (RCA / Sony Music)

I look forward to the acceptance speech if the first name is the one that is read out of the envelope. Has anyone ever won a Brit Award posthumously before I wonder? I know it's been done in the Oscars on a couple of occasions, most recently by Heath Ledger if I recall correctly. As much as the Amy Winehouse album that was released after her death had a couple of gems on it, I can't really see her coming out on top of the pile here. Paloma Faith and her array of crazy headgear has gathered quite a gathering over the past year and I liked her cover of the old INXS song that was used in an advert (John Lewis?). She has a chance but Emeli Sande had the best selling album of last year and was everywhere last year, even tinkling the ivories at Sports Personality of the Year. A big-up to Brightonian Bat For Lashes, but Emeli's winning this one I think.

My prediction: Emeli Sande My selection: Paloma Faith

British Group Nominees:
• Alt-J (Infectious Music)
• Mumford & Sons (Gentlemen of The Road / Island / Universal Music)
• Muse (Helium 3 / Warner Bros / Warner Music)
• One Direction (Syco / Sony Music)
• The xx (Young Turks / XL / Beggars)

This one's a bit of a mixed bag with boybands mixed in with guitar bands as well as electronica and a spot of folk too. Can't really see Alt-J or The xx prevailing here and I think Muse's glory days were a few years ago when they brought out their 'Black Holes and Revelations' album. So it really boils down to whether the One Direction juggernaut is bigger than Mumford & Sons' surprising popularity as a live band. I think that 10-15 years ago this award would always have been the preserve of the latest indie wonder, but Take That have won this award in recent years off the back of shifting lots of records and gaining mass appeal and One Direction seem to have conquered America which is no easy feat. Sorry banjo lovers, but I think Harry Styles et al have this one in the bag.

My prediction: One Direction My selection: Mumford & Sons

British Live Act Nominees:
• Coldplay (Parlophone / EMI Music)
• Mumford & Sons (Gentlemen of The Road / Island / Universal Music)
• Muse (Helium 3 / Warner Bros / Warner Music)
• The Rolling Stones (Polydor / Universal Music)
• The Vaccines (Columbia / Sony Music)

Not sure what it says about the strength in depth of live music acts over the past year when the Rolling Stones receive a nomination now that they enter their geriatric period. Coldplay, M&S and Muse are always regulars in this category and probably not much to choose between the 3 of them. Coldplay were touring with their previous year's material whereas Muse and Mumford & Sons had some fresh stuff out and so this might just steer things in their favour. I think this might be where M&S get their gong.

My prediction: Mumford & Sons My selection: Mumford & Sons

British Male Solo Artist Nominees:
• Ben Howard (Island / Universal Music)
• Calvin Harris (Columbia / Sony Music)
• Olly Murs (Epic / Sony Music)
• Richard Hawley (Parlophone / EMI Music)
• Plan B (679 / Atlantic / Warner Music)

Not really an expert on these things, but did Olly Murs release very much last year? If he did then he probably stands a good chance of winning. I'd say it is going to be between him and Calvin Harris. Good to see Richard Hawley has been nominated though as he's been releasing some good material for the past few years and he has a very distinctive, old-school voice. We won't get to hear him use his voice this time though as the acceptance speech will most likely be Calvin's.

My prediction: Calvin Harris My selection: Richard Hawley

BRITs Global Success Award
The winner of this Award will be announced at the Show on Wednesday 20th February.

Presumably an extra award added to the bill to give to Adele?

British Producer of the Year Nominees:
In association with The MPG Awards Identified by a panel overseen by MPG.
• Damon Albarn
• Jake Gosling
• Paul Epworth

Damon Albarn's a new face in the Producer category. By comparison, Paul Epworth is an old hand. Expect experience to win the day here.

Special Recognition Award Winner:
War Child UK

Presumably a Special Recognition Award this year rather than a Lifetime Achievement? Either way, a justified award.

Critics’ Choice Award :
In association with War Child Identified by a panel made up of media music critics
• Tom Odell (Columbia / Sony Music) - Winner
• AlunaGeorge (Island / Universal Music)
• Laura Mvula (RCA / Sony Music)

Don't have a lot to add on this one, other than whoever wins it is going to have a good chance of winning best breakthrough act next year. I'll go for Mr Odell.

International Group Nominees:
• Alabama Shakes (Rough Trade / XL / Beggars)
• The Black Keys (Nonesuch / Warner Music)
• Fun (Atlantic / Fuelled By Ramen / Warner Music)
• The Killers (Vertigo / Universal Music)
• The Script (Epic / Phonogenic / Sony Music)

I'd usually say that The Killers are a cert for this award whenever they are nominated, but their last album was a bit underwhelming and they are also up against some stiff competition. Alabama Shakes and Fun have both attracted good write-ups and The Script always do well commercially. But the best album I bought last year was El Camino by The Black Keys and they also just did well in the Grammy Awards. 2 of their songs - Lonely Boy and Gold On The Ceiling have been used quite regularly on adverts and trails over the past year which is a sure sign of appreciation. I think they will be further endorsed here.

My prediction: The Black Keys My selection: The Black Keys

International Female Solo Artist Nominees:
• Alicia Keys (RCA / Sony Music)
• Cat Power (Matador / XL / Beggars)
• Lana Del Rey (Polydor / Universal Music)
• Rihanna (Def Jam / Universal Music)
• Taylor Swift (Mercury / Universal Music)

Alicia Keys is something of a veteran in this category these days, but probably stands little chance of winning this year. Rihanna and Taylor Swift have shifted lots of records/downloads as per usual and both stand a chance but Lana Del Rey was one of the big sellers in the UK last year and did well in the charts making a major breakthrough in 2012 and on that basis I think she gets to win this award.

My prediction: Lana Del Rey My selection: Lana Del Rey

International Male Solo Artist Nominees:
• Bruce Springsteen (Columbia / Sony Music)
• Frank Ocean (Def Jam / Universal Music)
• Gotye (Island / Universal Music)
• Jack White (XL Recordings / XL / Beggars)
• Michael Buble (Reprise / Warner Music)

You know the apocalypse will be upon us if Michael Buble wins this award. Fortunately I think we will be reprieved for a while longer. Springsteen must be catching Neil Young up for the prolific number of studio albums he's recorded as he seems to get nominated nearly every year. Haven't heard anything Jack White has released as a solo artist but Gotye had one of the most played songs of last year which gained him notoriety which should see him win this one.

My prediction: Gotye My selection: Errr....Jack White I suppose

British Single:
Top fifteen British singles based on the biggest sales success in 2012 - With Capital FM and iTunes
• Adele ‘Skyfall’ (XL Recordings / XL / Beggars)
• Alex Clare ‘Too Close’ (Island / Universal Music)
• Coldplay & Rihanna ‘Princess of China’ (Parlophone / EMI Music)
• DJ Fresh Ft Rita Ora ‘Hot Right Now’ (Ministry of Sound / Ministry of Sound Group)
• Emeli Sandé ‘Next To Me’ (Virgin / EMI Music)
• Florence & The Machine ‘Spectrum’ (Island / Universal Music)
• James Arthur ‘Impossible’ (Syco Music / Sony Music)
• Jessie J ‘Domino’ (Island / Lava / Universal Music)
• Labrinth Ft Emeli Sandé ‘Beneath Your Beautiful’ (Syco Music / Sony Music)
• Olly Murs Ft Flo Rida ‘Troublemaker’ (Epic / Sony Music)
• Rita Ora Ft Tinie Tempah ‘R.I.P.’ (Columbia / Roc Nation / Sony Music)
• Rizzle Kicks ‘Mama Do The Hump’ (Island / Universal Music)
• Robbie Williams ‘Candy’ (Island / Universal Music)
• Rudimental Ft John Newman ‘Feel The Love’ (Asylum / Black Butter / Warner Music)
• Stooshe ‘Black Heart’ (Future Cut / Qworks / Warner Bros / Warner Music

The usual mixture of stuff in this category. There is about 2/3s of the nominees that can be readily eliminated as having a chance of winning. In fact, I think the destiny of this award is really between 4 female vocalists - Adele, Rita Ora, Emeli Sande and Florence. 'Spectrum' was one of my favourite songs last year and Flo and her Machine might stand a chance here, but I think the success of 'Skyfall' as a movie and Adele's subsequent success in the Grammys suggests this award is heading for her mantelpiece. Even as someone that doesn't like Bond themes or Adele particularly, I'd have to admit this was a good song.

My prediction: Adele My selection: Florence & The Machine

MasterCard British Album of the Year Nominees:

Supported by The Sun Bizarre Column
• Alt-J ‘An Awesome Wave’ (Infectious Music)
• Emeli Sandé ‘Our Version Of Events’ (Virgin / EMI Music)
• Mumford & Sons ‘Babel’ (Gentlemen of The Road / Island / Universal Music)
• Paloma Faith ‘Fall To Grace’ (RCA / Sony Music)
• Plan B ‘Ill Manors’ (679 / Atlantic / Warner Music)

I bought only one of these albums, which was Mumford & Sons' album 'Babel'. It's not a bad album at all as it goes and they triumphed when they released their previous album so they could well be successful again. The only reason to bet against them is that Emeli Sande had the best selling album of last year and given that the award is endorsed by The Sun, you would imagine that the populist vote will win the day. Expect some grateful record execs that have been kept in a job to applaud when she scoops this award.

My prediction: Emeli Sande My selection: Mumford & Sons

Sunday 12 February 2012

Brit Awards witterings, ramblings and predictions 2012

So, once again the award season is upon us with this weekend the BAFTA film awards following hot on the heels of the British Comedy Awards, the National Television Awards and the National Envelope Openers Awards. But it is on 22 February that the blue riband event so far as the British music industry concerned takes place, the night when record execs come together to slap their counterparts wholesale on the back.

Yes, it is the Brit Awards, the night that has provided many moments of controversy and comedy, ranging from Mick Fleetwood and Sam Fox's inability to read an autocue right through to Jarvis Cocker baring his derriere whilst Michael Jackson performed, and the amusingly named anarchist Danbert Nobacon of Chumbawamba fame pouring a bucket of ice over John Prescott and escaping a retaliatory jab from Hull's finest croquet playing Jaguar driver.

And so what moments of controversy, debauchery and amusement will be thrown up (hopefully not literally) this year? Well, judging by the nominees, seemingly not very much. Perhaps more than anything it is a sign of the ageing process taking hold, but it is hard to think of a year where I have been less aware of so many of the acts that have made the shortlist. I think this is in part due to me having bought so little music in 2011, either in physical copy or via download. However, I think it is also due to the nature of the charts now. Several of the acts nominated have had very little exposure in the media or via radio playlists over the past year and so consequently, much of their work has crept under the radar.

Maybe I will have to live with the reality that middle age is starting to take hold on me and it won't be long before I start finding myself snubbing music radio altogether and find that Radio 4 or Test Match Special on long wave will be my preferred wireless listening of choice. But it does seem to me that the days of the Brits having an impact and being compulsive television viewing are long gone. Sure, Lady Gaga will turn up wearing something reported missing from an abattoir and some rapper will turn the air blue with a few ill advised F-bombs in their acceptance speech, but these moments will be few and far between in an otherwise anodyne itinerary. James Corden has been booked to compere the show for the second year running, much to universal delight at least in the Corden household. But even a few lame putdowns from Patrick Stewart's old sparring partner are unlikely to give the Brits that much edge.

But, let's not get too bogged down with how the awards stack up with renewals from yesteryear. Comparisons are indeed odious and there are at least some interesting battles that could arise in some of this year's marquee categories. Ed Sheeran and Adele seem to be in pole position to clean up at this year's ceremony and given the commercial success that both have enjoyed in 2011, it would very surprising if either were to walk away empty handed. The Brits panel are an unpredictable bunch, but then so too are the British public, and they have a hand in deciding the destiny of the best single and album categories.

So, I thought it would be a good idea if a musical Nostradamus was to cast his eye over this year's shortlist and provide their expert analysis as to who will win each award, as well as advising the world as to what gems should be scooping the prizes, so far as their musical ear is concerned. Sadly, our correspondent was out to lunch and so the duty falls upon yours truly to predict the night's winners and losers for your delectation. Here goes:

British Male Solo Artist: Ed Sheeran, James Blake, James Morrison, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Professor Green
The days of this category being dominated by Robbie Williams are mercifully long gone. In his place we have some new kids on the scene, along with an old stager appearing as a solo artist for the first time. I have not followed Ed Sheeran a great deal but his songs appear to have received a lot of radio play in the last year and he was also lauded on Top of the Pops at Christmas, which makes him a livewire contender here. Nelly Furtado's former collaborative partner who mended her broken strings should win the battle of the 2 James' here, although Mr Blake continues to make that difficult transition from black US hard court tennis specialist to white, folksy British singer-songwriter. I thought Professor Green generally committed violent crime in the library with a candlestick, but I am not certain of whether his music is equally criminal. That leaves us with one half of Madchester's finest indie sibling combo in his new project and whilst his debut solo album is a very fine listen and reminiscent of Oasis's more mellow offerings, Noel Gallagher sized eyebrows would be raised were he to land this award at a time when old school indie-Britpop music is not particularly in vogue. Disappointing not to see Devonian folk singer Ben Howard make the shortlist (kind of Paignton's answer to Jack Johnson), but of those that have made it, expect flavour of the month Ed Sheeran to edge out James Morrison for the mantelpiece decoration.

My prediction: Ed Sheeran My choice: Noel Gallagher

British Female Solo Artist: Adele, Florence & The Machine, Jessie J, Kate Bush, Laura Marling
Not the most inspiring list of nominees that have ever adorned this category, albeit there are a couple of previous winners amongst the quintet. Jessie J has certainly had a productive year and her song 'Price Tag' has been one of the most played songs of the past year, perhaps because it is appropriate in identifying society's current materialistic obsessions. For all that, however, I found the song somewhat irritating. Florence and her imaginary machine have come back and recorded that difficult second album to general acclaim, although it generally passed me by. Kate Bush seems to be this year's version of Annie Lennox and is nominated just to remind people that she has made her once in a decade trip to a recording studio, while Laura Marling seems to be gaining a reputation as the critics' favourite. She won this category a year ago against the odds, but lightning is unlikely to strike twice as last year was Adele's year. And I say that as someone who does not like her music, or indeed her. When you are the biggest selling recording artist in the States as well as in the UK, you know that you have cracked it and seeing as how sales of CDs and downloads keep record execs away from a Jobseekers' Allowance, expect them to show their gratitude here.

My prediction: Adele My choice: Despite not liking her, it has to be Adele

British Breakthrough Act: Anna Calvi, Ed Sheeran, Emeli Sande, Jessie J, The Vaccines
It has been a strange sort of year because whereas in previous years, I would look at this category and would be championing the merits of at least one of the nominees' work, I look at the list this year and know little of their respective merits. Of course, I have heard of Jessie J, Ed Sheeran and Anna Calvi but have only heard the odd song here and there. I did hear one of Emeli Sande's songs on Radio 2 the other week and quite liked it, while I have heard some of The Vaccines' work and just thought they were the type of indie guitar band that has given that genre a bad name these days because their sound was very derivative. On the surface, this looks like a straight fight between Ed Sheeran and Jessie J, and I anticipate that Mr Sheeran will win his second award of the evening.

My prediction: Ed Sheeran My choice: Emeli Sande

British Group: Arctic Monkeys, Chase & Status, Coldplay, Elbow, Kasabian

A lot of the usual suspects feature in this category, although spot the odd one out. Go on, be honest, have you heard of Chase and Status? They sound like a web design company. A little bit surprising that Beady Eye didn't get a look in for this category after the release of their first album in 2011. Of the established acts, Coldplay returned with their first new album in 3 years in 2011 and as staunch a fan of Coldplay as I am, I have to say that I was underwhelmed by their latest offering. Not a bad album by any means, but it lacked as many standout tracks as most of its predecessors. By the same token, Elbow's last album did not quite hit the same heights as 'Seldom Seen Kid' but it would have been unrealistic to expect it to. Arctic Monkeys seem to have faded off the radar a bit these days, no longer going for the populist audience and in doing so, losing some of their fanbase whilst getting further approval from the rest. If Coldplay are to be beaten here, then it is likely to be Kasabian who topple them given their popular appeal to those that attend live music. They also seem to be a band that are remaining fresh despite now being on their fourth album. I have a gut feeling for the band from Leicester to cause a minor upset in this category and for them to defeat Coldplay.

My prediction: Kasabian My choice: Elbow

British Single: Adele - Someone Like You, Ed Sheeran - The A Team, Example - Changed The Way You Kissed Me, Jessie J Ft B.o.B. - Price Tag, JLS Ft Dev - She Makes Me Wanna, Military Wives/Gareth Malone - Wherever You Are, Olly Murs Ft Rizzle Kicks - Heart Skips A Beat, One Direction - What Makes You Beautiful, Pixie Lott - All About Tonight, The Wanted - Glad You Came
As ever the nominees for this category reads like a playlist for Heart FM's daytime schedule. The Wanted will betray their song title and be wishing they stayed at home because they will not be winning. Nor for that matter will the Military Wives, Ed Sheeran or One Direction, much to Caroline Flack's disappointment. If the queue for their concert at The Dome last year was anything to go by, Example will be getting the teenage girl vote. As much as it would be pleasing to see a Brightonian victory, Rizzle Kicks' collaboration with Olly Murs will not be claiming the prize either. I must confess to a weakness where Pixie Lott is concerned, a perfect mixture of long legs and saccharin sweet electro-pop does the trick. Incidentally where was she on the best female shortlist? Her nominated song was one of the better number 1s of recent times, but even so, I think she will fall short here as I am expecting the winner to come from either Adele or Jessie J, as theirs were 2 of the most played singles of last year. Given that Adele released 3 or 4 singles of note last year while Jessie J's nominated effort remains the one by which she is most readily identified, I think the latter could scoop the prize on this occasion.

My prediction: Jessie J My choice: Pixie Lott

British Album of the Year: Adele - 21, Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto, Ed Sheeran - +, Florence & The Machine - Ceremonials, PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
Well, I only own one out of the shortlist this year and that is Coldplay's latest album. I must say that although I am very much a fan of Coldplay's, as I mentioned above, I did feel somewhat underwhelmed by their latest album and do not feel that it has the strength in depth of most of their previous efforts. The problem is, however, that I have not heard enough of the other albums to suitably advise if any of the other nominees' entries are better. I have heard the singles from Adele's album and also a couple of songs from Florence and the Machine and so I would expect them to be at the front of the queue when this award is given out. It is surprising that Noel Gallagher's debut album is missing as that was the best album I bought last year, followed by White Lies' second album 'Ritual'. Ed Sheeran I suppose is also a candidate, while I think PJ Harvey got in because she won the Mercury Prize last year, but that generally does not offer much of a form guide, save for the year that Elbow made their breakthrough. I think it is a close call between Adele and Florence, but although Karl Lagerfield is unlikely to approve, expect another win for Adele.

My prediction: Adele My choice: Somewhat by default in the absence of Noel Gallagher or White Lies, Coldplay

International Male Solo Artist: Aloe Blacc, Bon Iver, Bruno Mars, David Guetta, Ryan Adams
It is to my great shame and possibly a sign of the ageing process kicking in that I was completely ignorant to Ryan Adams releasing any material last year, an artist who I quite like and whose material I have previously bought. Elsewhere, we have Aloe Blacc who I doubt is in need of a dollar these days following the commercial success of his hit single last year. You do sense he could end up being one of those one hit wonders being picked out of the Buzzcocks ID parade in five years time, by which time one suspects Phill Jupitus will be fossilised and Noel Fielding will have become a woman. I was so oblivious to David Guetta last year when he was nominated that I wondered whether he was in fact a Spanish goalkeeper, but he appears to have had another year of recording and producing club records played on the Balearics' party island so comes here as a livewire contender. I'm not particularly familiiar with Bon Iver, but gather he is of a similar musical ilk to Jack Johnson and Ben Howard, so he may be worth checking out. It is Bruno Mars, however, who seems to have had the most commercial success out of this quintet this past year though and on that basis, I would be surprised if anyone else picked up this award.

My prediction: Bruno Mars My choice: Ryan Adams

International Female Solo Artist: Beyonce, Bjork, Feist, Lady Gaga, Rihanna
Again, due to me not following music extensively in 2011, I was not aware that Iceland's greatest singing pugilist had released any material last year, or indeed this side of the Millennium. I'm sure that she is as grateful as a grapefruit for her nomination competing against such stellar names. Nice to see Feist nominated who had a fairish hit with that radio friendly '1234' song three or four years ago, although I was blissfully unaware that she had released anything since. She surely comes in as rank outsider in this category. As for the A-listers, well I think Lady Gaga's seminal year came a couple of years ago when she swept the board while wearing the delicatessen as her outfit. That then leaves Rihanna and Beyonce and while Beyonce starts to enjoy her new role of motherhood, I expect Rihanna to cap a year in which she hit number one for the fifth year in a row with a Brit award to boot.
My prediction: Rihanna My choice: Feist

International Group: Fleet Foxes, Foo Fighters, Jay Z / Kanye West, Lady Antebellum, Maroon 5
First of all, how do Jay Z and Kanye West count as an 'international group'? They are two solo artists that happen to collaborate with many other artists on their material. This is surely a form of cheating and it would be wrong for cheats to prosper. Secondly, who on earth are Lady Antebellum? Thirdly, Maroon 5, why? That much overused and annoying word 'meh' springs to mind when looking at this category this year. The door seems to be left open for the Foo Fighters to be winning this category. I don't profess to be the greatest fan of the Foos and find a lot of their music repetitive, but at a time when rock music seems to have become commercially unfashionable, you have to respect their ability to keep churning out top 20 hit singles, even if their sound, at least to my ear, is formulaic and derivative. The Fleet Foxes are the band I have most of a liking for out of these nominees and although they have never quite topped their single 'Mykonos' from 3 or 4 years back, I think they the best of a mediocre bunch here. That said, expect the Foos to pick up the award.
My prediction: Foo Fighters My choice: Fleet Foxes

International Breakthrough Act: Aloe Blacc Bon Iver Foster The People Lana Del Rey Nicki Minaj
Have not got a great deal to say on this category due to how little of their material I have heard. Aloe Blacc and Foster The People both seem to be one hit wonders, while Nicki Minaj is another one to file under 'acts I've not previously heard of before a Brits nomination'. I am hoping if I haven't heard of them then members of Brits Committee would not be able to identify them either. Although Bon Iver could be a dark horse, Lana Del Rey has been attracting a lot of column inches recently off the back of that 'Video Games' hit single. On that basis, I expect the King of Spain to collect a crown, or an award anyway.
My prediction: Lana Del Rey My choice: No idea

British Producer: Paul Epworth, Flood, Ethan Johns

When I first saw these nominees, I thought the last person was Elton John, which led me to wonder how long he had been a producer on other people's music. I have only heard of Paul Epworth and purely for that very scientific reason, I predict he will win this award.

Outstanding Contribution To Music: Blur

They didn't bother with an outstanding contribution last year for some reason, but it has been restored this year in order to provide recognition for Blur. I would have to say that is a fair enough accolade to dish out. I don't profess to be the biggest fan of theirs, but they have been around now for over 20 years and have released a vast back catalogue of hit singles to the point where even if you are not an out-and-out fan of their music, the chances are you are going to like at least some of their songs. That is the case with me, albeit most of the songs of theirs that I like have tended not to be the major hits. For the record, I reckon that as an overall music composition, you are hard pressed to find a better song they have recorded than 'The Universal', while 'Tender', 'Out Of Time' and 'There's No Other Way' are also amongst their finest works.

Not so fond of the likes of 'Parklife', 'Country House' or 'Girls and Boys', but there are plenty of people who disagree with me and so it is likely, therefore, that these will be the songs they perform on the night, provided they can tear Phil Daniels away from advertising football betting and cutting down on his Porklife in order to lead the vocals.

Critics' Choice Emeli Sande
Emeli Sande is a Scottish soul singer and I think I've heard one of her tracks on Radio 2, which means it must be the kind of music that won't frighten the horses, or Ken Bruce for that matter. She has collaborated before on a number one hit with Professor Green and as has been shown in the past, collaborating as a vocalist on other people's work is not a bad career move in order to get yourself airplay and awareness in the charts. Her Wikipedia entry also informs the world that she is Simon Cowell's 'favourite songwriter at the moment', although given Cowell's track record at promoting sub-standard mime artists on various talent shows, this is not necessarily a glowing reference. She beat Maverick Sabre to win this award, which I previously believed was the name of an Olympic fencing sword.

Monday 5 December 2011

A sporting chance

Well, hello readers. I was prompted to return to these parts after recently receiving notification of one of my previous literary masterpieces from two and a half years ago getting some positive feedback. Although the great comedy scriptwriters believe in calling it a day while the audience are still crying for more, I thought this was my calling to return and indulge some more. So much has happened in the world since I last clicked and glided into this parish. So, let’s get down to business.

1. Media exposure is the issue with Sports Personality of the Year, not gender or personality
Well, the nails have been sharpened and the stiletto blades have been maximised this week with the news that the BBC’s annual waste of the licence fee payer’s money…sorry, annual celebration of the sporting year for which they have footage readily available had overlooked the inclusion of anyone with an XX chromosome formation from their shortlist of the ten finest British sporting achievers of the year. Of course, the British media and the Twitterati reacted to the news with a measured and balanced response that could in no way be seen as playing for the populist vote. The sisterhood reacted with the level of anger and disgust normally reserved for important world changing events, such as some curly haired brat in need of having his teeth straightened avoiding eviction from a glorified karaoke competition screened to an audience of millions despite not being able to hold a note. Which brings us neatly on to Clare Balding, who was so infuriated by the shortlist, there were unconfirmed sightings of her having chained herself to the railings at Tattenham Corner. OK, I may have made that bit up.

So let us start at the beginning. In preparation for the BBC’s grand annual sporting revue of the year which invariably provides 2 hours of the most awkward and stuffy television one can get to bear witness to during the calendar, the executives get a list of esteemed sports publications (mainly the national newspapers) to come together as one to provide a definitive shortlist of the 10 stand-out sporting performers from these isles over the past 12 months. It never used to be this way of course. Back in the day, Sports Personality of the Year was a wholly open vote. Back in the days when bikes were bikes and the world wide web was simply where a large spider lived, I recall that votes were cast by filling in a form and cutting it out of the Radio Times before returning it in an envelope instructing the postie to send it to Wood Lane.

The advent of online voting, however, made an open ballot more difficult to police and therefore increased the risk of the vote being rigged. An example of how the vote could be manipulated, and which was probably instrumental in the BBC discontinuing an open vote, was found in the 2005 renewal of this accolade when Manchester United supporters came together for the noble cause of playing a joke on their old rivals Liverpool. At that time, Liverpool’s forward line was led by the tall and lanky but also very clumsy Peter Crouch who Liverpool had paid £6 million for earlier that summer. Crouch had made a start to his Anfield career that dreams are made of, at least for Manchester United supporters, as he took four months to score his first goal for his new employers and generally found himself regarded as a figure of ridicule. Ever the opportunists in revelling in their rival’s weaknesses, United supporters decided to poke fun at Crouch’s predicament by carrying out a block vote on him to win the BBC’s prized bauble. Such was the collective Solidarity among the United brethren in carrying out their public duty, football’s answer to Rodney Trotter actually polled more votes than anyone else in the field with the exception of that year’s landslide winner, Ashes winning all-rounder Andrew Flintoff. Sadly for Crouch, he did not get a trophy for his cult following (in keeping with his football career) as the BBC smelt a rat and therefore excluded his votes from the poll. The rotten spoilsports! It was likely no coincidence that the open vote discontinued just a year later to be replaced by the dreaded shortlist.

When the shortlist was introduced in 2007, the BBC decided to canvass opinion for who should be included on it by consulting journalists from approximately 30 publications. Only the finest sporting authorities and almanacs were consulted in arriving at the all-important definitive dectet you will understand. And so it came to be that the Daily Star on Sunday and Nuts and Zoo magazines got to pontificate on the finer points of the sporting year. At least these publications generally managed to understand the rules for eligibility as far as nominees are concerned, namely that their suggested sportspeople have to be British. This is more than can be said for another publication given a say in proceedings, the Manchester Evening News, who decided to use their vote to good effect by nominating Manchester based footballers Dimitar Berbatov and Yaya Toure, from Bulgaria and the Ivory Coast respectively. Thus confounding the argument forever more that local newspapers only hold an interest in the local news agenda.

After all the votes from the sporting scribes had been assembled and disseminated and spoilt ballot papers had been discarded, the BBC published its final ten and unleashed the nation’s favourite potato thief, Gary Lineker, to go and announce the runners and riders on ‘The One Show’, although it transpired his was only the second most controversial announcement made on this most anodyne of primetime shows during the week. The names that had been decided upon were (in no particular order) Ashes winning cricketers Andrew Strauss an Alistair Cook, British golfing heavyweights Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Luke Donald, world champion athletes Mo Farah and Dai Greene, tennis’s perennial nearlyman Andy Murray, road cycling’s sprint king Mark Cavendish and boxing’s Amir Khan. On the surface, these appear to be stellar names in what has arguably not been a vintage year for the mainstream sports.

So the key question is whether the inclusion of a woman in the list would be on merit, or would just be a token gesture. I think the best way of dissecting this is to first consider whether any of the aforementioned names are unworthy of their place. Now, the problem faced in doing this is providing an objective opinion without allowing personal prejudices for a particular sport, be they positive or negative, to cloud that judgement. Allow me to elaborate. Say you are a female voter and your interest is in track and field and gymnastics, you will be minded to vote for Jessica Ennis and Beth Tweddle. The same female voter may have no interest in golf and regard it in the same way as Mark Twain as a good walk spoiled. There will be male voters with an interest only in boxing and football who may not know the first thing about Mark Cavendish and his record breaking achievements, and in all likelihood, there will also be other males whose views of women in sport are that they take no interest other than when the beach volleyball segment of the Olympics comes round every year, or when Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka are playing out a gruntathon on the tennis court. Prejudice need not only be confined to overt sexist attitudes, however, as witnessed by Andy Murray’s inclusion in the poll. I can only speculate, but I am willing to wager that most of Murray’s votes came from north of Hadrian’s Wall, while those from south of the border regard him, somewhat unfairly, as a Scottish, English hating surrender monkey who has never won anything of note.

Added on to all of these prejudices, you also get the same dimwits who every year get hung up on the word ‘personality’. You know the sort of diatribe I mean, ‘How has Andy Murray/Lewis Hamilton/Uncle Tom Cobley got nominated when he’s got no personality?’, choosing to interpret who the outstanding sporting performer for the year is by assessing who can get galleries rolling around with the best one liner or by pulling a funny face, rather than actually choosing their favoured candidate based on achievement. In a way, I wish the BBC would do everyone a favour and rebrand their accolade as ‘Sportsperson of the Year’ or ‘Sporting Achiever of the Year’ so to close this avenue of thought off to any wannabe comedians.

Before I go on to examine the merits of some potential female contenders that have been overlooked, let’s first of all consider the merits of the ten alpha males that did make the cut. I will try do so without allowing personal preferences and prejudices to get in the way of providing a balanced opinion. Just a good job no gymnasts or figure skaters made the cut this year! Here goes:

Andrew Strauss: As an Ashes winning captain and particularly as the first captain to win an Ashes series for England in Australia for a quarter of a century, it is quite understandable that Strauss has been included. However, despite being a cricket fan myself, I am not sure that Strauss’ inclusion here is merited. Strauss’ captaincy was far less instrumental in England’s Ashes victory than the runs provided by Alistair Cook and Jonathan Trott, or the wickets taken by Jimmy Anderson. Likewise, England’s ascent to number 1 in the Test world rankings with a series whitewash of India in the summer owed more to strong batting, good bowling and feeble Indian resistance. Added to which, Strauss’ own form with the bat has been scratchy this year, to the point that if he was not captain and if he was not playing in a winning team, his place in the side would be in jeopardy. It is true that the Ashes success marked one of the feelgood successes of the year in British sport, certainly in England anyway, but the success also happened almost a calendar year ago and so is not fresh and imprinted in people’s memories. A borderline selection.

Alistair Cook: Although the argument about the Ashes not being fresh in people’s memories applies again with Cook, his achievements with the bat Down Under will be recorded in the almanacs for years to come. Cook scored 766 runs in 5 test matches which went some way to batting Australia out of matches in that series and having the same effect on Australian morale that Ian Botham had in his all-conquering 1980s heyday. It is also easy to forget now a year on, but Cook arrived on Antipodean soil with his place in the team being questioned after a run of low scores the previous summer. Working in the nets with his mentor Graham Gooch paid rich dividends though and Cook rubber stamped his performances in Australia with another fine run of scores in the summer that make him a genuine contender as the current top batsman in world cricket. With 18 test centuries to his name and at only 26 years of age, the England captain in waiting has an excellent opportunity to become England’s highest test run scorer of all time, unless injury curtails his career. A shoo-in for the list.

Rory McIlroy: Golf is not everyone’s idea of a spectator sport, some would even question whether it should be called a sport given the lack of athleticism required to participate in it. This is not a view I agree with, although I am not a particular fan of the sport either. Nonetheless, McIlroy represents a breath of fresh air to his sport at a time when its reputation had been soiled in the aftermath of Tiger Woods’ meltdown in his private life. Woods had been the all-conquering drawcard for his sport for over a decade, the benchmark against whom every other aspiring golfer judged themselves, as well as also being the man who put the derrieres of the general public on seats. Since Woods’ private affairs imploded, there has been a vacancy at the top of the game to be the public face of the sport, a new kid on the block who could talk the talk and walk the walk. McIlroy, at 22 years of age, is looking like being that man and this year has been his breakthrough year with him emulating the success of his compatriot Graeme McDowell by winning the US Open (a tournament that had not been won by a European for 40 years prior to McDowell’s success) as well as coming close to winning the coveted US Masters title before a disastrous final round put paid to his chances. The mental strength McIlroy showed in recovering from the Masters setback to win the US Open 2 months later is a sign that he has the tools required to be his sport’s world leader and poster boy for years to come. Deservedly included.

Darren Clarke: Everyone likes a story with a happy ending, the plucky underdog who strives, and ultimately achieves against the odds, his lifetime’s ambition by winning a big prize. This is the premise on which every Hollywood sports movie has been based in any event, and for those that like a sugar coated conclusion to their sporting pleasures, then Clarke ticks all the boxes. For those unaware of Ulsterman Clarke’s back story, he finished second in the 2006 Sports Personality of the Year to Zara Phillips after holing the winning putt for Europe in that year’s Ryder Cup, just a matter of weeks after his wife had succumbed to breast cancer. This year, Clarke won the Open Championship, golf’s most coveted of all the majors, in what was his twentieth appearance in the tournament. At 43 years of age, he is the second oldest first-time Major winner of all time. And Clarke will appeal to those who like their sportspeople to be anti-sportspeople, by that I mean that they eschew a rigorous fitness regime and a dedication to practice in favour of going out the night before a round to participate in a cold stout and hot curry consumption competition. Whether you feel Clarke is worthy of inclusion depends on whether you feel one isolated achievement in the year and the realisation of a lifetime’s ambition outweighs not doing anything else of note in 2011. Given the prestige attached to the Open Championship and given Clarke’s compelling back story, it is probably churlish to exclude him and he will be a popular choice among the nineteenth hole regulars at Royal Portrush and beyond.

Luke Donald: Even the most ardent golf fans probably find themselves questioning whether three of their number should be included amongst the ten great sportspeople of the year. However, it is a cause for celebration whenever a British sportsperson is number 1 in the world and Donald does end 2011 leading golf’s world rankings, following a year in which he has won several tournaments. Much like tennis, however, golf is a sport where rankings carry far less credence than Majors and, as yet, Donald has not broken through and won a Major tournament which his status would suggest he is capable of. If you were to look at what Donald has achieved versus Darren Clarke over the whole year then Donald has a greater claim to be on the list, but significantly, Clarke has won the Major that Donald has not. Again, a borderline call until such time that he delivers in a Major.

Andy Murray: Murray is Britain’s most successful tennis player since World War 2 and has enjoyed another season of steady form in which he has won seven tournaments, including 2 Masters series titles and the pre-Wimbledon warm-up tournament at Queens Club. He has also reached the semi-finals or better of all of the Grand Slam tournaments. Significantly, however, he did not convert any of these into his maiden Grand Slam title, with an Australian Open runners-up berth being the closest he came in 2011. In his mitigation, however, he is around at a time when there are 3 exceptional men’s tennis players and it is worth recalling that even Roger Federer did not register a Grand Slam victory in 2011 either. You sense that Murray will need to win Wimbledon before he ever stands a genuine chance of winning this accolade, but I feel that when taking into account the quality of opposition at the top echelons of his sport at this time, his performances this year are worthy of his place on the shortlist.

Mo Farah: A year before the London 2012 Olympics in which the track and field programme will provide for many, the blue riband events of the Games and therefore will also provide the barometer through which Britain’s success at the Games will be measured, Farah increased the sense of anticipation by winning gold in the men’s 5000 metres at Athletics’ World Championships in South Korea. Farah’s success in a long distance race will evoke memories of an era when Britain fared well at such events, which is a break from the norm these days in which middle and long distance events are often dominated by North African athletes who are better conditioned and drilled in the art of endurance racing. If Farah were to win gold in London next year, he would stand every chance of winning the 2012 accolade, but sport is an unpredictable sorceress. This could be Farah’s moment in the sun and he is rightly included.

Dai Greene: Welshman Greene claimed Britain’s only other track gold medal in South Korea when beating off the competition to win the men’s 400 metre hurdles. As with Farah, were he to replicate this success in East London one summer’s day next August then his chances of winning the award in 2012 would be multiplied by 5. As it is, a gold medal in track and field’s second most important competition certainly makes him a justifiable nominee.

Amir Khan: It is seven years now since Khan gained a silver medal in the Athens Olympics while still a teenager. Khan turned professional soon afterwards and after a few teething troubles in the early stages of his professional career, Khan’s rise to the summit has gained momentum and he has held world title belts in the light-welterweight division for the past two and a half years and he is now regarded as the pound-for-pound best fighter in his weight category. Khan has only had two successful defences of his title this year, with a third fight being fought before Christmas. His knockout victory against Zab Judah, however, was a unification fight meaning that Khan’s victory brought him the IBF belt in addition to the WBA belt he already held. Boxing’s lack of terrestrial television coverage may mean that some are not entirely aware of Khan’s progress since Athens, but he is on course to deliver on his early potential. There is an argument to say that Carl Froch should be boxing’s representative on the list, but given that Froch has fought only once this year so far, 2011 has not been his defining year.

Mark Cavendish: Of all of the chosen 10, Cavendish participates in arguably the least mainstream sport, albeit his exploits in the Tour De France have added to the UK’s increased interest in pedal power following the track cycling team’s performance in the Beijing Olympics. Cavendish has been nominated here before, but 2011 was the year in which his achievements transcended conversation confined to road cycling circles. This was the year in which Cavendish won the coveted green jersey in the Tour De France for being the champion sprinter, breaking the record for the most sprint stage wins along the way. In addition, he also claimed a World Championship gold medal. Cavendish’s successes in the world’s most celebrated endurance race would be worthy of his inclusion on their own as there are few tests of physical fitness greater in sport than the Tour De France, but his other triumph only further validates his claims. He would be a deserving winner this year and it probably represents his best chance of taking the trophy home.

So from this list, I have established that seven of the ten nominees are rightly included in the list, with only the places taken by Andrew Strauss, Luke Donald and Amir Khan potentially up for grabs. So, the next question is who would be the alternative names that should be included in the list in their place, particularly from the pool of British sportswomen. The most celebrated British sportswoman of the current time is heptathlete Jessica Ennis who will be one of Britain’s great gold medal hopes at London 2012, as well as being the reluctant poster girl for the event due to her aesthetic qualities. However, Ennis’s 2011 was not a defining year with only a silver medal being claimed at the World Athletics Championships. Should she go one better in London next year, I would suggest that the book on next year’s award will be closed by this time. After Ennis, the next most celebrated female athlete is swimmer Rebecca Adlington who won two gold medals at the 2008 Olympics, breaking world records along the way. Adlington struggled in the aftermath of her Olympic success but returned to form this year with a gold medal in swimming’s World Championships in China. Adlington is certainly one of British sport’s golden girls right now, but I would question whether this was her defining year. Likewise track cyclist Victoria Pendleton who also won gold in Beijing and also enjoyed World Championship success in 2011. Both Adlington and Pendleton can expect closer attention in 2012.

Moving into other sports, gymnast Beth Tweddle who finished third in 2007 enjoyed further competitive success this year and will have her supporters amongst gymnastics aficionados. But it is in less celebrated sports that the greatest female achievers are arguably to be found. Although the Manchester Evening News deserve ridicule for some of their selections, they did partially redeem themselves with the selection of Keri- Anne Payne, the South African born Manchester resident who is the reigning world champion in women’s open water swimming and another great gold medal hope for 2012. For anyone not familiar with Payne’s event, it involves swimming in cold rivers, complete with all the unpleasant hazards that one might expect from swimming in that environment, as well as having to contend with underhand baulking tactics from other swimmers. There cannot be too many sporting occasions where a competitor shares workspace with a jellyfish, with the exception of the pre-match handshake with the Chelsea football captain, but this is a genuine concern to open water swimmers of which Payne is currently the cream of the crop.

Aside from Payne, consider also the compelling case for Chrissie Wellington, the British world ‘Ironman’ triathlon champion. Although it attracts little media attention, it is hard to think of any more demanding or physically enduring sport than the triathlon, in which competitors are required to swim, cycle and run all in a day’s work. Wellington is a multiple world champion in her discipline and claimed her latest success this year. By the same token, there is also a claim for Wellington’s male counterpart Alistair Brownlee who won his second World Triathlon championship this year, defeating his brother to the gold medal. Then there is horse racing’s Hayley Turner who has competed directly against male counterparts and enjoyed significant success, having battled back from a year on the sidelines with a serious injury. Turner enjoyed a major breakthrough in 2011 by winning two of flat racing’s Group One races, that sport’s equivalent to a major or a ranking tournament, before another injury brought a premature end to her season.

Perhaps the most harrowing story of all though belongs to British taekwondo player Sarah Stevenson who became world champion in her martial art this year. A gold medal success in a relatively obscure sport seems unspectacular in itself. However, consider the adversity Stevenson dealt with in her build-up to the competition with both of her parents losing their battles with the dreaded cancer a matter of weeks before the competition. Stevenson said that she took out the anger she felt from her grief on her opponents and therefore used her anger as a positive outlet in order to achieve her goals. Even those stuffy about minority sports must admire Stevenson’s courage and resilience in the face of the worst kind of human trauma.

All of these competitors have enjoyed great success in their chosen sports, but it says something about the media’s interest in mainstream sports that several of these names are largely unknown to a wider audience, and that is reflected in the shortlist. I only became aware of Chrissie Wellington when I saw her interviewed on television just a few weeks ago. I knew even less of Sarah Stevenson until I Googled her name when she was mentioned in the aftermath of this storm breaking and then came across a newspaper article that reported her poignant back story. There are some commentators I have heard in recent days who had not even heard of Rebecca Adlington.

But the thing is this. How much of this is the media’s fault and how much of this is the fault of the British sporting public’s attitudes, particularly among the male fraternity? Sure, the newspapers carry very limited coverage of minority sports aside from some results in small print on page 10 of the Sunday supplement, but then newspapers will claim they are providing what their audience want, and their audience want coverage of the populist sports. So, football will dominate the column inches, followed by cricket and tennis and rugby and Formula One with a spot of boxing and golf thrown in. It is also the case that these sports tend to dominate television coverage, albeit very little cricket and boxing is shown on terrestrial television these days. I feel it is the lack of media exposure and reporting of minority sports outside of the Olympics every four years that has contributed to the male-only shortlist seen this year rather than any vendetta against female sporting achievers, due to the greatest sporting achievements by British women this year occurring in events that fall outside of the mainstream. A winning performance in Olympic year, especially when the Games are being held on our doorstep, will give these sports more of a platform next year though, only for interest to be lost until the next Olympiad convenes in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

My suggestion to combat future controversy and to avoid the need to introduce any form of positive discrimination (an oxymoron if ever there was one) in future renewals of Sports Personality of the Year is this. Firstly, scrap the shortlist and replace it with a long list, much like the ones seen for football’s Ballon D’Or Award for the year’s best footballer, or indeed like the lists used to award the best newcomers in the music industry. In this day and age, surely it cannot be difficult to come up with a list of 30 people and then post this up on the BBC website in order for people to cast their vote. In order to avoid the vote rigging problem, get everyone to log in securely first. Secondly, scrap the input from journalists. Sports Personality of the Year was always exclusively an accolade voted by the public and it should remain that way. If the scribes are to have any involvement, their role should be to inform and so perhaps they could individually take on a role of ‘championing’ a contender that has made the long list, in order to inform the public not as au fait with less mainstream sports of what achievements their contender has on their CV and what obstacles they have overcome to reach the apogee in their chosen pursuit.

Lastly, and arguably my most revolutionary proposal of all, why not change the whole format and hand out two awards? One award for Sportsman of the Year and another for Sportswoman of the Year. People would argue that this would be divisive and it would segregate men and women in sport furthermore, but let’s be realistic, there are many sports where it is unlikely and impractical for men and women to directly compete with one another. At least by handing out separate awards, it will give the finest sportswomen more media recognition than they are currently getting, their 15 minutes of fame at the very least. Added to which, it removes the personality element to the award which will do everyone a favour and get people to place their own personal interpretation on what merits the finest sporting achievement of the year, and allows there to be 2 people’s sacrifices and dedication to be rewarded and validated every year. I fear that unless such a step is taken, this cycle will be repeated in future years with the same questions being asked and the same frustrations being voiced, especially in years in which no Olympic torch is burning strong.

To conclude, here is my shortlist of 10 for this year, which I am glad to report does not include any Bulgarians or Ivorians!

Alistair Cook
Rory McIlroy
Darren Clarke
Andy Murray
Mo Farah
Dai Greene
Mark Cavendish
Kerri-Anne Payne
Alistair Brownlee
Chrissie Wellington

That's it from me for tonight. But I intend to be back to chew over the fat of some of the recent news later on in the week. Cheerio for now.

Saturday 28 May 2011

United's five point plan for beating Barcelona

Well, if the turf accountants of this green and pleasant land are to be believed (and on the surface, they seldom make poor calls), then the culmination of the 2010/11 Champions League is a formality. The script is written and it declares that European football's finest exhibitionists will win their third Champions League final in six seasons, each achieved against English opposition in the final. This will spark scenes of jubilation in North West London, Catalonia and Wallasey, while sorrows will be drowned in Salford, Didsbury, Guildford and one small corner of this author's local in Brighton from 9:30 pm BST onwards.

Yet, while football for the most part is a game of black and white, there is sometimes scope for shaded areas. This is particularly so in a one-off match, where the favourites can become suffocated by the cauldron of expectation while the underdogs can approach the match with lots to prove but litle expected. Given the stature of these two clubs, it would be absurd to suggest that there is low expectation in either camp, as winning European club football's blue riband event is the yardstick by which clubs are allocated places at football's top table and supporters on both sides demand to be dining on gourmet rather than ready meals.

While recent history and all known form would indicate that Barcelona should prevail and thereby stake a genuine claim to being one of the greatest sides in the history of the European Champions' Cup, it is only three years ago that United defeated the same opposition in the semi-finals to set up that drizzly, tear-stained night in Moscow, without conceding a goal to them in 180 minutes of football. Some of the key personnel have changed since then, but the nucleus of both sides still remain.

For Sir Alex Ferguson to land his third 'cup with big ears' as Gianluca Vialli once referred to it, he will need a disciplined and committed performance from every single player that takes to the pitch. Getting the odd rub of the green would not go amiss either. But most crucially, Ferguson will need to follow the lead of one of the great strategists of his generation, namely John Hannibal Smith. Ferguson will be red with delight when his plan comes together. To aid him in his duties, here is a five point plan from this alehouse strategist that could prove decisive.

1. Settle on a formation
Given the depth of his squad, Sir Alex Ferguson faces a few selection dilemmas. However, in reality, the main quandary he faces is what formation to go with. In the past two months of the season, United have largely kept faith in a 4-2-3-1 formation, ostensibly with Rooney floating behind Hernandez, but the formation has provided licence for the two players to interchange positions. Hernandez's pace and movement would undoubtedly unsettle Barcelona's back line, with Pep Guardiola admitting as much in his ante-post comments.

However, the lines are blurred by the issue of the midfield area, where many sage observers have opined that the result of the final will be determined. Manchester United's Achilles Heel so happens to be Barcelona's strength, namely that their midfield is not as imposing as, say, the treble winning team's in 1999. Barcelona play a trio in midfield, with Sergio Busquets marshalling the defence and committing the strategic fouls in order to free up Xavi and Andres Iniesta to dictate the tempo of the match and to provide the supply line to Lionel Messi. Until Hernandez's rapid improvement dictated that Ferguson could no longer just utilise him as an impact substitute, United generally lined up for their marquee Premier League matches with an extra body in midfield.

Ferguson will mindful that it is as certain as death and taxes that Barcelona will enjoy sustained periods of possession during the match and so his concern will be that if he is a man light in the middle of the park, Barcelona could carve United open with their passing triangles and Lionel Messi will be able to dominate the match. Against that, however, United's central midfield options are not prolific. With Park-Ji-Sung likely to be stationed on the left flank, this would mean Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick taking up two places centrally and playing just two central players would mean a lot of running for a 37 year old, some 16 years older than Sergio Busquets. If United do play a third midfielder, Darren Fletcher would appear to be the most likely addition. If Fletcher was fully fit, he would be a certainty to play, as United missed his harrying and strong tackling when they lost the final two years ago. However, his performance against Blackpool suggested Fletcher is some way from full match fitness, and a Champions League final against Barcelona is not an ideal occasion to feel your way back. With Paul Scholes too much of a liability to start a match of this magnitude now, the only other option would be Anderson, and he has flattered too much to deceive on the big occasion before.

Although second guessing Sir Alex Ferguson's team selection is an impossible task at the best of times, it would seem that his starting eleven will be primarily determined by whether he plays an extra midfielder or accommodates both Rooney and Hernandez. He does also have a decision to make about who plays at right back, but I expect Fabio Da Silva to get the nod ahead of his twin and John O'Shea and to have the job of nullifying the threat of David Villa.

As much as Ferguson has made public pronouncements that United will set out to attack Barcelona, privately I think he realises that being outnumbered in midfield would be akin to Russian Roulette and so I expect Ferguson to mirror Barcelona's 4-3-3 formation, with Darren Fletcher likely to join Carrick and Giggs in the centre and Javier Hernandez reverting to the impact substitute role. If Ferguson was to play 4-2-3-1, then Rooney would be required to drop back into midfield and work hard for the team when they do not have possession, which would restrict his attacking potency. That is why I feel United will focus on staying in the match and keeping Barcelona out of harm's way, before introducing Hernandez as an extra forward early in the second half at the expense of Fletcher.

2. Play a pressing game
With the formation now decided, United will need a winning strategy in order to prevail. Some will suggest fighting fire with fire and going on the offensive. However, you only need to look at Arsenal's matches against Barcelona in the past two Champions League campaigns to see that employing such a strategy would only result in gallant failure at best. It was interesting, however, to see that a player who witnessed first hand Arsenal's latest defeat at the hands of the team they so implicitly wish to emulate, Jack Wilshere, was eager to advise that United had to employ a pressing game against Barcelona.

In every La Liga match that Barcelona have played in the 2010/11 season, they have enjoyed more than fifty per cent possession. It is a near certainty that they will again at Wembley, and there is no point in setting out in being resistant to that. The crucial element is minimising the amount of possession Barcelona have in meaningful areas of the pitch, that is to say, give them as few clear sighters of goal as possible. This is why I feel Ferguson ultimately will choose to play 4-3-3 as it means he has safety in numbers, with his team effectively playing as a 4-5-1 whenever they do not have possession of the ball, which as we have discussed is likely to be more than half of the time the ball is in play.

Jose Mourinho realised that the best way of beating Barcelona was to stifle their supply line and stop them from getting in positions where they can shoot, even if this meant playing a cat-and-mouse game of throwing men behind the ball and committing strategic fouls in areas of the pitch where Barcelona cannot threaten from, but where the rhythm of their passing can be broken up. Ultimately, Mourinho's masterplan in the semi-finals collapsed due to his team's lack of discipline, becoming demoralised by spending so much of the match in the Santiago Bernabeu chasing shadows.

The basic premise of pressing Barcelona high up the pitch was not necessarily wrong, however, and evidence from previous Champions League campaigns shows it can sometimes be an effective method of counteracting them. Mourinho himself deployed the strategy with far more success last season when Inter took Barcelona apart in the first leg of their semi-final, en route to winning the competition. Chelsea also came within ninety seconds of defeating Barcelona the previous season by squeezing their midfield and blocking out the supply lines, only for Iniesta to score a stoppage time goal from which there was no point of return.

United themselves got the better of Barcelona in 2008 despite being on the backfoot for much of the tie, helped by some stoic, last ditch defending on occasions when Barcelona came close to scoring a precious away goal. For United to win the final, it is inevitable they will have to weather a storm during the course of the match and so it is important that they keep their concentration and their tactical discipline to a man at all times, and do not get frustrated if there are spells of the match where they are not getting the ball. If Barcelona get plenty of the ball, but are not getting into meaningful shooting positions, they too will get frustrated. Patience will be key and it is certain that there will be times in the match where United can attack themselves, particularly down the flanks.

3. Make use of width
This brings us neatly to the next point, which is to emphasise that the wide areas of the pitch will also be a determining factor in the outcome of the match. While there are several match-winners taking to the pitch who can decide the result in a split second of brilliance, it does seem a fair assessment to state that whichever team is more assertive and busy in the wide areas will have a clear advantage.

Both teams will have the potential to be fluid and have players capable of interchanging, with the forward players swapping from wide to central positions. However, it should be expected that Messi and Rooney will line up centrally for their respective forward lines, sandwiched in axis of Villa and Pedro, and Park and Valencia respectively. I expect United to play Park and Valencia from the start, rather than accommodating Nani on the right or moving Rooney across to the left in order to accommodate Hernandez, because Park and Valencia are more industrious wide players, who are happy to track back and carry out defensive foot soldier duties whenever United do not have possession. While Nani would offer more direct running, he is less inclined to carry out the defensive requirements of the game and that could result in Barcelona having more capability to run into a green expanse of space when the ball is lost.

Park-Ji-Sung will have a key role to play on the left hand side, as he will be in direct combat with Dani Alves, who has an integral part to play in building Barcelona's attacks with his marauding runs down the flanks. Alves very much fits the template of a Brazilian full back, as he is at his most destructive going forward, but is capable of being self-destructive when required to carry out his defensive duties. Park should look to pressurise Alves and prevent his runs forward, thereby meaning that Park himself is able to get more of a foothold on the game as an attacking threat.

On the other flank, whichever one of the Da Silva twins is entrusted by Ferguson to marshal David Villa is going to have a vital role in the match. In talking up the obvious threat of Lionel Messi, it is easily forgotten what a danger Villa is, as one of the most natural finishers in world football. Villa's role for Barcelona is the same as the pivotal one he played for Spain in last summer's World Cup, where he is usually stationed on the left hand side before cutting in to shooting positions. This is reminiscent of the role Thierry Henry previously performed for Barcelona, and before that with deadly aplomb for Arsenal. United's right back of choice will need to ensure Villa is given as few sighters of goal as possible.

Further forward for United, Valencia is likely to come up against Carles Puyol, who has generally been playing as a makeshift left back since Eric Abidal has been sidelined through illness. This is potentially an area of weakness for Barcelona. This observer has not been as sold on Puyol as some in his more favoured position as a centre back and I feel that Puyol is a reactive defender rather than a proactive one, responding to danger rather than averting it with last ditch recovery tackles. The heavily bouffanted local lad is also not particularly mobile, while Valencia is very much an orthodox winger, who is quick and direct, and generally produces pinpoint crosses. He is not as spectacular as his predecessor, Cristiano Ronaldo, but he sticks to his task more effectively, and United's forward players are able to anticipate his crosses better than they sometimes could with Ronaldo. For United to win, imposing themselves down their right flank will go some way to helping them.

4. Don't concede early
It is an obvious truism in some senses, but the story of the 2009 final was played out in the first ten minutes of the match. At one end, Park-Ji-Sung wasted a good chance to give United a lead after eight minutes, only for Barcelona to advance straight up the other end with Samuel Eto'o being more clinical when presented with his chance. This set the tone for the match and United did not recover from the setback of conceding a goal so early against a team that are imperious front-runners.

Sir Alex Ferguson should consider the philosophy of his managerial compatriot, George Graham, which stood him good stead almost exactly 22 years ago. I am referring to the night that Graham's Arsenal side played a title decider at Anfield against a technically superior Liverpool team and had to win by two clear goals in order to claim the league title at the Merseyside giant's expense. As any supporter of these two clubs will know, Arsenal won 2-0 on the night, scoring the decisive second goal in stoppage time from which there was no comeback for Kenny Dalglish's team.

What is interesting to reflect on is Graham's strategy and pre-match words for his players. Graham's philosophy was simple and while in keeping with the common stereotype of him as a defensive minded manager (which was not always true in his early years as Arsenal manager), was also mighty effective. He simply told his players to keep the score at 0-0 at half time. He asked his players not to concede of course, but also advised his players not to score too early, as it would make Liverpool angry. Then at half time, he revised the strategy and asked his players to become a more attacking threat in the second half. Sure enough, Arsenal made the breakthrough in the first fifteen minutes of the second half, and then with Liverpool committing players forward for an equaliser, Arsenal broke away and scored the crucial second goal.

Much has changed on the football landscape in 22 years and it also hard to envisage an attacking manager such as Sir Alex Ferguson specifically instructing his players not to score in the first half. However, it is worth considering the background to Graham's thinking. The 1988/89 season was the season of the Hillsborough Disaster and by the time Liverpool faced up to Arsenal, they were both physically and mentally shattered and so Arsenal came into the title decider with the momentum, even if the task they were faced with was a monumental one to achieve at the time.

Similarly, Barcelona come into this final with a number of their regular observers claiming that the Catalan giants have looked tired in recent weeks and have not been defeating teams with the same authority they displayed earlier in the campaign. This is understandable given that Barcelona have played in excess of fifty matches this season and over half of the Barcelona team were a cornerstone of Spain's World Cup winning team last summer, meaning that much of the team has had little respite in the past eighteen months. United too have played over fifty games this season, but Ferguson's rotation policy has ensured that all of his players have been refreshed during the season, added to which several of the players also had more of a rest last summer due to their nations being eliminated from the World Cup at an early stage.

Keeping things tight in the first half of the final would give United a suitable platform in the second half of the match to throw on some impact substitutes who could hold the key to unlocking Barcelona's defence as the game becomes stretched and legs become strained.

5. Make use of impact substitutions
And so that brings us neatly to the final point in this unbreakable strategy, which is to make the most of substitutions when the moment materialises. Champions League finals over the years generally see managers call upon at least one of their substitutes in the first twenty minutes of the second half. This is usually due to Champions League finals of following a set template of matches being quite cagey and tactical in the first half of games and so a substitution is used as a game-changer, someone to give the opposition something different to think about.

If United are to be in with a chance of winning this final, I expect a similar pattern to be played out this time around, and so how Ferguson deploys his substitutes could make or break his evening. History shows that Ferguson is generally a grand master when it comes to making positive, match turning substitutions, witness his 1999 goalscorers as a case in point.

Assuming Ferguson opts for 4-3-3 rather than 4-2-3-1, he would have two of his quickest players starting from the bench in Javier Hernandez and Nani. He could be expected to introduce both of these players at some stage of the match, and particularly so if the match is still in a state of gridlock as both players will provide a 'fresh pair of legs' that can ask questions of defenders beginning to tire, which as discussed in point 4, is a genuine possibility for Barcelona given the exertions of their season. It is also possible that Paul Scholes could be introduced late in the game in order to ensure possession is not needlessly surrendered.

Bringing on players with pace who can make an immediate impact though is where United can prevail if they have carried out all the other parts of the plan effectively. Looking back at Barcelona's past two Champions League campaigns, they have sometimes flagged dramatically in the final twenty minutes of matches. This has been noticeably demonstrated in their past two Champions League ties at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal. Although ultimately in vain for Arsenal, Barcelona threw away a 2-0 lead last season as Arsenal mounted a comeback in the final twenty minutes of the match to draw 2-2. The telling difference was the introduction of Theo Walcott, whose raw pace asked new questions of Barca's left back on the night, Maxwell, who was running on empty having dictated the match for the first hour.

In the corresponding tie this season, Barcelona should have been out of sight in the first half, but were profligate in the final third of the pitch and history repeated itself when in the final twenty minutes, Arsenal turned a 1-0 deficit into an unlikely 2-1 victory. The only difference this time was that Walcott was withdrawn rather than introduced, with Nicklas Bendtner's physique and aggression causing problems down the right and Andrei Arshavin and Robin Van Persie carving Barcelona open in the middle.

That this comeback was ultimately fruitless for Arsenal is beside the point. The key issue is that Barcelona can be exposed in the latter stages of matches, provided their opponents are still in the game and provided they have players capable of making a match-changing impact. Real Madrid also demonstrated this in extra time in the Copa del Rey final. United do have these options and bringing on Javier Hernandez, for example, early in the second half would cause a different problem for Barcelona as his pace and movement would be a challenge to Barca's current stop gap centre back, Javier Mascherano, a player prone to moments of rashness. It would also mean Wayne Rooney could drop deeper and then provide Barcelona with a dilemma of whether to stick tight to Rooney and thereby allow midfield runners to drop into space, or let Rooney roam where he could provide a moment that determines the match himself.

Hernandez has shown that he can quick up the pace of the game almost immediately on numerous occasions this season, regardless of whether he starts the match or is introduced as a substitute. But his pace and ability to find space in the penalty box are very handy assets to introduce when a game is becoming stretched, while Nani is also capable of mesmerising Carles Puyol in the same manner that Theo Walcott did to the more mobile Maxwell last season. The aces Ferguson has up his sleeve could tilt the balance in his team's favour, so long as his team have done the hard work.

So there in a nutshell is how United can Barcelona. Although given the calibre of the opposition and how other factors such as a refereeing decision and moments of outrageous fortune can turn a match in a blink of an eye, United could do all of this and more, but still end up losing the final. It does serve to show, however, that they are perfectly capable of defeating the de-facto 'Greatest Team on Earth' provided they stick to the task rigidly and, in the words of their own supporters, 'Believe'.

Saturday 21 May 2011

The Good Pub Guide - Part 3

So, now to continue the great booze fuelled nostalgia trip where I recount my memories of each pub and bar that I have visited in Brighton and Hove in my adult life to date. So far I have taken in the Queens Park and Hanover areas which are rich in said establishments, I have paid a visit to North Laine, Seven Dials and the area surrounding Brighton Station, each being areas providing bountiful refuelling options. And I have also returned to old haunts along Lewes Road. Now in this third part of the story, I am going to head to one of Brighton's most popular drinking areas, The Lanes. This is an area which is choc full of some of Brighton's most renowned and iconic pubs, and indeed some of its oldest.

When I say The Lanes, I should qualify exactly what area I am covering. The major thoroughfare of North Street effectively marks the boundary between the areas the local press would call North Laine and The South Lanes (no-one in Brighton actually uses the word 'South' to describe this area). So, I am including in this instalment any pubs I have visited that are found on North Street or into the Lanes and am also including any pubs found on East Street, going through The Lanes and then up to and including Ship Street. I am not at this stage including pubs found in Middle Street and the Metropolis they call West Street. These will feature in the instalment of this journey that covers the Clock Tower and Western Road pubs, as West Street is, after all, immediately south of the aforementioned Brighton landmark. For the purposes of housekeeping, I will also include pubs and bars located on the South Lanes side of the Royal Pavilion.

There are quite a number of pubs in this area and I have visited the vast majority of them, so it may transpire that an entire blog is required to cover all of them. However, if I have time, I will move on to talk about the pubs situated in and around London Road and the St Peter's Church area. These will include any pubs I have visited that are situated on London Road and its satellite streets, extending as far as London Road station as the northern boundary, while also including pubs found around St Peter's Church. The natural boundaries here will be The Level as the most northerly and Grand Parade/The Royal Pavilion as the furthest south.

Now that we are hopefully clear on the housekeeping, let's get down to business. Is anyone going to the bar?


74. The Sussex
It is always useful to have a pub in immediate proximity to a taxi rank at the end of a productive evening in the refuelling stakes, and The Sussex's location certainly provides that option. A word of warning though, the English disease of queuing is always in evidence at this rank on a Saturday night. Back to the subject in hand though, and The Sussex is one of a cluster of largely unspoilt, classic Brightonian pubs found in that area. A small selection of ales are on offer, along with the usual branded lager monsters. Furniture wise, The Sussex offers a mixture of standard bar-stool fare, as well as the odd comfortable, if slightly tatty, sofa. There is also outdoor seating at the front of the pub which gives The Sussex more of a continental European ambience, especially as there is a chance to mingle with passers-by and customers at nearby restaurants. The Sussex has changed very little in the whole time I have visited it and although it does have a slightly disshevelled feel to the place, it does retain a certain charm which overrides this. It's not really a pub where you would plan to spend an entire evening, but given the selection of establishments in such a small area, many people would not be looking to settle in one place for the duration anyway. Perfectly adequate, if unspectacular. Rating 7/10

75. Pump House
Just a couple of kicks of a plastic glass up the alleyway from The Sussex is one of Brighton's oldest and most beautiful pubs, The Pump House. Like The Sussex and also its near neighbour The Druids Head (more of which shortly), the Pump is a place has changed very little in its appearance in the entire decade and a half in which I have attended it. This is despite some significant renovation work needing to take place to the front of the pub around four years ago after fights between rival football supporters resulted in several thousand pounds worth of damage, resulting in the pub's closure for a few months. Fortunately, the pub eventually re-opened and was restored to its former glory. The pub is compartmentalised into four main seated areas, all of which tend to be at full capacity on most Saturday nights of the year. Its clientele is mixed, ranging from 20-somethings heading in for a quick pint or two before going to a club, up to older couples and family gatherings. There are some comfortable sofas and snugs in the back room of the pub, while the seated area around the fireplace located at the front of the bar is a popular vantage point on a cold winter's night. The Pump House is a classic pub in Brighton because it does the simple things well and you will find very few born and bred Brightonians who have not visited it at some point. My only criticisms of the pub are that it could possibly have a more diverse range of drinks on tap and, even on a Saturday night, it closes relatively early (midnight at weekends) compared to some inferior establishments. These minor quibbles aside, a couple of drinks at the Pump House are essential if you find yourself in the area. Rating 9/10

76. The Druids Head
Two doors up from the Pump is another one of Brighton's oldest and most renowned pubs. The Druids was reputedly haunted according to someone I know who went on a ghost walk. I'm not sure about that, but it was famed for having a potman that worked there for over 30 years and who continued helping out well into his 80s. Although it is located so close to the Pump House, the Druids Head has a very different vibe to it. If you look upon the Pump as The Beatles, the Druids acts as the Rolling Stones of the piece. It is very much the Pump's rebellious brother and it attracts a curious mixture of eccentrics among its clientele. It possibly isn't the best location for a basketball team to spend a night out though, owing to its low ceilings, meaning that even a shorty like myself has to duck when walking through from the bar. If you like contrasts, the Druids is worth a visit after you have been to the Pump. Its drinks are on the pricey side, although that is becoming increasingly commonplace in Brighton and beyond. The Druids lacks the comfort that the Pump House provides, but it compensates for this in character. Rating 7/10

77. The Fishbowl
Those that have been absent from Brighton for a number of years will claim not to have heard of The Fishbowl. That is probably true, but they will remember the place by another name. On the corner of East Street and Pool Valley, the pub was called The Greyhound from its birth at the beginning of the seventeenth century right up until the 1990s when the pub refurbished and rebranded in order to attract a younger clientele. It is difficult to determine whether the present name was chosen because of the compact nature of the pub, which can be a tight squeeze on a busy night, or whether it is a reference to the pub's origins when it was frequented by fishermen. The Fishbowl is something of a Marmite phenomenon among Brightonian drinkers as it polarises opinion between those that like it as a vibrant venue that is open late, and those that feel it lacks the soul of its predecessor. Not being old enough to have drunk in the place when it was The Greyhound, it can only assess it as I find it now and on that basis, I think The Fishbowl is a decent boozer. Sure, it is a bit of a pig in lipstick, but it is far from the only establishment like that in Brighton. East Street has become a more mainstream area as a whole in recent years, but The Fishbowl is still accessible for people of all ages and backgrounds. Don't get there often these days, but it is a perfectly acceptable place to stop off for one on a night out. Rating 7/10

78. The Varsity (previously The Prodigal)
As East Street has become more mainstream, so its venues have tended to get swallowed up by chain pubs. In its guise as The Prodigal, the pub was owned by the same chain that runs the eyesore airport departure lounge that they call The Providence in Hove. The same soulless features that plague The Providence were equally evident at its Brighton sister bar. It was a popular venue though, owing to its proximity to the nightclub scene and also its drinks discounts during the week. New owners took over the place around 2-3 years ago and it is now under the Varsity umbrella of bars. The last time I visited, from memory, was on a weeknight a couple of years ago and it was noticeably deserted. That said, it is unlikely to be short of punters on a Saturday night when East Street is full of people traffic. Drinkers who flock to where the crowds are and where the 'action' is might like this venue at weekends, but it is of considerably limited appeal for everyone else. Rating 4/10

79. The Toad In The Picturehouse
So named due to it being situated on the site of the former ABC Cinema in East Street (although that doesn't explain 'The Toad' reference!), this venue first opened as a bar just over a decade ago under the aforementioned name. I only recall visiting on a couple of occasions and the second time was towards the end of a very heavy night. That pretty much summed up The Toad really, you would need to be in a fairly intoxicated state to consider going there! Not too long after my second visit, the bar made headlines locally for the wrong reasons due to a serious criminal incident that occurred on the premises. This effectively marked the end of the road for The Toad (I'm a poet and I didn't know it) and the venue was closed and boarded up for a couple of years at least, before last year a local leisure entrepreneur added the bar to their portfolio of going concerns, also adding a restaurant. Although no longer The Toad, it still appears to tap into the mainstream audience of its predecessor, even if it looks grandiose from the outside. Although it wasn't a frog, it certainly wasn't a prince either. Rating 3/10

80. Lola Lo (formerly Po Na Nas)
I think I have the name right, although the bar I am thinking of has had quite a number of name changes over the years. Located towards the bottom of East Street, the bar is something of a pre-club venue for revellers and a club alternative for those once hardened drinkers now beginning to reach for the Werthers Original. Not an easy place to hold a conversation, but I don't think this is a venue you would attend to put the world to rights. Those that like to go somewhere that plays some pumping dance tunes, interspersed with some mainstream pop might find some appeal here, but that said, when I last visited a few months ago, I thought the acoustics were terrible. This is a venue for 20-somethings rather than old flatulents though. Rating 4/10

81. The Pitcher & Piano
The name itself should be a giveaway. Everything in the name suggests pretention and visions of grandeur and guess what, that is exactly what the Pitcher & Piano is. A soulless, up-its-seated position trendy wine bar which sells all the usual periodic table on tap but at luxury prices. The venue does have DJs and a suitable area in which to have a dance, but there shouldn't be any danger of dancefloor collisions as it is rare to see the place packed out. Somewhere for the more discerning chav, if that is not an oxymoron. Rating 3/10

82. Doctor Brightons
Every now again it is good to be able to say that you have been proved wrong about somewhere, after having formed unfair perceptions based on what other people have said. One such occasion would be when I visited Doctor Brightons on a night out the year before last. Not exactly located ideally for where I normally venture on a night out, the group of friends I was with ended up stopping off for a couple of drinks here that evening. Famed as having one of the most prominent gay clienteles in Brighton, it was noticeable how people of disparate ages, gender and sexual orientation were all able to mix in sweet harmony on my one and only visit to date. I can think of other venues where the customers are drawn from a particular group or demographic where an 'us and them' culture can poison the atmosphere, but to Dr Brighton's testament, this did not seem to be the case there. There is some comfortable seating at the front of the bar and a pool table at the back, which proved popular. On the basis that others may also have formed an ill informed perception of Dr Brightons without having visited it, I think it is fair to regard it as one of Brighton's underrated establishments. Rating 7/10

83. The Pavilion Tavern
There was a phase during my twenties when the Pavilion Tavern, or 'Pav Tav' which it is inevitably abbreviated to, became the regular meeting place of choice for a Friday or Saturday night out on the town. Looking back, I am at a loss to think of why such loyalty was shown to such a dingy, uninspiring establishment. Located almost opposite the grounds to the Royal Pavilion and a few doors down from the junction with East Street, the Pav Tav has always been a favourite pre-club venue for the mainstream socialiser. During the day, when the pub is much quieter, it has tended to be a popular location for older people, especially visitors to Brighton where the pub's location is conducive to attracting this type of trade. Once the sun sets though, the Pav Tav becomes a no-go zone for the over-30s. Towards the back of the pub, there were two pool tables to be found. Unfortunately, these only seemed to be in service every so often, probably due to some of the less tolerant players taking their ineptitude at the table out on the equipment. The Pav Tav serves as a gateway en route to the clubs, but I always found it a rundown and somewhat unloved venue that attracted a few bad eggs. There was (and presume still is) a club upstairs that played a mix of old and new indie tunes and which became a popular haunt with clientele that previously attended 'The Gloucester' nightclub. Club nights there were generally decent fare at more affordable prices than the West Street joints. This is not a review of nightclubs, however, and as such I would advise giving the Pav Tav the swerve. Rating 4/10

84. Haha Bar
In the pedestrianised approach to the grounds of the Pavilion is a trendy brasserie, with a large analogue clock on the front of the building. Until recently this establishment went by the name of the Haha Bar, part of a national chain, but the last time I was in the area, I noted there had been a change of name. In a part of town where dining options are in plentiful supply, Haha Bar was essentially a restaurant within a bar. Its cuisine had slight leanings towards Americana, with the usual burger options, but also had included other world cuisines within its menu options. From recollection, the food on my few visits there was perfectly decent without quite reaching cordon bleu level. By now, you may have detected that Haha's gastronomic qualities were pretty much its unique selling point. And that is a pretty neat synopsis. Haha was a place where you could eat and drink in simultaneous motions before heading on to somewhere nearer the hub of the action. I expect that tradition remains true under its new identity. Rating 6/10

85. Casa (otherwise known as Saggara)
After spending some time as a derelict building, the site of a former bank on the corner of Bond Street and North Street was converted into a trendy bar aimed at the affluent, professional working drinker around about the turn of the millennium. Ever since, this site has continued to cater for the refuelling needs of this demographic without quite hitting the spot, despite several attempts and several name changes. I recall two visits to this site, quite a few years apart, and found the venue to have some comfortable upholstery, but a less comforting atmosphere. On my latter visit, the venue had more of a focus on being a sports bar, with a few televisions adorning the walls. Subsequently, the venue closed before re-opening towards the end of last year as a JD Wetherspoons pub, which will probably mean a departure from the sports bar phase but more of a focus on discounted drinks, which is likely to mean more of a student clientele. The building itself is impressive, but it is just a shame it has not been utilised correctly since it started being used by the leisure industry. Rating 4/10

86. Hot Shots
There will be Brightonian people of a certain age (by that I mean people in their early 30s) who will recall this long forgotten bar on North Street, just down from the Clock Tower. Back in the bleak midwinter of 1996, or possibly the beginning of 1997, a brand new bar opened in the centre of town which would cater for the late teens and early 20s group looking for a place where they could watch the big match on a large screen, while also having opportunity to participate in other activities. My memory might be playing tricks, but I think there was a ten pin bowling area at the venue. Then upstairs, was Jumpin' Jaks, a revolutionary venue back in the mid-1990s in as much as it was Brighton's premier line dancing hotspot. In hindsight, quite how this mish-mash of a business model could ever have been expected to be a success is a mystery and sure enough, Hot Shots' tenure was as brief as it was interesting, gone as it was within a year. The building which once housed this innovative project is now home to Sports Soccer. Memories of the night I went to Hot Shots are more about the company I kept, including someone who is no longer with us, than it is of the place itself. Rating 6/10

87. The Font
It is not often that you can honestly say that you have spent the evening having drinks in a Grade 2 listed building, but such a boast is possible every time you visit The Font, which originally carried the obligatory and in this case alliterative suffix that came with being a Firkin chain pub. As the name suggests, The Font is located on the site of a former church. Not just any church though, it is on the site of the former Union Chapel and has been used for drinking purposes for the past two decades, although it was awarded listed status 40 years ago. While the exterior makes it quite obvious what the building's former raison d'etre was, the layout and presentation inside more resembles that of a theatre, with curtains adorning the tops of the staircases on entry to the first floor and a long balcony which bears some similarity to an auditorium. Since its beginning, The Font has primarily targeted the mass market and is always one of the first bars in Brighton that people will associate with live football. There was a time when its television sets outnumbered its bar staff, although the balance has been redressed in recent years. Some of the best matches I have watched in terms of atmosphere have been at The Font, the best of which was the Euro 2000 final between France and Italy which was electric and was devoid of the unnecessary aggro and poison that often seems to punctuate watching an England match in the pub. My last visit was to watch the World Cup final last year, which again was a lively occasion with plenty of Spanish supporters in the house. Strangely, the tapas bar across the way stayed open quite late that night! Other than live sports, The Font is also renowned as a live music venue and there is usually some act or another performing live in what would have been the pulpit in the building's previous life, although the acts are invariably singers or bands covering songs used on Guitar Hero rather than performing their own material. Overall, The Font tries a bit too hard to be a bar for all seasons and tastes and given its populist appeal, it can a nightmare getting served on weekend nights. There are fewer watering holes in Brighton, however, that are more aesthetically pleasing. Rating 6/10

88. The Bath Arms
Opposite The Font and next door to Casa Don Carlos' tapas restaurant is The Bath Arms and here is an establishment that is the polar opposite to The Font in far more than just their respective locations. If The Font is largely catering for a younger audience and is serving as a pre-club venue for many of its typical weekend visitors, then The Bath Arms is a far more traditional, old-fashioned English boozer which is patronised by, well, traditional, old-fashioned English boozers. Most of this pub's seating arrangements cater for large groups and that makes it an ideal venue for after work drinks, especially as it does have an extensive food menu. It also has a piano in one corner of the pub, although I have never seen anyone tinkle its ivories, nor do I believe this to be encouraged. It makes for an odd choice of prop though. An unspoilt pub, I can recall seeing a customer once retrieving something he had put on the shelf on his previous visit a year earlier without anyone having noticed it or removed it in the intervening period. The Bath Arms has a good, friendly vibe and for those that like their pubs to be clean, unpretentious and welcoming, at the expense of being at the heart of the action, then The Bath Arms is likely to be to your poison of choice. It is about time I made a return visit after having avoided the place for a while after finding myself having a pointless argument with a doorman over a completely trivial misunderstanding. This is no reflection on the pub itself. Rating 8/10

89. The Lanes End (subsequently Leo's Lounge)
Having made one reference to a flashpoint I had with a member of door staff, this brings me neatly to our next destination, where I had another one. I should emphasise at this point that I am a peace loving guy at the heart of all this! I first visited this bar when it was called The Lanes End back in the winter of 2000 for a private party for someone's birthday on my university course. The party itself was enjoyable, although the venue was less so, and I seem to recall there was something of an alcohol shortage that evening. That was the only night that I actually provided any custom at these premises, but fast forward to a couple of years later and I recall having a disagreement with a doorman who wouldn't let me follow my friend in due to my 'bad attitude'. Quite how such an assessment was made when I had not said a word rankled with me and so I stood my ground, but it was all futile and pointless, especially as my friend had only gone in to have a look round and we had no intention of staying for a drink. Although I have passed this place hundreds of times since, I have not returned for a drink and am not in any hurry to buck that trend. Rating 2/10

90. Beiderbecks
Compiling this list was generally a straightforward exercise, but I had to consult my grey matter about certain establishments that I might have visited once on particularly long and arduous evenings for one drink and about which I remember little. Upon tapping into my recall more intensely, I built up a picture of a small bar in the middle of The Lanes that I could vaguely recollect was the last calling point before everyone dispersed in a drunken haze on a Christmas Eve night out late in the 1990s, back when people still bothered to go out on the night before Christmas. The only thing was trying to remember its name. After consulting the memory bank still further, I remembered it was called Beiderbecks. Alas, Beiderbecks is no more these days, although it appears to be home to a restaurant in its place. Other than these bald details, I cannot remember anything about my one and only visit there. Rating 5/10

91. The Cricketers
Some of Brighton's oldest and most popular city centre pubs have already been mentioned, but let's get on to one of the really big hitters. It is a point of conjecture, but it is widely believed that The Cricketers is Brighton's oldest public house of the lot, dating back to the sixteenth century. It is certainly one of its most universally popular and appears to hold an appeal with drinkers of all ages. As the name suggests, it pays homage to those white flannelled fools, although not to the degree that The Sussex Cricketer in Hove does which is decorated in cricketing pictures and memorabilia. That can be explained by its location next to Hove cricket ground though. The Cricketers is large by conventional pub standards and it has an upstairs seating area and a bar is sometimes available on that floor too. There is also a Function Room which tends to have a private party taking place in it more weekends than not. Many a wedding reception has been held here. There is also a small insulated beer garden at the rear of the pub, which is invariably at full capacity. From memory, I think The Cricketers is a Greene King pub these days and so the choice of ales tends to favour these brewing giants, which will be off-putting to those that regard them as the Devil Incarnate. Still, there is a lot right with The Cricketers that makes the place worth a visit and it is rooted in history. Reputedly Graham Greene's watering hole of favour, The Cricketers is indeed a Brighton Rock. Rating 7/10

92. The Black Lion
Not to be confused with The Black Lion in Patcham, which will feature in a later instalment of this series, The Black Lion is next door to The Cricketers on Black Lion Street, separated only by a footpath that serves as a shortcut for revellers trying to find their way to the nightclubs. Located just up the road from Jamie Oliver's Brighton restaurant, The Black Lion has generally been positioned as a more youthful oriented establishment than The Cricketers, but has never quite struck gold. That isn't to say that it is unpopular and its location means that it generally attracts plenty of passing trade. My point is that The Black Lion does not quite seem to know exactly what it wants to be as a pub and so it ends up not really satisfying anyone. The decor is warm and cosy and the place is quite clean, compared to some licenced premises in the city. Unlike The Cricketers though, it is really difficult to hold a conversation in when the pub is busy. The acoustics leave a lot to be desired, added to which there is often a DJ playing that is a prohibitive barrier to conversation. Compared to when I first attended The Black Lion, the pub is more welcoming now than it was back then and it has rooted out the trouble element. It just needs to rid itself of its identity crisis and decide whether it wants to be a traditional pub or a trendy bar in order to keep up with The Cricketers. Rating 6/10

93. The Mesmerist (previously Old Orleans)
If Derek Trotter ever found occasion to spend a night out in Brighton, the chances are he would have popped down to Old Orleans, arguably Brighton's most well known and popular cocktail bar. Unlike a lot of cocktail joints, however, regular alcoholic drinks have always been available on tap and by the bottle there too, which often leads to a curious mix of waifs, strays and eccentrics hanging out in what you suspect had originally been intended as a high class joint. While the downstairs has always been a glorious cocktail of hedonistic pleasure seekers dancing the night away and knocking back Tom Collins' like there's no tomorrow, the upstairs was home to a restaurant of predominantly Americana influences. While these were not the most nutritious meals you could sample, I found the portions generous and the service exemplary. After a hiatus of about five years, I recently returned with a friend on a night out over Easter to discover Old Orleans was no more, and now goes by the name of 'The Mesmerist'. The general vibe and layout of the joint remains the same and there are plenty of drinking options to keep the non-cocktail drinker interested. It now has more of a retro, jazz feel to the place, something like I assume a 1920s American 'Speak-easy' would have felt like. It is now a venue for regular live music, especially supporting local jazz and brass influenced musicians. It still remains an acquired taste, but it would appear to be the kind of establishment you can visit for a quick drink or two once in a blue moon, just to try something different. Rating 6/10

94. The Smugglers
For keen pool players, there is one pub in Brighton which stands out as the place to go to shoot a few games. Situated towards the bottom of Ship Street, The Smugglers is home to seven pool tables, as well as a bar billiards table and a table football surface. There are also fruit and gaming machines to be found adjacent to the bar. The Smugglers is very much a brash, noisy, flashing lights kind of bar on a Friday or Saturday night, with television screens and a resident DJ on the decks only adding to that 'playing to the mainstream' feel. Curiously, if you were to visit the place at any other time of the week, it resembles an unloved white elephant. As someone who does enjoy playing pool, I am a semi-regular visitor to the pub and for the most part, it serves this purpose well, although waiting for a game on a Saturday when the place is particularly busy can be a drawn out process, as there is no exact 'winner only stays on' rule in force here, added to which one of the tables at least will be out of service on any given week. After a spate of thefts, IDs need to be provided in order to be given a cue ball from behind the bar, which seems to be a heavy handed approach to addressing the issue. Take the pool tables out of the equation though and there is not much else to recommend about The Smugglers. Given the extortionate price of drinks, your pool session is unlikely to be a long one. It's a one trick pony and even then the one trick is only performed adequately, but due to the chance of getting a game because of the number of tables, it still gets repeat business. Rating 5/10

95. Seven Stars (formerly O'Neills)
If you hang around Brighton for long enough, theme pubs that changed their identity will eventually revert back to their original name. And so it has proved with Seven Stars, the original name for the long standing pub in a listed building at the upper end of Ship Street, opposite the entrance to The Lanes. For some years, the pub was an O'Neills chain pub and was the usual chain pub standard identikit fare that you come to expect. There was nothing inherently bad about this and some live music sets on a Friday night would get people actively taking to the dancefloor, but chain pubs rarely stir the soul or hold the level of atmosphere of more conventional pubs. What did give O'Neills a competitive advantage back in the day was that, before the licensing laws changed, it was one of the few bars in Brighton that held a late licence. This is something that is difficult to comprehend now, but back in the early part of the last decade, O'Neills did benefit in terms of custom because of this, especially at weekends. It is a few years now since the Seven Stars restoration occurred and I have only been back a handful of times since. The venue seems to remain a live music haunt and has positioned itself as a gastropub with a growing reputation. My only observation is that it still seems to be finding it difficult to pull in the punters at weekends, just as O'Neills failed to in its latter days. A perception possibly still lingers on that the venue is a soulless and sleepy, middle of the road establishment with overpriced drinks, such is the legacy left by O'Neills. Rating 5/10

96. The Sussex Arts Club Bar
I was not sure whether I should include this venue in the tally or not, seeing as how this is a definitive list of pubs and bars I have visited, and does not include nightclubs. These edges are blurred still further by my only visit to this venue being last thing at night, or more likely, first thing in the morning. The circumstances of my one visit were that I was on a works do numerous years ago. A conservative estimate says ten sounds about right. Anyway, our posse was trying to ponder where they could get in late at night and it so happened that one of our number was a member of the Sussex Arts Club Bar and as he had a pass with him, he could let the rest of us in free of charge. I remember the club bar being quite a small area, but the service was friendly and everyone seemed to have a good time. And a decade or so later, I have not set foot in the place since. Rating 6/10

97. Mitre Tavern
98. Druids Arms
99. Northern Tavern
100. Leek & Winkle
101. Bat & Ball
102. St Peters Bar
103. Hobgoblin
104. Branch Tavern
105. The World's End
106. Hare & Hounds
107. Stanford Arms
108. Cobblers Thumb
109. Open House
110. Pressure Point
111. Hectors House
112. King & Queen
113. The Harlequin