Extracts of Blagg's football blogs as he follows West Ham United and England through the usual series of near disasters.

Featuring links to the Annual Billy Blagg Advent Calendar of Christmas Songs.

Also featuring guest appearances by 'Captain Olympic'.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Gail's Eulogy

Many of you will know that – thanks to Gail who gave me confidence where there was none – I have been an IT Trainer for the past fifteen years. I am used to standing in front of large groups of people and speaking, often unscripted, sometimes for several hours.

However, nothing I have done in the past fifteen years has prepared me for today. And so, against my better judgement, and because I need to do this not only for Gail but also myself, I have decided to write this out and read it. I know it often sounds odd reading out the written word, but I hope it won’t sound too stilted. If it does, I hope you will bear with me.

Regardless of your religious, spiritual or scientific beliefs, at a time like this, when we’re all trying to make sense of something that makes no sense,  you might find solace in Gail’s first words to me. Like Gail herself, they are probably pretty unique.

I first spoke to Gail when she rung me at work. She’d started a new job in High Wycombe and was chasing leads, cold-calling companies with a five-minute introductory call about herself, her company and the services she provided. And – yes! – We did have a laugh later about some of the services she provided for me over the years. For those of you who didn’t know Gail before her illness, she was a superb and hard-working sales person. She’d made many dozens of calls before she rung me and made dozens more after; they’d all lasted about five minutes, some shorter, few longer. Ours lasted 45 minutes. Years after we couldn’t actually remember what we had spoken about. We just remembered that we felt instantly at ease, sensed a rapport but, more importantly, felt that something odd had occurred.

Gail rang me again a couple of weeks after. A follow-up call supposed to last another five minutes, this one lasted an hour. Over the coming weeks, the calls got longer and the time in-between shorter until two things happened. Firstly, BT’s shareholders threw a party, secondly – after a full seven months – we decided to meet. Even so, this first meeting wasn’t quite how it sounds.

Incredible to think back then, there was no internet, social media or mobile phones. We had no idea what each other looked like. This though was no blind date - neither of us was in a position for that anyway – instead it had the feel of a slightly surreal business meeting.

In fact, we only met because Gail’s Mum Denise had come down from the North-East and was staying with Gail for the week. She wanted to see a bit of London, was in the area I worked in and so, with Mum in tow, we decided it would be a good time to meet and, we both thought, put an end to all the nonsense.

You see, it was apparent from our conversations that we had absolutely nothing in common. We didn’t like the same music, books, TV shows, we didn’t enjoy the same things and, more importantly, we were entirely different people, Gail was gregarious, fun, chatty and – let’s be honest here – needed to carry a big stick with her at all times to fend off the attention of the opposite sex. Something incidentally, she still needed 30 years later. Me? Well… not so much….

My idea certainly was we’d meet; Gail would see who’d she’d been talking to all this time, we’d laugh and then move on.

After I’d left them following our meeting, Denise – bless her! – summed the reality of the situation up as only a Mother can with just two words. She told Gail simply ‘Be Careful’. Gail wasn’t, I wasn’t …and, astonishing though it is to consider it, every one of us is here today as a direct result. 

By the way, don’t bother ringing Match.com to suggest the idea of a solid, hedonistic, loving relationship based on having absolutely nothing in common. I’ve already done it; they weren’t interested.

One thing I quickly learned in those opening conversations was that the name Gail doesn’t lend itself to someone with an East End accent. That harsh A sound just doesn’t sound right and, as it turns out, sounded even worse as we subsequently settled in Essex. With deference to my In-Laws who’ve travelled from Newcastle to the Deep South to be with us today, the softer A of the North East – Gail (Geordie) - sounds much nicer. I did try the cod Geordie for a while but then dropped it in favour of just saying ‘Eeeee Pet’ whenever I answered Gail’s calls. Eventually I dropped that too and Gail just became ‘Pet’ and later when we moved in together ‘My Pet’. All our cards to each other are signed that way and that was the name I called her all the time. Like an errant child she only became Gail when she was annoying me or spending too much money – which to be fair was quite often!

It’s been lovely to see so many people here today and to hear your thoughts on Gail and what she meant to you. But, for me, though I knew that Gail and enjoyed her company, we worked in a different way and that way just involved the two of us. It’s hard to describe here as often we were in our own bubble that made others uncomfortable; there wasn’t words, it’s like the air crackled between us and we instinctively knew what the other was thinking. We’d just look at each other and laugh because we knew the other knew what was happening. Gail did like her nights out but she liked being home the best and she told me this on many occasions.

So, if you’ll excuse me, it’s that Gail I’d like to speak too now.

(Address Gail directly)

So, Pet

Firstly, just to tell you that I absolutely bereft and missing you so much. I’m trying to keep myself busy so I don’t get the chance to stop and think.

I had the downstairs toilet decorated as you wanted. That sparkly mirror I said was going up ‘over my dead body’ is up. I don’t see I’ve much to lose and, frankly, I need more sparkly mirrors in my life right now.

It was nice to have you home last night. I can’t remember a time when I said so much and you didn’t say anything in reply. The cats loved you being there though. Morris, Buzz, Gus and Ziggy thought I’d got them a new scratch post. Buzz, Mummy’s boy, slept on you. I know you’d have liked that. They’ve left a little black cat stamp on the end of your pink coffin.

I want you to know I’ve lit a candle for you every night since you went. You’ve left me about eighty of the bloody things so I may as well do something with them.

I thank you also for the 20 odd bottles of fake tan. You always said I’d have no style if you weren’t around to buy my clothes – but, hey! Check out the pink waistcoat and tie - so I’m taking this as a sign and I’ve decided on the Romesh Raganathan look for the next couple of years.

I’m sorry I let you down at the end. Everyone is saying I did my best but we both know I didn’t. I’m sorry I was just so tired and the drive back to Cambridge was long, it was dark, raining and I couldn’t face it. You’d been through so much I thought you’d get through this. I know when I get to the Gates of Hell you’ll probably be there with some sparkly wings and a red diamante trident and – a personal request here some white thigh boots -  and you’ll say to me ‘You useless bastard, you were bloody late again!’

But Pet, whatever my shortcomings – and there are many I know - I hope I gave you some sort of life. You used to say I did, but I’m just sorry I couldn’t stop the pain you were in for virtually all the time we knew each other. I’d do anything to have you back, but I’m grateful that at last you’re not in pain.

You were my inspiration: Without you, I’d not have been able to do the job I do now or – the irony lost on no-one – stand here like I am now. You told me I could do it and you gave me the confidence to believe in myself.

It was also you that gave me my second career as a freelance writer. You gave me the concept, even the name and started my alter ego for me. If anything can come out of this awful time, I think perhaps I’ve now got my subject for my second book.

My gorgeous Pet: Beautiful, Stylish, Inspirational, Funny, Smart, Sexy, Insightful, Elegant, Infuriating, Illogical, Vibrant, Intuitive, Short-tempered. You could be wonderful or you could be a pain but, either way, you were my Mrs T, my Lady Blagg and you were my pain and I love you for it.

When I said I loved you, you always said ‘How Much?’ and I had to answer ‘to the ends of the universe and back’. You’d say AND? So I could say ‘times the end of the universe and back again’. That’s not changed. That won’t ever change.

Your last words to me were ‘I Love You’ and my last words to you were ‘I Love You’ and I guess that’s about as good as it gets. So I should say ‘Goodbye’ here but….

(Address back to the rest )

Those first words? Years after, when I asked Gail why she’d said this, she didn’t realise at first she had said it, she most certainly did though and when I reminded her, she then couldn’t explain it except to say ‘It was like I knew you already’.

Don’t forget we’d never spoken before or even knew of each other’s existence. The phone rang, I picked it up, said Hello and Gail said “Hello……… it’s me again“

Perhaps, sometime, somewhere, me – or at least other parallel version of me – will have that happen again.

I can only hope so.

7th August 2018

People told me to leave things "You can sort that out after" they said. But I couldn't. I had to DO something. I had to keep busy. I'm glad I did. I was sorting through some of Gail's records and I found this. Why had I put it in a cupboard with the records? It should have been up on the wall from the time she gave it to me. Why are we like this as human beings? Anyway. it's going up NOW. Thank you Pet.

July 29th 2018 PM

I lost my beautiful, talented, funny wife today.
She was the love of my life, my reason for living, my inspiration and my soul mate and I am utterly, utterly bereft. I don't think social media is really the place to lay your broken heart on the line, but I seem to have somehow got myself to this place and I need to let many of you know what has happened, so here I am.
I thank you for all those who have contacted me already; the level of compassion for someone many of you have never met is utterly overwhelming.
Give your loved one an extra hug tonight OK? One day they may not be there to hug and then you will regret all the nights you didn't.

29th July 2018 early AM

I posted on Facebook:

I'm at an age, and been in the industry that created this social media monster for so long, that I think I've lost touch with what is right and wrong here but, somehow, as an alter-ego I've managed to drag my real world and real people into my fiction. I never intended this.
As a result, as well as real-life friends, I also meet here on this page with old friends and work colleagues - people who in another age I may have lost touch with - and also many 'friends' I've only met once and, staggeringly, some I've never met at all. All are now involved in my thoughts and life dramas.
As such, I've alluded to the 'fictional' Lady B, in reality the love of my life, my gorgeous, beautiful and talented wife Gail, being ill and referenced her 'battling' and being in hospital without really explaining anything as I thought it too …what? intrusive? Then why mention it at all, you may ask. A question I'm struggling to answer here right now.
The fact is, at this very moment in my real world, Gail has been moved to Addenbrooke Hospital, is seriously ill and in intensive care. Those who can or want too, feel free to message, call me or email me if you want to know more. I thank you for your thoughts, prayers and kindness and I hope to be back - perhaps - with better news.

10th July 2018

… So the good Lady B is released from hospital. Does she spend the time relaxing and having a good night's sleep? Nope. Late evening she rescues a mouse from the cat and spends the whole night with him, feeding him and looking after his health. Brer Mouse was released back into the wild on Sunday morning. You'd like to think the Saints would put a word in, wouldn't you?

June 30th 2018

For a beautiful lady who's battling hard.

This was our - or one of our - songs. The words perfectly summed up our situation when we first got together back in 1987. I first told Gail I loved her on Christmas Eve 1987 at High Wycombe Railway Station. Not a great place for one of the world's great romances perhaps but, as another song says. 'I had to start it somewhere, so it started there'.

Gail replied to this on Facebook 

Gail You could have waited until you brought the tissues in

21st June 2018

This year, for the first time in living memory, the lovely Lady B has been unable to attend Ascot Races. Knowing how ill she is, friends decided to bring the Races to Blagg Acres.

 Friday features Cat Racing round the block. Live commentary from 2pm.

Lady Blagg

On Sunday 29th July 2018, my world came crashing down when I lost my wife; my beautiful, talented, gifted, love of my life Gail. For entirely selfish reasons - because I needed to see everything unravelling in one space - I decided to post the events, the feelings, the unbelievable lows, the brief lunatic highs, leading up to the day and after here on this blog after initially posting them on Facebook. Lady Blagg as I named her on my football columns, was such a unique individual I felt duty bound to immortalise her somewhere other than social media and this seemed the ideal place to do it. It wasn't though.

Revisiting the page later in the year when I was preparing for the 2019 Calendar - about as heartbreaking an exercise as any I've ever undertaken but one I just HAD to do  - I found the Facebook posts had missing links and the formats on the page had changed. It didn't look good; read even worse. 

Things had changed though. Through writing on Facebook - the medium barely being what it is intended for, as my posts become long soliloquies on life, love, grief and the meaning of everything - I found I had reached an audience. The feedback I got was positive and heartwarming. I found people were crying because of what I'd written; were then laughing when they were crying.

On February 1st 2019, I returned to this blog intending on tidying it up and instead I found I was deleting it. The facebook posts are still there and my overriding intention is to gather it all together a write a story about it. That may sound like I'm grandstanding but I've been asking questions - and getting no answers other than those you expect to get (and those are sadly pithy little comments that make things worse not better) and, perhaps mistakenly, I feel I have something to say on the matter.

I may be wrong. This 'story' may never get written. I do intend on gathering every post and photo though and making something of it. I may put it in another blog about Grief. As I write this, I have ideas but nothing tangible. I hope that will change. If it does I will let you know. 

Anyway, the piece below was written about Gail just after the 29th and I've decided to leave it here. It in no way explains how I felt or continue to feel but it does explain what happened and does give an insight as to why this gorgeous, unique individual was taken far too soon. 


As I write this, it's exactly one year since I took the photo below in Kos, Greece. It scarcely seems credible that 12 months later I'd be sitting here a shattered man.

Gail had SLE (Lupus) and had been ill for many years. Lupus, being an autoimmune disease, attacks parts of the working body and she had suffered many issues over the years; some disappearing just as quickly as they had arrived. What really wiped her out though was the advent of liver disease over the two previous years. In constant pain and unable to take any drugs because of the side effects, Gail did find solace in red wine. She was never an alcoholic though. She could enjoy herself but she never binge drunk and was never drunk. If it was drink that killed her then I know many more perfectly healthy people who shouldn't be here.

We discussed it. She was one of those people who really needed to lead her own life in an antiseptic bubble but Gail wasn't like that. She was vivacious, gregarious, full of life, vitality and fun. She needed to live while she was here and, if nothing else, we can say that she did that to the best of her - sometimes limited - ability. 

Things had started to deteriorate in the September of 2017 and she was constantly struggling. We never realised the full weight though until the early part of 2018 when her Doctor said things had 'taken a serious turn'. Even so she'd battled back before, she had a prescribed medicine induced Leukaemia when she was 28 and had fully recovered when the Doctors though she wouldn't. 

We got a good holiday in for her birthday in June, going to Marmaris, Turkey her favourite place. In retrospect, we were lucky, within two days of us returning she was hospitalised; coming out for brief periods but, effectively, never really being home for any length of time. 

This is that time from early June. 

I love you, Pet and I will never get over this.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Advent Calendar of Christmas Songs

This blog was mainly designed to keep an up-to-date record of my football writing at ESPN FC and Westhamonline.net. However, with ESPN 'refreshing me out' of their site and my deciding to curtail any writing that isn't lucrative - I spent too many writing for the love of it to want to do it for free any longer - there's no denying the fact that this blog in itself is redundant.

However, the ever-popular Billy Blagg Advent Calendar of Christmas Songs continues, so I'm leaving this blog as a Home Page for those seeking Christmas songs in November or December - or any other month if you're that way inclined - and hope you'll continue to visit for as long as I can continue the posts.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Ten More Years! Ten More Years!

The end of the 10th Blagg Advent Calendar means there are now 250 Christmas songs available on the blogs. Will there be another ten? It all seems pretty impossible at the moment, but I do have a list of at least another twenty odd songs and it seems a shame to stop now.

We'll see what 2017 brings...

In the meantime, if you visit this place at any time in the future, it's Christmas - or getting near it - can I urge you to rummage through the links to the right and, when you've heard a great Christmas tune you'd not heard before (and you will!), tell your friends.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Just dropped in...

... to quote Kenny Rogers 'to see what condition my condition was in'.

I'm still here and wouldn't like you to think I'm neglecting the Blog spot - although strictly speaking I guess I am - but I've a regular column at the East London Guardian, which you can find here at Guardian Sports and I'm still on the ESPN West Ham page several times a week here ESPN WHU Blog and I don't see the point in regurgitating it all here. If you like then you can look yourself and if you're not fussed then fair enough.

If you want to follow my Twitter page then you can find me at billyblaggesq where much the same goes on but in fewer words.

Of course, there will be links here to the Advent Calendar every December but as I sit watching the daffodils in  a vase on my window, I hope you won't mind if I ignore that until a better time.

There will probably be cat photos though..oh yes!...there will probably be cat photos.

Following the sad death of Puss-Puss aka Paolo di Cattio last July, a small cattery has sprung up to try and replace him. Fifteen-year-old Morris is still here and he has now been joined by two-year-old British Blue Ziggy and two kittens in the shape of Buzz and Gus. Their photos are already on this page, but I will update them in the coming weeks.

OK Now go off and do something more productive!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Bobby Moore: The Man in Full - Book Review

There is an inherent dichotomy at the heart of  Matt Dickinson’s new book Booby Moore: The Man in Full. While the inside cover poses the questions ‘What of the failed businesses, whispers of bad behaviour, links to the East End underworld and turbulent private life?’, the back dust jacket quotes Moore’s friend Sir Michael Parkinson “When you stop to think you realised you knew fuck all about him’ That central issue is the frustration at the heart of any book about the iconic England captain.

It would be wrong to claim that Dickinson, the Chief Football Correspondent for The Times, really answers any of the questions -- in many ways it poses even more -- but it would also be unfair to pretend that the book doesn’t at least try to get to the heart of a frustrating character; someone who is revered even more now than in his lifetime, but also a person whose traits and flaws seem to have grown exponentially since his untimely death in 1993.

With Moore passing tragically early at the age of 51 – the failure of medical staff to detect the early symptoms of the bowel and liver cancer that eventually took him being a strong theme in the book -- there are no new stories to tell, no new insights to be had. All there is a continuation of the Bobby Moore legend , one that grows with every failure by subsequent England teams, and a 21st Century reassessment that wonders how, in a world that still basks in the David Beckham aura, Moore remained outside of the mainstream following his retirement from football.

Looked at today, it’s hard to imagine that Bobby Moore wouldn’t have joined the pantheon of feted sports stars had he lived. There’s surely no way that he wouldn’t have received a knighthood and how would the 2012 Olympics in Stratford gone ahead without his involvement, for example. It’s almost certain that England and West Ham would have utilised his fame too – particularly when current West Ham and former Sunday Sport owners David Gold and David Sullivan were virtually the only people who offered Moore any type of well-paid job during his post-playing career. But although it is generally accepted that it was the failing of the England hierarchy to harness the statesmanlike qualities of Moore after his playing days were finished, there is a nagging sense in Dickinson’s book that the fault lies as much with Moore as the usual suited suspects the fans and media like to snipe at.

Although leaving the reader to judge for themselves, the book comes close to suggesting that perhaps Moore didn’t have what it takes to become a good coach or manager and perhaps, just lacked that certain trait – arrogance being prime, it seems -- to grab the political or diplomatic role taken by compatriots like Franz Beckenbauer or Pele. 

Interestingly though, ‘The Man in Full’ is littered with references to Moore ‘staggering home’, ‘collapsing in an armchair’ or ‘crawling up the stairs’ yet shies away from suggesting that Moore might have had the same problem with drink that Bobby’s friend Jimmy Greaves later admitted tto. And while it’s certainly the case that English football was stuffed with ‘bon viveur’ at the time, chatting to Moore’s compatriots only really highlights the image of the England and West Ham captain as a man out of time as European influences on fitness and diet started to seep into the British game.

The fact is Ron Greenwood’s assertion that he could talk all day about Moore the footballer but would dry up in few minutes if discussing Moore the man, remains pretty much the flavour of the book and Dickinson’s attempts at speaking to some of the people who knew him best: Mike Summerbee, Harry Redknapp, Rodney Marsh and, crucially, Bobby’s first wife Tina actually only serves to muddy the water.

The only glimpse of a man who the general public didn’t know comes with the insights into Moore’s second marriage to Stephanie. Certainly the break-up with Tina and the difficulty the family-man had at leaving his home are a painful and tragic read. But stripped of the uncomfortable ‘love story of the century’ from Moore’s own biography, there is a sense that, for perhaps the only time in his life, Moore was able to become the man he wanted to be, embracing travel, the theatre and opera in a way that doesn’t sit easily to a man used to propping up a bar stool in Bethnal Green. 

In addition, the juxtaposing of Moore’s personality by the two women who loved him is touching and heartfelt; Tina in particular ironically mirroring the theme of Dickinson’s book in being fascinatingly unsure of a man she spent 24 years with. 

At the heart of ‘The Man in Full’ though is a familiar story that we may all know but one that just keeps giving. The tale of a shy boy from Barking who grew to captain his local team to unprecedented Cup and European glory and his national team to the biggest prize in sport, establishing himself as a sporting icon even though he was, by his own admission, a slow defender and a poor header of the ball. 

Set against stories today of players with sublime skill, at the peak of physical perfection, pampered by clubs and feted by fans everywhere, Moore’s rise to the pinnacle of the game seems an even greater story now than it was at the time. References to that day in 1966 still produces Goosebumps and, if the reader’s support extends to Moore’s West Ham career, there are chunks of the book almost guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye.

Matt Dickinson’s ‘Man in Full’ is a book that attempts to explain something about a national icon who was always a private person; a man who suffered testicular cancer at 23 but who never told a soul – even hiding himself in the shower on match days to mask his ‘loss’. With such privacy, it would always be a thankless task to try and peel away the layers and reveal something we didn’t already know and although Dickinson doesn’t quite pull that off, he does manage to produce a fascinating and easily-red book that will delight and intrigue in equal measure.

Perhaps not a man in full then but still one that, even glimpsed at slightly, will forever be held as a national icon and the pinnacle of sporting success. In truth, that’s pretty much all we want anyway.

Bobby Moore: The Definitive Biography - Book Review

Bobby Moore: The Definitive Biography is an updated and expanded version of Jeff Powell’s original book first published in 1976, with the addition of a prologue – inevitably counterpointing Moore’s ultimate World Cup success with England’s inept failure in Brazil this summer – and eight chapters encasing the original book: picking up Moore’s story from where the first publication left-off, taking us through the England captain’s painful retirement, second marriage and on to his illness and tragic death in 1993. 

Powell was one of Moore’s best friends and there is little doubt that England’s greatest player would only ever trust his full story to be told by the award-winning Daily Mail journalist and Powell’s insights into Moore’s personality and behaviour are evident throughout. 

I have long cherished the 1976 autobiography, it’s a book I’ve returned to many times for anecdotes and reference. It left a mark on me when I first read it, differing as it does from most sporting autobiographies in that the thoughts of the subject have been brought to life by the journalistic skills of Powell, writing in the third person as if his ghost writer were actually present to record Moore’s thoughts and actions. This makes the book read almost as a novel and the style can illuminate or jar depending on your point of view and re-reading the original it has to be said that some of the prose now seems anachronistic. 
In one chapter a discussion with old Hammers colleague Johnny ‘Budgie’ Byrne about the relative managerial merits of Alf Ramsey over Ron Greenwood has Moore contemplating ‘as the huge darkening sun dipped behind the velvet folds of night’. 

It’s not recorded that Powell was there for the meeting, so either Moore described the scene or Powell has used some journalistic licence. Apart from in itself being a clunky piece of phrasing, it’s then hard not to stop and wonder how the description came about and, if you’re someone who can’t simply take what is on the written page and leave it, then the prose becomes annoying and ultimately distracting.

“Hey Bob, that’s an interesting conversation you had with Budgie. I’d like to put that in the book but I need a bit of prose to make it read better. Can you remember anything about where you were or what was happening when you had this conversation”

“Well Jeff, I do remember that behind Budgie I saw a huge darkening sun dipping below the velvet folds of night…”

Nevertheless Moore’s personal thoughts still continue to surprise: following the infamous story dealing with the stolen bracelet in Bogota on the eve of the 1970 World Cup, for example, there is a passage in which Moore – given a gold identity bracelet as an ironic gift by his wife – intriguingly questions why he was left stranded in the Colombian capital by Alf Ramsey. 

Later Moore sits alone in his hotel room after the 1975 FA Cup final in which the Fulham side he represented were beaten 2-0 at Wembley by his old West Ham mates, his ‘bow tie hanging loose on his shirt front‘ Moore looks at his runners-up medal and says “I’m glad I didn’t get many of these!” This is a more realistic situation where Moore would presumably share his thoughts with Powell later and it’s where the book works best. 

The main Aspects of Moore’s life that had only been hinted at or even hidden when they occurred are also illuminating - attempts by Brian Clough to lure Moore to Derby County, how the West Ham captain fell out with Ron Greenwood following the infamous Blackpool incident, how the only England player ever to lift the World Cup was almost ineligible to play in ’66 – these revelations may shock Hammers fans reared on Moore’s supposedly unquestioned loyalty to his local team. 

Powell’s close relationship with Moore is both the book’s strength and major weakness though and it has to be said the extra chapters – although obviously necessary in terms of covering Moore’s life – include a lack of subjectivity that makes for uncomfortable reading at times. 

Returning to the original part of the book years later, there’s a definite feeling that the world has moved on, both in terms of Moore’s standing within the game and – it has to be said – Powell’s ghost-written style. 

For a West Ham fan, the lack of objectivity in Powell’s book will make Moore appear even more of a paragon of virtue. For others without claret and blood in their veins though, some of the eulogising may be difficult to stomach; the linking of Moore’s death with a lowering of standards in English society may enthuse Conservative thinkers – the capital c intentional with Powell’s political leanings in evidence in the extra chapters – while more liberal others may baulk at the comparison of Moore’s upstanding virtues with the ‘brutishness of Johnny Rotten’. This is a comparison both wrong and unnecessary.

The collapse of Moore’s marriage to first-love Tina - Powell was actually best man at the former England captain’s wedding to his second wife Stephanie, while Moore reciprocated at Powell’s – makes for uncomfortable reading in all senses. Powell’s eulogising of it as ‘one of the great love affairs of our time’ may force some to question the benefit of Powell’s closeness to the subject, and it’s left to the reader to consider if Moore’s frustration with the lack of opportunities available to him as a retired footballer didn’t ultimately impinge in his personal life. Moore, to be fair, blamed himself for the collapse of his marriage and there is a stoicism and candour in this aspect that seems very much part of the Bobby Moore legacy.

It’s for the football that most will turn to this book though and there is a fascinating debate to be had about the failure of football’s hierarchy in the latter quarter of the 20th Century to embrace Moore as a statesman or – as Germany did with Franz Beckenbauer – use their greatest player as a springboard for a new regime. 

The sad indictment of the book though isn’t that Moore’s coaching and ambassadorial skills were ignored during his lifetime, but rather changing attitudes and the failure of successive England campaigns, surely indicate that - had Moore lived beyond the cruelly short 52 years he was given – England’s captain probably would have gained some position of power within the game.

The rise of celebrity culture best signified by David Beckham has changed the way we view past success and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to consider Moore may even have had the England job when the controversial postings of Sven Goran-Eriksson and Fabio Capello were being made. Had he lived, Moore would now only be 6 years older than Roy Hodgson. 

Bobby Moore: The Definitive biography is then, an essential read for anyone interested in the life and times of English footballers greatest captain and is worth the price for that alone. Powell’s style and personal views may irk some but there is little doubt that his personal friendship with the great man has elicited confidences that are lacking in other books about the man whom the rest of the football world still view with some awe. 

Ultimately though, there is a profound sense that the 21st Century has revised Moore’s legacy in a way that England and West Ham’s greatest captain would have been proud of. 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Links Update

With the new link ESPN FC pages, I thought it would be worth posting  a link to the West Ham page that some people have had a little trouble in finding.

I also do a bi-weekly column for the Guardian - it's the East London Guardian but I conveniently forget to mention the first bit! - and you can find that here:

You can also find me on Twitter at @billyblaggesq

If you find me anywhere else then please let me know! 

Introducing Buzz

Saturday, 19 July 2014

RIP Puss-Puss (Paolo di Cattio) 1998 - 2014

Known to followers of the Blagg blog back from the old days on the 'Ironworks' site, Puss even got a mention on the dust jacket of 'Nightmare' so he will be immortalised in some small way, I guess.

Thanks for the happy memories. I'm gonna miss you, little fella!

Monday, 14 July 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 32 The Final

Today's World Cup Menu
Bratwurst with German mustard, German spicy salami, Frikadellen meatballs, Viento Sur Argentinian Malbec

Germany win it!

Germany justifiably won the 2014 World Cup with an excellent team performance topped by a superb winning goal in extra time from Mario Gozte. After 113 minutes of quality football that Argentina shaded on chances alone, the deadlock was broken in sublime fashion by a substitute who managed to score one of the goals of the tournament too in the process.

Argentina were understandably broken at the end as they knew that at least two chances that fell to Messi and Higuane that saw them clean through with only the keeper to beat. But when that keeper is 'only' Manuel Neuer and he is generally recognised as being the best in the world then it puts a bit more pressure on and neither chance was even on target with Messi's rolling just wide. I wonder how much the build up of invincibility that Neuer has garnered led to those missed opportunities in the final? I expect a lot.

There's little point in discussing the final at length; there are places galore to do that. All that needs to be said is that the best team won, Neuer rightly won the Golden Glove for best goalkeeper and Lionel Messi was - incorrectly in my view - named as Player of the Tournament. In the sense that, without the Barcelona player, Argentina probably wouldn't have got as far as they had, could then I guess, make an argument for him. However, for me, he failed to make his mark on the big games and was virtually anonymous in the semi and final. For that reason alone he would not be the best player for me. Germany must have had four or five players better or, for an outside runner, it could have gone to Colombia's James Rodriguez - although it would be unusual for the best player to be someone who has gone out in the quarter-final.

Generally the 2014 World Cup has been seen as a major success although I have felt it hasn't always been as scintillating as those sitting in Brazil itself would sometimes have it. Personally, I've enjoyed the tournament immensely although I'm not sure the experiment of the referee's keeping their cards in their pockets really worked - there could have been a sending off or two in the final - but it was a shame that player's couldn't have taken the opportunity to at least try not to cheat and foul as a result. All this proved to me was that it isn't the official's fault that games are decided by cards and ten or nine man teams.

Some of the later games became dull as fear crept in and I think it would be worth trying - at International level at least - perhaps changing the rules for substitutions during the extra time period. Although the final thankfully proved otherwise, too often extra time is merely a prelude to a penalty shoot-out and something needs to be done to make extra time a viable opportunity to win the game. It would be an interesting experiment to see if the opportunity to bring on two extra subs in added time forced more teams to try and win the game during the allotted period. It may not work but something needs to be done.

Similarly, as in the league and continental game, it is sad to see the return of the 'professional' foul, which seems to have crept back into the game. All the foam lines in the world won't help if this continues and there needs to be some extra punishment for blatant fouling elsewhere on the field when normal convention suggests it 'doesn't mean as much'. Perhaps a further ten yards from where the foul took place would cut it out.

However, it does seem to be flowing against the tide to suggest that things aren't top notch when pretty much everyone is back-slapping over a successful tournament so I'll just put it down to the late nights and the World Cup menu and bid you all farewell from another World Cup blog.

Without the continued input into ESPN as I've had in previous years, it's been quite hard to keep this up and it may not be something I'd try and do in the future..but hey!  that's four years away now (Gulp!) so I think I'll leave it all at this point and just thank everyone who has joined in the hoopla.

The Premier League starts in just over a month.... Ho-hum!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 31 3rd / 4th Place Play-off

Netherlands get the bronze
There was no redemption for Brazil in the 3rd / 4th Play-off match as Robin van Persie put the Netherlands ahead from the spot after two minutes; with Blind adding a second after 17 minutes and Wijnaldum scoring late on, the home side trooped off to another chorus of boos.

The question isn't so much what happened to the host nation at the end but, rather, how did they get this far in the first place? Just a few weeks ago we were expecting great things - or so the pundits told us anyway - from the men in yellow, and now they look terribly mortal. There were some players out there tonight who looked mentally shattered and I'm not sure some will really find their way back.

When Brazil beat Colombia in the quarter-final, one pundit opined that  the Colombian's played the shirt and not the team. I'm sure many have done that in the past - I've certainly witnessed it on many occasions with Brazil teams I wasn't sure were really that good but went on to win the trophy - but I think this week may have shattered that forever.

Even when not at their best, Brazilian teams have always had something in reserve; an extra bit of mental pressure that usually tells - particularly in the big competitions. Now that has gone and players like Hulk, Fred, Paulinho and David Luiz not only look ordinary but also terribly vulnerable. Worse still; Jo - one of the players bought in to try and ensure Brazil at least got something from this World Cup - looked even worse than the players already in the team. The suggestion that there is nothing coming through for Brazil is unmistakable.

Nevertheless, this shouldn't detract from the performance of the Dutch who looked bright, lively and inventive. It's just a shame they seemed to lose their way in mid-week against Argentina as a Germany v Holland final would be much easier for an England supporter to stomach.

Friday, 11 July 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 30 Friday on my Mind

Third - Fourth place Play-off tomorrow and the final and Sunday and then it is all over. Where did it all go, eh? While you contemplate it, here's a cracking tune - and a video I've never seen before too! - to while away the hours.

Monday I'll have Friday on my mind... If you like it then I urge you to find 'Hello, How Are You'. Thank me later.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 29 Football's Chaos Theory

My Big Boy’s Book of Science tells me that the Chaos theory is a field of study in mathematics, with applications in several disciplines including meteorology, sociology, physics, engineering, economics, biology, and philosophy.  Nowhere does it say it applies to football too but, as we approach the end of another World Cup, I think it should be added. For there is surely nothing that indicates more that small initial conditions can produce widely diverging outcomes, than a game that involves a sphere, 30 or so men with their own issues and a game built around  a 90 – 120 minute random period of time.

Because for everyone who can point to the organisation, confidence and inner-belief of Germany, the skill of Lionel Messi and the spirit of the players around him, there are a dozen examples of men and teams no longer concerned with the World Cup who have gone out for a variety of reasons, but with no discernible explanation for why they have behaved as they have done. Random decisions, chance elements  and incorrect choices have been made at critical times and who knows what might have occurred without that ‘butterfly effect’? Of course, the prime example in 2014 will always be that of Luis Suarez and his legendary bite, but there are dozens and dozens of equally interesting examples elsewhere.

In real terms, simply saying ‘England [or insert country of choice] are rubbish’ or a random player ‘isn’t good enough’ is nonsense. In other scenarios, at other times, at other levels, England [ditto icoc] and its players are obviously more than good enough. It will be interesting to see the hundreds of thousands of fans, many of whom could barely bring themselves to utter  the names of several of the England squad a few weeks ago, welcoming their heroes back to the Premier league when it starts in a month’s time. My guess is there will be few calling for Wayne Rooney to retire  because he isn’t deemed ‘world class’ when he nets a brace against West Bromwich Albion one rainy night in November.

Much as many of us might like to deny it, reality has a habit of rearing its ugly head. A few short weeks ago, the English nation was wringing its collective hands, bemoaning the state of affairs that not only saw the national team dumped out in the group stages at the bottom of the table, but also saw an unfancied Costa Rica top the other nations. Of course, we sympathised as the South American’s went out in the quarter-final on penalties – but now?

Leaving aside the machinations of the importance of club football over the International side – a major factor in the make-up of the England mentality but barely ever discussed anywhere - the fact is some of those players who have been feted over the past weeks playing for lesser-known South American, Asian or European  teams would not get into the England side simply because they would never be picked at club level. Interesting to consider why when you look at the impact some of those players have had.  Even in the attritional and turgid semi-final between Holland and Argentina, did the final accolade not go to a goal-keeper who had barely played all season?

Put all illusions aside for a moment and consider any universe in which any England manager – past, present or future – would pick a player like Sergio Romero knowing full well he’d barely figured in a first team game all season. That manager would be pilloried by public and press alike. Yet on Sunday, this discarded keeper could be holding the World Cup. National trait or random element? You decide.

Apart from individual performances – and really, whatever your allegiances,  you can pick your own favourites out and debate them all day – there is the collective will of the group. Germany is naturally a fine example, as the squad mentality barely seems to be any different regardless of the decade of the competition or the make-up of the individuals of that group. Despite concerted efforts by everyone from the gentleman of the quality press to the lowest of the humble blogger, the World Cup does annoyingly seem to throw up national stereotypes that it’s difficult to ignore.

Even so, I’ve not seen it noted elsewhere but did no-one spot how the Germans not only appeared calm and collected within the framework of the team but also physically looked more composed? While the Brazilians – in conditions that should suit them better at home – looked sweaty and dishevelled, the Germans appeared as if they hadn’t run at all. Was it the Cooling Glove used by the team at half-time? If so, it seems to work, as none of the players looked as if they perspired. If, as one TV commentator had it “They let the ball do the work” then shouldn’t all other nations copy that? Of course, they would if they could, but put another European nation– Italy or England are obvious examples – a South American or Asian country there and see what happens. The result would not be the same -regardless of the paucity of the opposition.

And lest this be seen as a criticism of the insularity of the English or the shortcomings of other countries, lets make one thing clear; the World Cup only comes round every 4 years and there is an awful lot of football played between that period.  Example? Well,  good as this World Cup has been for goals, I’m sure I’m not alone in noticing how poorly the ball has been struck from wide areas; the quality from corners, free-kicks and open play crossing has been simply abysmal (Oddly, I’ve noticed few pundits mentioning this on TV or in the press). I wouldn’t recommend anyone watch the shocking semi-final between Argentina and Holland again – not unless you’re trying to get an early night anyway – but if you did, note the appalling crosses from Dick Kuyt that not only eluded his own forwards but also the opposition goalkeeper as they bounced behind closer to the corner-flag.

In a month’s time, my own club West Ham will kick-off a new season spearheaded by a 6’ 4” (1.91m) striker called Andy Carroll. Sam Allardyce – a manger who was under pressure for much of last season because of his direct way of playing – will ensure that every free-kick and corner will be met by the head of Carroll as he attempts to cause carnage in the penalty area in a welter of elbows and knees. Carroll will win most of these headers – we know this because he always does – and some people will moan and talk about the Premier League’s lack of finesse etc. But it’s effective and I’d much rather see the head of a huge Centre-forward finding the ball from his own team mate than watch the aimless crossing from a large percentage of the passes I’ve witnessed in this World Cup.

Of course, there will be Germans and Argentines reading this who will think “Ha! This is why the English have won nothing since 1966” and they may be right too. But ultimately, when Sunday is done and dusted there will only be one team holding the trophy and the rest will be nowhere. I’ve seen nothing in all my years of football to convince me that the winners will have conspired to do much more than bring together a random number of elements that have combines to produce an ultimate victory.  Good luck to the winners – I’d hope to see England emulate the feat of ’66 again one day – but don’t believe it ever does happen that it isn’t just another turn of the wheel; another result in the chaos in which football lives.