‘Knowledge is Power’. Cursing the Game of Thrones leak

“Knowledge is Power”. When he published the maxim in his book, ‘Meditationes Sacrae and Human Philosophy’ in 1597 I doubt Sir Francis Bacon had considered plot lines to be of such vaunted importance. The world was a simpler place back then with the only form of hacking coming from a blade on flesh.

At the weekend, the first four episodes of season 5 of the phenomenally successful HBO TV series leaked online. For a show that revels in scandal this seems slightly poignant. If only punishments were as severe as they are depicted on the show as there is a special place in Hell reserved for anyone who decides to ruin the surprise. Anyone with an internet connection, and even the most basic knowledge of torrent files, could quickly get their fix. They also had a choice not to.

For those who could not wait long enough they could unwrap their torrent files then have to wait a month sitting on plot lines and twists until the rest of us catch up. Or they could be an utter bastard and slyly, smugly inform their mates that they knew what was coming, then tell them. Call me old school but some things are worth the wait and a week between episodes keeps the tension building. The scheduling also means that fans of the show have something to get them through Monday. Cheers, Sky Atlantic.

Anyone that can keep a secret is to be venerated as even the slightest hint of a spoiler can now be dissected instantly. We have all been teased by trailers yet each of those is carefully constructed to get you into position for the main course. Dropping a spoiler onto a Facebook status leaves that appetiser of a show or a film cold and desecrated yet we all know an utter bastard only too keen to ruin it for everyone else. “LOLZ. Just you wait til halfway through episode 3 🙂 🙂 :)”. Piss off.

Curse you Twitter. That episode of The Likely Lads seems from a different age altogether where they only had to avoid a newspaper headline. Match of the Day can now be ruined by a cursory glance on the BBC Sport handle while waiting for the bus. What has been seen cannot be unseen and what is glanced upon cannot be forgotten.

Everyone wants to be the first to know then the first to come up with the viral meme. Some events are just too big to avoid, no matter how hard you try. Christ, I knew about the Red Wedding before I had sat down to watch a single episode. Then again, those who have binged on the leaked episodes are still behind the real knowledge keepers, those who have taken the time to read the books. Sir Francis Bacon might even approve of that.


Van Gaal’s Reconstruction

The statistics do not lie, apparently. The worst start to a season since 1986, fewer points after ten games than under David Moyes and alarm bells should be ringing. Yet for anyone actually watching the displays will appreciate there is little to be worried about. In fact, after the fourth consecutive derby defeat a sense of lingering promise to this season remains.

Cast your mind back to last season’s away derby. A 4-1 scoreline flattered United as they were opened up by a rampant Manchester City time and time again. In one of the most stomach churning ordeals in recent memory David Moyes had seemingly de-constructed a championship winning team. A season that promised much dipped into terminal decline and it was dire, painful viewing. The lights were on yet the exciting, visceral thrill of watching United was largely absent.

The damage was done and Louis van Gaal admitted that this was a reconstruction job and that the first three months would be a struggle. He’s no fool, he has been in a similar position before as it took until October to turn things around in his debut season at Bayern Munich. It will take time for the team to play the way he wants and the signs are encouraging.

Despite the humiliating defeats to Leicester and MK Dons this season has been fun so far. Matches have ebbed and flowed with each win proving hard fought. There are players to get bums off seats like the exhilarating Angel Di Maria and the endearing efforts of Radamel Falcao. In Van Gaal we have a manager that wants to take risks and has faith in youth as he shown by blooding Paddy McNair, Tyler Blackett and James Wilson.

There is a glorious unpredictability to United that will, hopefully with a bit of tinkering, be moulded into a winning team. At the moment there are genuine concerns about the defence but who cares when the team are playing penetrative, attacking football again. There are chances at both ends and for the time in two years the team genuinely scared a rival.

No team can legislate for an episode of brainfade from one of their defenders yet there is a calmness to this side that bodes well. Despite being down to ten men and a goal down against a talented team there was a poise to play the ball out from the back. The signs are there that the reconstruction is well underway.


More top, top World Cup Moments

Some moments have not been altogether that surprising. Lionel Messi is almost expected to lead Argentina to glory in a Maradona revisited-esque role and for large parts of their games his support actors have disappointed. Against ‘plucky’ (there simply isn’t a more patronising yet more suitable word for it is there) Iran they toiled and rarely troubled. This suited me fine having pulled out the Middle Easterns in the office sweepstake. Indeed, that day I did some research having read an interview with their coach, former Manchester United assistant manager Carlos Quieroz. This was conducted by one of my favourite writers, Andy Mitten, in the summer special of United fanzine, United We Stand. It was an engaging read involving the pressures set by their federation and how poor their preparation was going into the tournament. Thus, my expectations that they could pull of a result were slim to none. Having watched it at a family BBQ I barely paid attention and kept returning to the screen expecting Argentina to have scored. Then I sat down and waited, and waited. With the score remaining goalless going into stoppage time it seemed only a hideous mistake or a piece of genius was to make the difference. Up stepped Lionel Messi.

Messi, the savour against Iran (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Messi, the savour against Iran (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty)

There always seems to be certain moments of disgrace that mar a World Cup. The Hand of God in 1986, Luis Suarez’s handball then celebration in 2010. For this World Cup (at least so far) that moment has been provided by Suarez (him again) with another trademark bite. Having watched the game between Italy and Uruguay, like many I did not realise what had happened for a good five minutes. Surely he hadn’t done it again, oh, he had. No-one saw it coming, well, apart from Thomas Syversen, a Norwegian living in Trondheim, who staked money on it. By the end of the game the memes were coming thick and fast with many wondering what goes through a man’s head when he goes to bite.

Luis Suarez, looking like a guilty boy at school (Photo by Giorgio Chiellini/EPA)

Luis Suarez, looking like a guilty boy at school (Photo by Giorgio Chiellini/EPA)


Another moment of utter disgrace that no-one else has noticed, or indeed cared about, came in the France v Switzerland game. With the game deep into stoppage time France were already 5-2 up and cruising when the ball was laid to Karim Benzema. Then the referee suffered a brain fade similar to Clive Thomas’ infamous decision to deny Zico what would have been the winning goal from a corner in a 1978 World Cup match against Sweden. You can hear the final whistle as the pass is played to which Benzema clinically dispatches the shot. Why the referee cannot wait until the ball is in the middle third or out of play is beyond me. It is a ludicrous decision not at all simply because I have Benzema in my fantasy team.

Into the knockout stages now and the first second round game between Brazil and Chile promised much but descended into a nervy, tense affair. The players didn’t know whether to stick or twist and I was stuck wondering when I should leave to catch an evening train. Thankfully I managed to remain until the end of extra time yet had Mauricio Pinilla’s shot been an inch lower I wouldn’t have had to jog to the station. There has been a nervousness in each Brazil match that comes with a home nation expected to win and a young team desperate to meet those high expectations. There  are also the demons of 1950 to eradicate and the fear that the host nation will blow it again. As Pinilla let fly a nation, if not a global audience of millions, held it’s breath. I thought it was in but for the sake of the competition it was a relief to see it crash off the crossbar. Pinilla has since had an epic tattoo done of the moment.

Pinilla hits the crossbar (Photo by AP)

Pinilla hits the crossbar (Photo by AP)

No-one really knows why but the sight of a ball crashing against the woodwork then hitting the back of the net looks so good. Somehow it looks more visceral, more brutal, more aesthetically pleasing than it going straight in. This is probably why I have saved my favourite moment to last. If there is such a thing as a £40m breakthrough talent then James Rodriguez is just that. I was walking down Deansgate to a friend’s party in Manchester when I glanced through the window of yet another pretentious bar. Fake tans, plucked eyebrows and glow in the dark skirts flooded my eyeline yet I managed to see the ball drop out of the sky then Rodriguez swivel and dispatch a stunning goal. Come the final itself it might not be the best goal but for me there is something primal about such a glorious goal, something indescribable that you simply have to stand back and applaud. Even if you are standing outside a bar and rushing to a friend’s house with a four-pack of lagers.
NB – I’m aware the link doesn’t contain a video of the goal (thanks FIFA) yet the commentary does the goal justice.


Top, top World Cup Moments

The opening goal by Paul Pogba against Nigeria was the 146th of this World Cup, that is already more than the total from South Africa four years ago. My memory of that World Cup is hazy as not a lot really happened apart from Suarez’s handball and celebration against Ghana (surely his behaviour had improved), Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany (surely there’d be goal-line technology this time, Sepp) and deserved last-minute glory for Spain. So much has already happened in this World Cup that it hasn’t even finished and it is being heralded as one of the finest in living memory. This could be down to several reasons; a change in mindset and the death of ‘tika taka’, which was laid to rest on 13th June 2014 in Salvador, being an obvious one. Perhaps it is down to the more reliable Brazuca ball actually hitting its intended target instead of mimicking the flight of a beach ball. The second round has just been completed and there have been several memorable moments so far, here are a few of my favourites. Sometimes you have a moment in a match where everything changes, when all that seemed true and righteous suddenly dissolves before your very eyes. The signs were there that football had moved on from ‘tika taka’ ever since Bayern Munich ripped Barcelona apart 7-0 on aggregate in the 2013 Champions League semi-finals. However, Spain were still being talked about as potential winners of this World Cup, albeit in hushed tones. It took 44 minutes for that expectation to be gazumped. Dutch left-back Daley Blind had already shown Spain to be shaky to a well-aimed long ball and another found Robin van Persie through on goal. Many strikers would have brought the ball down, aimed and shot but the Flying Dutchman has such technique and nous that he made the diving header look effortless. The Netherlands were to run out 5-1 winners, the World Champions were on their way home.

The Flying Dutchman

The Flying Dutchman (Photo by Getty)

“Anticipation has a habit to set you up, for disappoint”, so sang Alex Turner in ‘The View From The Afternoon’. It’s also a line that brings to mind England World Cup campaigns. For once, the expectation was patted down as England were placed in a difficult group with Uruguay, Costa Rica and Italy. Many expected the opening game in Group G to be a tepid affair due to the sapping conditions in Manaus yet England actually came out and attacked with a verve and energy rarely seen since 1996. Of course, Italy punctured that early enterprise with a typically considered set piece. Still, England came forward and equalised with a sublime goal; Raheem Sterling feeding Wayne Rooney on the left and an inch-perfect cross found Daniel Sturridge who tapped in from close range. All downhill from there though as England eventually limped home bottom of their group.

Daniel Sturridge celebrates his goal against Italy

Daniel Sturridge celebrates his goal against Italy (Photo by

Part of me wonders whether Pepe is simply from a bygone era of mindlessness on a football pitch. Back in the early 90’s you could hack a sprightly attacker from behind, stamp on his goolies and get away with it. In 2014 that gains you a lengthy ban and a Daily Mail expose on how no-one is thinking of the children watching this depravity at 5pm. Germany ran out comfortable 4-0 winners yet it may have been less brutal had Pepe not gotten himself sent off in the first half. Alas, Portugal left Brazil with Cristiano Ronaldo still carrying so much hair gel it’d put many traveller’s hand luggage allowance to shame. Had they not lost as heavily to Germany in their opening match they may have squeezed through on goal difference, then again if you have someone as mindless as Pepe in your defence you are always running the risk.

Pepe gets himself sent off against Germany

Pepe gets himself sent off against Germany (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

As a Manchester United fan you could forgive me for being harsh on Marouane Fellaini. For £27m you expect a bit more from a Premier League player than a few bookings and a selection of painfully inept performances. Still, he remains in the squad so I was hoping he would demonstrate some worth on the international stage. With Belgium losing 1-0 to Algeria in their opening group game there were several more dynamic substitutions Marc Wilmots could have made. It all seemed hopelessly desperate, a bit ‘David Moyes’ then the cross came in, Fellaini met it and the ball bounced in off the crossbar. Redemption and maybe a bit of hope he can reproduce such form back in M16.

Fellaini equalises against Algeria

Fellaini equalises against Algeria (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Having witnessed first-hand how mediocre this Australian team could be I expected some tennis scorelines in a group containing Chile, Spain and Holland. They finished bottom with no points yet left with their heads held high following some spirited performances (take note, England). You would be forgiven for thinking that of the Tim Cahill goals I could have picked it would be the ‘worldie’ against the Netherlands, however, that was a 5pm kickoff I missed. Of the 11pm kickoffs I have managed to catch the Chile v Australia game was a welcome surprise. Having gone 0-2 inside 20 minutes I feared the worst but then Cahill scored a trademark header and Australia galvanised. Sure, they eventually lost but against a highly fancied team they arguably deserved a draw. It is weird for Australians to go into a tournament as unfancied so to come out with no points and still feel proud must be a pretty new sensation.

Tim Cahill scores against Chile

Tim Cahill scores against Chile (Photo by AP)


“Got, got, NEED” – The View From A World Cup Stickers Swap

Daisy desperately needs Frank Lampard. If she leaves without him her father could take her for ice-cream at Disneyland and still not cheer her up. Gary only needs another five to complete his set while Scouse Dave is only here for ‘shiney’s and team photos. And I thought I had a problem.

It is midday on a Saturday afternoon and I am in The Common Room in Sheffield. In 12 hours time this venue will be rammed full of England fans struggling to see the match. Right now it’s full of football fans struggling to fill gaps in an album.

Tables have been set out and I take my time to figure out the room. This isn’t entirely out of shyness, rather I’m not too sure how this works. I take a few minutes to sort my swaps into order, then a few more listing my ‘needs’, then a few more simply buying myself some time. The mood feels familiar and I soon realise that this isn’t the first time I’ve been in a room full of nervous strangers that are forced to talk to each other. While this isn’t exactly as terrifying as speed dating there is a similar sense of in-trepidation.

To be frank, we are all here for the same sad reason – to swap stickers. While the parents may try to convince you that they’re here to complete their son or daughter’s album they aren’t kidding me. Mainly the room is filled with young men just like me of the ‘got, got NEED’ generation, only we’ve grown out of the playground and graduated into the sports bar. However, there is one more group which consists of the forty-somethings who started out with the football cards in the late 70’s, some men just never grow out of this obsession.

Gradually I look around, lock eyes with another lad and sheepishly ask if anyone wants to see my pile, which feels far less silly when said out in public. Soon enough I realise that my swap pile has been managed far better than most. For one, you can actually hold it in one hand and flick through while there is one girl who has clearly gotten far too excited, amassed far too many and is now stuck with a pile that has to be split twice. Some even go to the extent of sorting MY pile into order again to make the flicking through a little easier.

Inside an hour I’ve managed to swap around thirty stickers, a good day’s work. Part of the pleasure is found in helping someone else complete their album yet I’m more pleased to reduce my own pile of swaps. By the end my pile has halved and it’s pretty pointless trying to shift anymore.

With only 40 odd stickers left to go it’s become a numbers game, I’m not even looking at players’ faces anymore. Each sticker is simply another gap. While I’m pleased to fill a few more there are a few disappointed faces comes 1pm. Gary still needs five to complete his set, I still can’t get rid of Roman Shirokov (611 and judging by everyone else’s piles I’m not the only one) and Daily still hasn’t got Frank Lampard.

If you fancy doing a swap, here are my lists.

Doubles – 2, 11, 19, 37, 41, 57, 65, 79, 80, 84, 93, 97, 139, 216, 226, 232, 233, 236, 239, 240, 245, 321, 322, 326, 376, 377, 383, 384, 391, 517, 532×2, 537×3, 540, 542, 544, 611

Needs – 21, 32, 68, 109, 138, 142, 149, 152, 159, 164, 260, 276, 287, 288, 301, 303, 338, 369, 402, 446, 459, 465, 469, 470, 471, 474, 476, 495, 505, 546, 569, 573, 580, 583, 591, 617, 621, 628


“Got, got, NEED” – My Panini World Cup Stickers Obsession

The strange thing is, no-one quite knows why Panini stickers have suddenly become so popular. Is it due to the huge interest of a World Cup returning to its spiritual home? Could it be that my generation, that spent lunchtime after lunchtime at school trading Premier League stickers through the mid-90s, has finally come of age? Has that generation ever grown up?

For over a month now I have been steadily completing my FIFA World Cup Brasil 2014 Panini sticker album. That means buying a couple of packs every couple of days. Managing my doubles in their own Tupperware box and only buying extra packs when I need to. So far, so sensible. However, the management side of things is basically the only aspect of this that is remotely grown up.

When I began collecting the stickers I genuinely worried about my state of mind. Walking into a newsagent I’d grab three packs, hand over £1.50 with my head down and sheepishly exit. Woe betide actually asking a shop attendant, “Can I have three packs of the Panini World Cup stickers please”. This isn’t pocket money any more, I am 30 years of age.

Sometimes I would even forgo the bus home on a rainy afternoon and spend the fare on a couple of packets. That was worrying. Slowly I began to realise I was becoming obsessed. Getting home I would excitedly open my bag, feverishly open the packets and pray for the face of Lionel Messi or Wayne Rooney staring back at me. Occasionally my eyes would glean on a ‘shiney’ yet their charm has waned compared to the superstars that’ll now light up the World Cup.



Right now I’m learning the names of hitherto unknown Russian defenders, for instance Roman Shirokov has been sat in my doubles box for as long as I’ve had it. I’m also starting to believe that there is a conspiratorial reason why there are so few of Luis Suarez on offer, possibly as a punishment for his antics in the quarter final against Ghana four years ago, the evil rat.

Thankfully I am not alone. While I would fret at empty boxes of stickers in WHSmith, sticker collecting is far more of an obsession in Brasil. On 25th April a heist in Rio de Janeiro resulted in 300,000 stolen stickers, maybe someone DESPERATELY wanted Neymar Jr? In any case, Panini had to deliver a statement indicating that the city was well stocked.

Neymar Jr

Neymar Jr

There is some psychology explaining this phenomenon. Carol Mavor, a professor in visual arts at Manchester University, likens sticker collecting to the nostalgia of childhood. “Stickers are very tactile and old-fashioned. The humanity of touch is also very powerful. That’s why people love wooden toys, for example, because they have a unique feel, smell and are real.”

For me, it takes me back to my high school days shouting ‘Got, got, NEED’ at a friend as they whizzed through their doubles. Put simply, I don’t want to let go of my childhood. Mavor agrees: “It seems, without being overly morbid, to be so far away from death, work and the other obligations of adulthood. As adults, we think of ourselves as different people from our childhood selves – the whole world was open to us and it was a free and more creative life.”

Felix Economakis, a chartered psychologist, puts it down to sentimental attachment, maybe those schoolchums I haven’t kept in touch with. “Little objects from childhood are imbued with meaning because they remind us of people who may no longer be with us – it’s an association with the past through rose-tinted spectacles.”

With each pack of five stickers costing 50p each it would cost £63 to complete the set but then there is so much fun to be had checking each pack and filling the gaps.  To give this addiction some perspective, eight million packets are sold worldwide every day. Eight. Million. That’s a helluva lot of stickers yet the problem is that with such a huge production many of the squads were guessed in January. That means that you could get Ashley Cole on your England page even though he wasn’t picked in the final squad. Kevin Strootman is in my album even though in real-life he’s recovering from an horrific knee injury sustained in March. To be fair, that issue only seems to give some players a sense of added worth.

Whether it is Strootman or Sturridge, the gaps have to be filled and for those ardent collectors there are ‘sticker swaps’ popping up across the country. No longer are the swaps restricted to the playground, they are now being co-ordinated online through Facebook and Twitter. Yet I do manage to keep a personal touch and regularly meet up with a bunch of friends to sit in a pub with our albums and sets of doubles to carry out swaps (we must look like right saddos). I have also branched out and sent over lists of numbers for my doubles and needs to friends so we can do a ‘postal swap’. There is even a website ( to list your doubles so others can match theirs and get in touch. While in South America counterfeit stickers and pirated albums are in circulation.

My first completed team, Argentina

My first completed team, Argentina

This week I have completed my first team, Argentina. At the weekend I took advantage of Morrison’s offer of 3 packets for a £1 and it’s merely a case of filling in the few remaining gaps now. Part of me is looking forward to meeting with friends and knowing that this is going to get cumulatively more difficult when the reward of a fully completed album is so close. There is a page at the back of the album where you can order each individual sticker for 14p each but that’s cheating as far as I’m concerned. As long as I can still fit my doubles into their Tupperware container I know this is an obsession I can manage.

This is my list of needs, so if you have these to swap, take your pick from my doubles, feel free to get in touch in the comments section and we’ll do a swap.

7, 15, 21, 32, 33, 42, 43, 45, 59, 68, 70, 71, 72, 85, 98

103, 107, 109, 112, 117, 120, 129, 132, 138, 141, 142, 145, 149, 152, 157, 159, 164, 168, 176

223, 260, 276, 287, 288, 291, 297,

303,  309, 325, 336, 338, 341, 344,  348, 351, 362, 369, 372, 394, 396, 398,

402, 404, 407, 439, 446, 447, 459, 465, 468, 469, 470, 471, 474, 476, 482, 489, 495,

505, 525, 530, 546, 565, 568, 569, 570, 573, 576, 580, 581, 583, 586, 591, 596,

606, 614, 617, 618, 619, 620, 621, 628, 639


Doubles –

28, 30 50,  58, 65, 73, 74, 80, 82, 84

104, 139, 170, 188

211, 216, 221, 226, 232, 233, 236, 240, 245, 246, 282

321, 322, 326, 331, 339, 363, 366, 376, 384, 387, 390, 391

411, 424, 427×2, 456, 467, 479, 497

502, 516, 517, 520, 527, 532×2, 537×3, 540×2,  542, 544, 564, 571, 574, 578, 584

601, 611


Van Gaal might not be the appointment Manchester United want but he might be exactly what the club needs

Finally, this ‘season horribilis’ has come to a sorry end. Steven Gerrard’s slip aside, there have been few highlights and it feels like a season lost rather than a season in transition. Hindsight has shown how poor an appointment David Moyes was yet the board should know learn from their mistakes, notably not listening to a previous manager’s final wish.There is such a huge rebuilding job at hand that, put simply, the club need to employ someone with big cajones.

Though it may be unfair to compare and contrast with the appointment of Moyes, it was easy to see he was never worthy of growing into the job. A decent mid-table manager that was dropped into deep water, the club now need to find someone who has the requisite credentials. A man who comes with a tried and tested guarantee.

Louis van Gaal has now been announced and he certainly seems better suited. Then again, you wonder quite why he was not mentioned this time last year, certainly not in the same vein as Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelloti or Jurgen Klopp were. This could be due to the lack of Champions League football next season or perhaps all three are settled in their current clubs or, most probably, the job seems so difficult few want to apply.

Van Gaal should be able to give the squad the kick up the arse you felt Moyes could never deliver. This is a man you simply do not cross, a man who does not accept second-rate performances. At 62, he has been given a three year contract but that is not necessarily a bad thing. If anything, his tenure could be the jolt the club need to get it back to the top table and return the fear factor to Old Trafford, he certainly has the scowl for it.

Make no mistake, this is a huge summer for the club and the next step is securing transfer targets. If the board have learnt anything from last season it is that the groundwork for signing talent has to be decisive and quick.

Big bucks will have to be spent recreating a spine to the team starting with finding replacements for Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra. The midfield still needs to be beefed up and maybe even a striker would not go amiss. Reports suggest that United have already tabled a £27 million bid for Southampton‘s Luke Shaw and you can expect more of the same. With the club needing to return to the Champions League as soon as, the possible outlay will be significant. Then again, would any chief executive in their right mind say no to Van Gaal?

The Dutchman has such an arrogance that he can make big decisions and have the gumption to stick by them. He is known to be uncompromising and you wonder what this means for so many players who seem to have been coasting it for large parts of the season. Specifically this could be bad news for Wayne Rooney who has a habit of returning after the summer a few pounds overweight. Surely Van Gaal would favour Robin van Persie despite Rooney’s bumper contract.

Big clubs need managers with big personalities and while Moyes never really sat well in the hotseat, Van Gaal should feel right at home. Quotes like saying Liverpool would be favourites or that the team should aspire to Manchester City‘s level were laughable for any manager, let alone that of Manchester United. A recent interview saw a Sky Sports News reporter ask Van Gaal what he knew about United, he replied: “A stupid question I think. It’s the biggest club in the world. What do you know about Manchester United?” That is the soundbite of a United manager.

One of the lasting impressions from this season has been how poor the football has been. The impact of a manager who began his career as a defender produced some truly turgid football.Thankfully Van Gaal comes equipped with a strong personality and a belief in attacking play and exciting football, something the fans sorely miss. He has built teams with a basis in young talent, is used to success and will not settle for failure. His CV comes with a European Cup yet he also has something to prove. At 62, Van Gaal may not be the long-term fix but he may be exactly what the club needs right now.