Billy Bobble and the Poynton Pelicans. A Football Fantasy

December 30, 2022

Billy Bobble is the star of the Poynton Pelicans junior football team. He plays on the left wing. In a match against their bitter rivals, the Urmston Outlaws he is injured by Ryan Clogger, the dirtiest player in the league. He is out of action for the vital league cup final, where the Pelicans will again face the Urmston Outlaws.But Billie has a plan cooked up with his two friends, Martin, the Pelican’s Mascot, and Sophie, the captain of the Pelican’s cup-winning Girl’s team … 

Chapter 1 The Grudge Match against the Urmston Outlaws

The day of the match arrived at last. Billy Bobble had been crossing off the days on his fixture list. Today, his team, the Poynton Pelicans, are away against the Urmston Outlaws, their bitterest rivals in the Manchester juniors league, Division 1. 

This season, the Pelicans lie handily placed in second place. A win will edge them ahead of the outlaws as the season draws to a close.

The background to the game. Billy faces the prospect of dealing with Ryan Clogger, recently back from his second suspension of the year for kicking the ball out of the hands of the opposing goalkeeper, who was playing for the Chadderton Eagles. 

Unfortunately he missed and knocked the Eagles keeper unconscious. Not many people believed it had been an accident. As he left the field, red-carded for reckless play, Clogger had a wide grin on his face and was heard to joke ‘the Eagle has landed’.

Clogger’s reputation went against him that time, but his foul play achieved the desired effect. The Eagles were forced to put their brilliant striker Callum Shine in goal. He performed courageously at keeping out the ceaseless attacks from the Outlaws even though they were down to ten players. But it was to no avail. The weakened defence conceded a penalty, and this resulted in a win for the triumphant Outlaws. Their  jeering was of course led by Ryan Clogger.

And now Clogger is back for the grudge match intent on doing whatever damage it takes, to beat the Pelicans. Billy had that feeling in his stomach you get after eating too many slices of pizza, which he only does after the season ends. He knows it is going to be a brutal match, where physical size would could against them. The Outlaws  are the team in the league with the biggest players. They all look as if they are older, and have taken up football as a second sport to ring boxing. Clogger is even bigger and broader than the other thugs. Rumours are, that he is using illegal weight-gaining drugs supplied by someone who worked out at his father’s gym.

Billy travels to the game as usual in his dad’s estate car.  He is unusually quiet. They are with Martin, the team’s mascot, who is  even more silent and apprehensive. Martin is remembering what happened last year when was jeered by Outlaws Eagle’s supporters, egged on by Clogger, and then chased back into the dressing room by a snarling dog.  The Eagles are always coming up with new tricks like that, dreamed up by Clogger to put off opponents.  He reserves his best ones for matches against The Pelicans. No wonder Martin is quiet on the journey to Chadderton. 

With an hour to spare, they arrive at the ground where Urmston juniors play. No sign of life at the main gate. Fortunately Billie remembers. It is all part of the psychological warfare. They find the unmarked gate leading through the School playground and on to the playing field. They have changed before setting off, so Martin already in his pelican outfit emerged from the Estate, followed by Billie, in the scarlet and gold strip of team.

They reach a the door to the changing room. But where are the Urmston players and the match officials? Billie rattles impatiently on the locked door. After a long wait, it opens slowly.

‘Thought you would be too scared to turn up. You must be wetting your pants’

The giant frame of Ryan Clogger nearly fills the doorframe.‘We thought you would under arrest for GBH’ Billie snaps back. But his words come out in a high squeak.‘Here that, boys?’ Clogger called back into the dressing room’ The little boys and girlies from Poynton are here.’

There is a burst of jeering from the room.Billie hopes  he isn’t blushing. He often blushes, when he hopes no one is noticing he might be blushing.

‘Got some bad news for you, Bobble, you can’t use the training room. You’ll have to wait outside until the game starts. Oh, dear it’s started to rain. What a pity’.

And with that,Clogger slams the door. As he does so, there is a toot of a horn behind them. Billie’s dad is driving away. Billie houts for him to wait. But it’s too late.

Billie and Martin stand getting very wet as the rain falls on them in a torrent…

[This is the first episode of a book being written at the suggestion of a real football player. But the teams, league, and players are all fictional, and any resemblance to people alive or dead, real or imaginary is purely coincidental.



The Lapwing Lane Literary and Philosophic Society

December 4, 2022

The LLLPS will soon be celebrating its twentieth anniversary of daily meetings for discussions and social interactions with passing Didsbury residents, and their children and dogs,
As an outsider, I have a peak-hours visiting membership to meetings held at the Lapwing Lane Deli, one which I make use of three or four times a week.
The full-time members like William enjoy an early start, before the mighty Manchester rush-hour begins. Our meetings rarely end before ten am, with the exceptions for members who are on the social tennis circuit, who leave for a nine am start.
Proceedings are maintained in orderly fashion with effortless benignity by President Judy, in her ceremonial chair in front of the main entrance. Other members have allocated places at tables around her, newer members on the fringes of the gathering.
Why outside? To permit the greetings to passers-by I mentioned, and other briefer acknowledgements of Deli shoppers exchanging their newspaper tokens for their morning Guardians or Times.
I arrive at a more sensible time according to traffic conditions but usually around eight thirty. Unless, as happens recently when I slept late, and am forced to send a grovelling apology before search parties had been sent out.

My discussion topic

Today, I have my discussion topic ready. ‘My friend Oldbutfit is a football fan but has taken a vow to avoid watching or listening to transmissions of the World Cup. Is he unique in this respect?’
Heads shake. Then a suggestion.
‘There’s Carol’.
Carol. Not exactly a member of our Society but well-known to us as a customer of the Deli arriving to pick up her copy of The Guardian every morning. I have seen the change in Carol as the fortunes of Manchester United have waned in recent years. The change is most evident on the day of a United Match, and after another disappointing humiliation.
‘Strange’ I say. ‘Oldbutfit is a Man U fan, too, and a Guardian reader.
We begin a discussion about the distinguishing features of United supporters and Guardian readers. Suggestions range from ‘smug sanctimonious lefties’ to ‘high-minded people with deep concerns for basic human rights.

Next item proposed for discussion

Next item proposed for discussion: ‘Will gin and cheese lunches ever catch on outside Didsbury’s gated borders?’

Cultural appetites: A new treatment of an old problem

July 7, 2021

In the run up to the England Germany Euros football clash,  a critical incident changed the way I had been thinking. It connected up a large number of problems of fake news, leadership behaviours, and what I had been seeing as dysfunctional social and political trends which have tended to be dismissed as naive popularism or maybe psychodrama.

Unusually, I can trace precisely how the idea of cultural appetites came about. In the tabloid media in the build-up to the match there had been outbursts of anti-German sentiments in the tabloids. The match itself started with vituperation against the German National anthem, and against the gesture of ‘taking the knee’ by both teams, as a gesture against racism in football, including against their own black team members. I witnessed a voluble minority of jeering fans acting as if impelled by events that happened before they or even their parents were born. Some form of inter-generational hatred was being transmitted. 

The Critical Incident

The critical incident for me came when I came across a tweet from an English ultra, immediately the match. He was exulting at the transmitted image of a 10 year old German fan in tears at her team’s defeat. He presumably expected he was echoing shared patriotic beliefs. The force of his expressed venom against a child’s anguish triggered an idea. I was watching a cultural appetite for cruelty against the innocent.  So there I had it. A new label for outbursts of irrational anger against perceived enemies. I could immediately see other examples I had come across . Recent examples were the so-called ‘woke’ wars, outcries against statues, and against the protests against statues. There were also the more complex sets of behaviours of entrenched advocates be it for or against Brexit, vaccination and individual freedoms such as the protests culminating the the tragic end to Trump’s presidency against what his supporters believed was ‘the big lie’ that was stealing the presidency.

In the first days since that football match, my initial reaction continued to survive scrutiny as one of those moments of creative insight I used to teach about. Sometimes, they lead to something valuable. In which case, as I was fond of quoting,  apparent inspiration needs to be accompanied by lots of perspiration for it to survive. 

[To be continued]

Football gets its Hawkeye

January 8, 2018
WG Grace
This week, football’s new video assessment system reaches cup competitions in England. Will we learn from experiences in other sports?
Technology was accepted for lines-calls in tennis some years ago. It has also been introduced into cricket, and Rugby (both codes). LWD followed the emergence of Hawkeye in tennis, and one post has been studied as a business leadership case.
The changes were mostly accepted, perhaps grudgingly from those with a yearning for the romance of earlier days. Football now seems likely to follow a similar trajectory of initial controversy followed by eventual acceptance. There will almost certainly be learning from experience.
The new football system has been tested in Italy for around a hundred matches. It seems that the video referee is called into action in about 25% of matches. This is in contrast to the approach followed by rugby, when the hold-ups are incessant, and where referees are now conditioned to check every possible infringement,or point-scoring opportunity.
Tennis and cricket have opted for a limited number of player appeals. The approaches has been linked to spectator involvement following the game on large viewing screens, and rather naff graphics in cricket.
The problem I see is a concern by official bodies to obtain the ‘technically correct’ decision. This may be influenced by the financial swings hanging on a single decision.  In tennis, this means the evidence for a ball being hit in (including on) the line, or outside the line. The technology tends to be trusted to a precision that is not possible for the human eye of even the best umpires. A similar state of affairs holds in cricket where the technology reveals the slightest of contact with ball on bat, which would influence a decision for caught or LBW (out for the ball striking the player’s pads according to complex rules known as leg before wicket).
The current systems reduce uncertainties of human error to plausible ‘right or wrong’ decisions.  We are not quite at the limits of uncertainty according to the scientific principle formulated by Heisenberg, but not precise enough to make practical debate futile.
A better way?
There is a modification to this approach which seems better to me. The technology could be used to avoid obvious errors, rather than resolve minuscule quibbles over the slightest of touches of a ball on a bat, or whether  a ball has gone beyond the line (of a football or tennis playing area , or marginally forward in a passing sequence in rugby (one of the game’s delights cut short too often at present.)
Will the new system being introduced resolve controversy about decisions by the officials? Not according to one Italian expert describing their footballing experience. Are the fans happy? Only if the decision is in their team’s favour, he replied with a sigh.

Big Game Hunting

October 6, 2016

By Paul Hinks


A reflection on the demise of Sam Allardyce as England manager

The slaying of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe on or around the 1st July 2015 brought dismay and outrage around the world. Cecil the Lion had been tracked and killed by an American trophy hunter. Wounded initially by a bow and arrow just outside the boundary and protection of a national park, Cecil’s fate was unfortunately a formality. A tragic tale.

There was a strong negative response to the killing of Cecil – an easy target, seen by many as a completely unnecessary act. The debate around the ethics of big-game trophy hunting was well and truly set alight. In some sad way, Cecil’s demise and legacy may have brought some good.

The Guardian captured the sentiment well:

The outrage associated with Cecil reflects a shift in values that could be used to mount public support not just for lions, but also for wildlife conservation more generally. “This is a moment,” the researchers write, “not to be squandered, and one which might have the potential to herald a significant shift in society’s interaction with nature.”

Hyenas turn on Big Sam

Change of context, and fast forward to 27th September 2016.  Newly appointed England Manager Sam Allardyce is 67 days in to the job.

Big Sam had previously achieved relative success at less fashionable clubs such as Bolton Wanderers and West Ham Utd, using scientific and creative methods.

Sam had delivered results that exceeded the expectations of most followers – now Sam had landed his dream job. He was the manager of the England Football team – the perennial underperformers.

Then disaster struck. With one victory to his name, and 67 days into his tenure, Sam’s fate was also sealed. As the BBC reported, Sam had made a catastrophic error of judgement:

Sam Allardyce has left his post as England manager by mutual agreement with the Football Association after one match and 67 days in charge.

It follows a newspaper investigation claiming he offered advice on how to “get around” rules on player transfers. Allardyce, 61, is also alleged to have used his role to negotiate a deal worth £400,000 to represent a Far East firm.

Perhaps like Cecil, Sam was an easy target

Sam was the victim of an elaborate journalistic sting where Sam unwittingly compromised his position by ‘speaking off the record’ – suggesting he had knowledge of how FA rules on player ownership could be circumvented. Sam was captured on film using hidden cameras speaking openly of ways to sidestep the FA’s rules and governance. A breach of trust and a betrayal of confidence by Sam in his new employers. In brief summary – a serious error of judgement on Sam’s behalf.

In any senior leadership position there is simply no such thing as ‘off the record’. Communication of any type, with anyone, in any context must be viewed as if it’s going to be broadcast everywhere and anywhere. Sam had been trapped, the game was over – or in his words “entrapment won”.

Ethics and Public Interest

The English press has a history of targeting those who are in the ‘hot seat’ of English football. They may claim they’re just doing their job and operating in the public’s interest – but evidence suggests the press will display dogged tenacity and traits similar to Hyenas in hunting their prey to get their prized story. For them, the England manager is fair game.

Like Cecil, perhaps Sam was an easy target for those who had personal agendas to satisfy. In some ironic way Sam’s demise may promote further reflection and reform within The FA, foster change and deliver some longer term benefit?

The FA’s judgement and risk assessment have been proven to be miles apart in their appointment of Sam in the first instance. Surely this needs to be addressed moving forward?  The FA are the gatekeepers to the global game. They have been seriously embarrassed; the reputation of the English game itself has been tarnished and damaged. The FA need to take steps to prevent the re-occurrence of similar events in the future.

The England Manager is the symbolic leader of English football, and ambassador to the values endorsed by the English Football Association. Uncompromising integrity and verifiable strong leadership must become mandatory criteria for the selection of future England Managers.

Sure the Hyenas eyed their prey, snared Sam and displaced another England Manager. We must now hope that the FA reflect on the situation and adapt, and learn from the experience so that some kind of benefit can be delivered out of a truly sad situation.


Acknowledgement to Tudor and Susan for their valuable thoughts, discussion and contribution.

The 2016 Olympic Games: An example of the apotheosis of hysteria

August 31, 2016

Immanuel Kant

The coverage of Team GB’s successes in the 2016 Olympics makes a fascinating case example of a cultural shift from the legendary British stiff upper lip to an embrace of emotional reactions to change. It may also help understand the persistence of charismatic leaders and their unconditional acceptance by cult-like followers

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Wimbledon as a metaphor for English Culture: A creative look

June 30, 2016


Wimbledon fortnight.  Any visitor to England would suspect tennis to be the national sport, perhaps equalled only by football. It may be more usefully seen as a metaphor for English popular culture

If the idea intrigues you, try this experiment before moving on. Take a blank sheet of paper. On the left, write down aspects of Wimbledon fortnight you think relate to its culture. Keep going until you have a full page. By the way, it works just as well, maybe better, if carried out by a team or social group.

You can see my efforts if you continue reading this post. I have ‘unfolded’ the experiment with several page breaks so that you can try things out for yourself before reading what I found.

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The sport we love: How much have we been in denial over doping?

April 5, 2016

I believed, like many others, that taking performance-enhancing drugs was a problem for a minority of people in a minority of sports.  It is increasingly clear that I have been in a state of denial for many years

Like some hideous conspiracy project, the extent of the problem is revealing itself more and more.

“What do you think about [****] ?” Someone asked me yesterday.Tudor Rickards   He was referring to one of the high-profile cases in a sport he knew I was interested in.

“Unfortunate” I said uneasily.  “A career ruined”

“… and [****]?” He mentioned another sporting superstar whose name is a global brand.

“There have been accusations for some years” I admitted.  “But some people are looking at exceptional performances as proof of drug-taking. ”

He nodded.

 Within hours, another story broke 

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Inverting the Pyramid

January 11, 2016

Inverting the Pyramid

Book Review

‘Inverting the pyramid: A history of football tactics’ was written by football journalist Jonathan Wilson. It was published when Jose Mourinho was in his first spell as manager of Chelsea This review, unpublished at the time, has been updated as part of a study of Jose’s second spell at Chelsea

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Jose Departs: Reflections on Perceptions versus Reality

December 24, 2015

I'll be backLeaders We Deserve subscriber Paul Hinks reflects on the departure of Jose Mourinho ‘by mutual agreement’ from Chelsea Football club


For the second time in recent history, Chelsea Football Club have parted company with their most successful manager of all time: Jose Mourinho. The leadership style of the self-proclaimed Special One invites closer inspection.

Mourinho has often been referred to as charismatic – but what happens when charisma is not enough? when the leader fails to take others with them?

The Reality of Success

By the time Mourinho had left Chelsea “by mutual agreement” on Thursday [17 December 2015]  Chelsea were just above the Premier League relegation zone. They had lost 9 games already in their latest campaign, compared with just 3 games in the whole of the previous season.

This was not the form of a team capable of successfully defending their title – indeed this was unchartered territory for Chelsea who had previously successfully challenged for both domestic and European honours under the ownership and guidance of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.

Chelsea’s lowly position in the Premiership table was unexpected. Most commentators struggled to explain how a squad of players could falter so spectacularly in such a short period of time.

Perhaps success was not a formality after all?

Big players, Big money, Big reputations


For those unfamiliar with football, Jose Mourinho reputation precedes him. He is a world class football coach who’s consistently delivered success at some of the world’s top football clubs.

This track record of success at different clubs provides some evidence to help validate opinion that ‘Jose’ is the ‘Special One’ – a man with some ‘magic mystical ingredient’ that helps delivers success.

With the big stage comes the big personalities and the challenge of managing big player egos – the dilemmas associated with player self-interest and hidden agendas – players and their agents who may want to engineer a lucrative transfer to another club to invoke lucrative sign-on fees?

Or perhaps footballers wives and girlfriends who would prefer to shop and live in a more cosmopolitan and glamorous city?

The footballing landscape manifests unusual and perhaps unique situations that can make the life very complex and adds unwanted pressure.

Power versus Leadership

Speculation and rumours of tensions in the Chelsea dressing room suggest Jose has had serious difficulties this season. was already on the back foot. The tipping point was the defeat that Mourinho and Chelsea suffered playing away to unlikely Premiership leaders Leicester City on Monday 14th December 2015 – ultimately a catalyst for Mourinho and Chelsea to part-company.

The Daily Mail provided insight:

When Jose Mourinho returns to work on Wednesday, he will be confronted by a group of grumbling Chelsea players who are far from happy with his scathing post-match analysis at Leicester City.

Mourinho’s use of the word ‘betrayal’ to describe John Terry and Kurt Zouma’s defensive lapse when Jamie Vardy scored in the 34th minute at the King Power Stadium stripped the dressing room of its dignity.

He has lost these players now, destroying their self-esteem in his criticism of the champions, either publicly or privately. It is a toxic dressing room now.


Mourinho’s standards are high. He expects the best from his players. During press conferences Mourinho has previously referred to his team, or individuals’ in his team, as ‘Champions’. An example of how Mourinho’s emotional intelligence is always engaged. Equally when things aren’t going so well, Mourinho’s style falters.

So when the results are not going his way so the inquiry and inevitable speculation starts in to what has gone wrong with the Special One’s charismatic ways?

Hero to Zero?

Mourinho’s very public clash with Dr Eva Carneiro was a critical moment in Mourinho’s 2015 Chelsea season and a good starting point for analysis.

The Telegraph was one of many news agencies that reported on how the Chelsea doctor had rushed on to the pitch to treat an injured Chelsea player (Eden Hazzard) when Chelsea played Swansea on 8th August 2015.

In the end, Dr Carneiro left Chelsea FC, but the damage was done. Mourinho’s misjudgement and mishandling of a single event was a pivotal moment in Mourinho’s recent period in charge.

What next for Jose?

Mourinho’s teams have consistently delivered success in silverware, the currency that fans and owners of football clubs crave most. for: silverware. Mourinho is a successful football coach in commercial terms. However, with continued success comes the increased weight of expectation. On closer inspection Jose also can be seen to leave behind a less than healthy legacy in  human terms.

But the signs are that Jose may be out, but certainly not finished. The words of another charismatic, come to mind. “I’ll be back”.