Saturday, 23 May 2015

Eurovision 2015: Swing and a miss

BRITISH hopes of reversing their recent wretched Eurovision form were dealt a blow by an early placing in the running order.

Electro swing duet Electro Velvet will be fifth on stage in Vienna as they seek to claim a first title in the contest for the United Kingdom since Katrina & The Waves triumphed in 1997.

But, by the time the show is over tonight, Electro Velvet - namely Alex Larke and Bianca Nicholas - could well have joined the likes of Javine Hylton, Daz Sampson, Scooch, Andy Abraham, and Josh Dubovie as largely forgotten failures.

At least, the duo should avoid the fate of Jemini who scored the infamous nul points in 2003. The bookmakers, though, have little faith in the pair delivering even a top-half performance.

Unfortunately, it is not difficult to see why. Larke is a singer in a Rolling Stones tribute band while Nicholas is a failed contestant from BBC show The Voice.

The choice, which was not open to the public, simply screams of averageness.

Worse, the music itself - though an admirably brave move away from entering another insipid ballad - is too repetitive and probably no better than many a provisional cabaret act.

All in all, the music video (see link 05 below) is probably the best part of it - but Eurovision rules restrict the number of people on stage so it cannot be replicated in all of its glory.

Instead, Sweden and Russia head the betting with wildcard entrants Australia, here to celebrate the 60th anniversary of this illustrious competition, acting as a stalking horse.

That is where the clever money will be - as, for me, this year's British entry is sadly a swing and a miss, albeit a brave one. It would be simply great to be proved wrong, though.

Tune in to BBC One at 8pm to find out.

EUROVISION 2015 RUNNING ORDER
Click on the links for the official Eurovision videos of each of the songs. Odds supplied by Ladbrokes. See www.oddschecker.com/tv/eurovision/winner 

CountryArtist - SongOdds
01SloveniaMaraaya - Here For You50/1
02FranceLisa Angell - N'oubliez pas (Don't forget)150/1
03IsraelNadav Guedj - Golden Boy33/1
04EstoniaElina Born & Stig Rästa - Goodbye to Yesterday 20/1
05United KingdomElectro Velvet - Still In Love With You100/1
06ArmeniaGenealogy - Face The Shadow100/1
07LithuaniaMonika Linkytė & Vaidas Baumila - This Time150/1
08SerbiaBojana Stamenov - Beauty Never Lies25/1
09NorwayMørland & Debrah Scarlett - A Monster Like Me25/1
10SwedenMåns Zelmerlöw - Heroes13/8 fav
11CyprusJohn Karayiannis - One Thing I Should Have Done100/1
12AustraliaGuy Sebastian - Tonight Again12/1
13BelgiumLoïc Nottet - Rhythm Inside7/1
14AustriaThe Makemakes - I Am Yours200/1
15GreeceMaria Elena Kyriakou - One Last Breath66/1
16MontenegroKnez - Adio (Goodbye)150/1
17GermanyAnn Sophie - Black Smoke
200/1
18PolandMonika Kuszyńska - In the Name of Love250/1
19LatviaAminata - Love Injected33/1
20RomaniaVoltaj - De la capăt (All over Again)100/1
21SpainEdurne - Amanecer (Dawn)50/1
22HungaryBoggie - Wars for Nothing150/1
23GeorgiaNina Sublatti - Warrior66/1
24AzerbaijanElnur Hüseynov - Hour of the Wolf33/1
25RussiaPolina Gagarina - A Million Voices7/2
26AlbaniaElhaida Dani - I'm Alive100/1
27ItalyIl Volo - Grande amore (Great love)10/3

EUROVISION 2015 RESULT


Artist - SongPoints (Douze)
(1)SwedenMåns Zelmerlöw - Heroes365 (12)
(2)RussiaPolina Gagarina - A Million Voices303 (5)
(3)ItalyIl Volo - Grande amore (Great love)292 (9)
(4)BelgiumLoïc Nottet - Rhythm Inside217 (3)
(5)AustraliaGuy Sebastian - Tonight Again196 (2)
(6)LatviaAminata - Love Injected186 (3)
(7)EstoniaElina Born & Stig Rästa - Goodbye to Yesterday 106
(8)NorwayMørland & Debrah Scarlett - A Monster Like Me102
(9)IsraelNadav Guedj - Golden Boy97
(10)SerbiaBojana Stamenov - Beauty Never Lies53 (1)
(11)GeorgiaNina Sublatti - Warrior51
(12)AzerbaijanElnur Hüseynov - Hour of the Wolf49 (1)
(13)MontenegroKnez - Adio (Goodbye)44 (1)
(14)SloveniaMaraaya - Here For You39
(15)RomaniaVoltaj - De la capăt (All over Again)35 (1)
(16)ArmeniaGenealogy - Face The Shadow34 (1)
(17)AlbaniaElhaida Dani - I'm Alive34 (1)
(18)LithuaniaMonika Linkytė & Vaidas Baumila - This Time30
(19)GreeceMaria Elena Kyriakou - One Last Breath23
(20)HungaryBoggie - Wars for Nothing19
(21)SpainEdurne - Amanecer (Dawn)15
(22)CyprusJohn Karayiannis - One Thing I Should Have Done11
(23)PolandMonika Kuszyńska - In the Name of Love10
(24)United KingdomElectro Velvet - Still In Love With You5
(25)FranceLisa Angell - N'oubliez pas (Don't forget)4
(26)AustriaThe Makemakes - I Am Yours0
(27)GermanyAnn Sophie - Black Smoke
0

Friday, 8 May 2015

Election 2015: Tories take control as Nationalists sweep Scotland

GENERAL ELECTION 2015 RESULT
CON36.9% (+0.8%)331 (+24)
LAB30.5% (+1.4%)232 (-26)
SNP4.8% (+3.1%)56 (+50)
LD7.8% (-15.1%)8 (-49)
UKIP12.6% (+9.5%)1 (+1)
GRN3.8% (+2.8%)1 (nc)
PC0.6% (nc)3 (nc)
Others3%18 (nc)
CON majority of 12 seats - Turnout 66.1%

DAVID CAMERON returned to Downing Street for a second term after the Conservatives won a sensational, and largely unforeseen, first majority since 1992.

The Tories won 331 of the 650 seats on a devastating night for Labour - and it was also one which just about completely wiped out the Liberal Democrats.

Unsurprisingly, given the outcome, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg both resigned as party leaders - and Nigel Farage joined them after he failed to win a House of Commons seat for UKIP for a seventh time. 

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the Nationalists' revolution - which began last September during the independence referendum - continued unremittingly.

Nicola Stugeon's party took 56 of the 59 seats available to them with some absolutely stunning victories, and so became easily the third biggest party at Westminster.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander was beaten by 20-year-old student Mhairi Black, while Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy also lost his seat. In Gordon, former SNP leader Alec Salmond returned to Westminster after a five-year absence.

And, eventually, only Edinburgh South for Labour, Orkney & Shetland for the Lib Dems and Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale for the Conservatives escaped the SNP's clutches.

Elsewhere, it was a night of truly historic swings north of the border with Glasgow North East taken on a swing of 39.3%, and Gordon Brown's former seat - Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath - also falling on a swing far in excess of 30%.

But the worst thing about this election for Labour was that the defeats were not confined solely to Scotland. In England and Wales too, Labour fared poorly.

Straight away, a sense of shock filled their camp as the exit poll, released at 10pm on BBC, ITV and Sky, showed the Tories were just short of a majority.

It was totally out of line with the stalemate in the polls throughout the campaign - and was dismissed by several commentators in the election studios.

As time went on, though, it became clear the research had actually underestimated Conservative support and Mr Cameron was set for a majority.

Ultimately, Mr Miliband's party made just 10 direct gains from the Tories, and all-but-one of these were rebuffed by the Tories surprisingly taking Labour seats back in response. It was a hideously depressing night for the left.

The biggest of these shocks was in the Leeds suburb of Morley and Outwood where, as dawn broke, the undoubted Portillo moment of the 2015 election took place.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, so long the right-hand man of Mr Miliband, was defeated by Andrea Jenkyns. The Tories had another unexpected seat on the board.

By then, though, the result only simply served to cap a huge Labour failure which had already become apparent much earlier in the night.

Nuneaton was on Labour's target list and North Warwickshire was the closest Tory-Labour marginal of all. They both again returned a Conservative MP.

Remarkably then, Mr Cameron became the first Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher in 1983 to increase his party's representation following a period of governance.

The same cannot be said for junior coalition partners, the shattered Lib Dems, who lost 49 of their 57 seats after totally collapsing to the Conservatives, Labour and the SNP.

Of course, Mr Clegg's decision to form a coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 can still be considered an eminently sensible and responsible one, given the arithmetic at the time.

But his party's failure thereafter to adhere to high-profile promises on tuition fees and VAT cost them dearly - and a moribund, identity-less campaign was always going to leave a ragtag bunch facing oblivion.

Mr Clegg himself held onto his seat in Sheffield Hallam, after rumours he would not, but other high-profile figures such as Danny Alexander, Vince Cable, Simon Hughes, and Charles Kennedy all lost out.

In fact, their final representation of just eight MPs is the lowest return by a Liberal party since the 1956 - and it will be a long road back to respectability, if indeed it ever happens at all.

For now, though, a country effectively divided in three parts can only watch on as Mr Cameron sets the agenda.

The reshuffle so far has been nothing of the sort. George Osborne, Theresa May and Philip Hammond all kept their positions of Chancellor, Home Secretary, and Foreign Secretary respectively - and Mr Hammond, in particular, has an interesting few months ahead.

With a relatively small majority, Tory backbenchers will ensure the promised referendum on Europe happens sooner rather than later - and any stalling would spell trouble for Mr Cameron.

Remember, the last Conservative Prime Minister to win a majority, John Major, saw his premiership dominated and ruined by rebellions over Europe and the Maastricht Treaty. Remember too, Mr Major had a majority of 21, nine more than Mr Cameron.

But, while it may not all be plain sailing for the Prime Minister, his remarkable win has now given him clear blue water. Will the good ship Great Britain sink or sail?

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Election 2015: The full results

CON36.9% (+0.8%)331 (+24)
LAB30.5% (+1.4%)232 (-26)
SNP4.8% (+3.1%)56 (+50)
LD7.8% (-15.1%)8 (-49)
UKIP12.6% (+9.5%)1 (+1)
GRN3.8% (+2.8%)1 (nc)
PC0.6% (nc)3 (nc)
Others3%18 (nc)
CON majority of 12 - Turnout tbc

EXIT POLL CON short of a majority by 10.
CON 316 LAB 239 SNP 58 LD 10 PC 4 UKIP 2 GRN 2 OTH 19

HEADLINES
* First Conservative majority government since 1992.
* Scottish National Party win all-but-three Scottish seats.
* Miliband resigns after devastating defeat.
* Clegg resigns after making his party an irrelevance.
* Farage resigns after failing in South Thanet for UKIP.
 

REGION-BY-REGION AS IT STANDS
NORTH EAST ENGLAND
Conservative
Berwick-upon-Tweed - Hexham - Stockton South
Labour
Bishop Auckland - Blaydon - Blyth Valley - Darlington - City of Durham - North Durham - North West Durham - Easington - Gateshead - Hartlepool - Houghton & Sunderland South - Jarrow - Middlesbrough - Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland - Newcastle upon Tyne Central - Newcastle upon Tyne East - Newcastle upon Tyne North - Sedgefield - South Shields - Stockton North - Sunderland Central - Tynemouth - North Tyneside - Redcar - Wansbeck - Washington & Sunderland West

NORTH WEST ENGLAND
Conservative
Altrincham & Sale West - Blackpool North & Cleveleys - Bolton West - Bury North - Carlisle - Cheadle - Congleton - Crewe & Nantwich - Eddisbury - Fylde - Hazel Grove - Macclesfield - Morecambe & Lunesdale - Pendle - Penrith & The Border - Ribble Valley - Rossendale & Darwen - South Ribble - Tatton - Warrington South - Weaver Vale - Wyre & Preston North
Labour
Ashton Under Lyne - Barrow & Furness - Birkenhead - Blackburn - Blackley & Broughton - Blackpool South - Bolton North East - Bolton South East - Bootle - Burnley - Bury South - City of Chester - Chorley - Copeland - Denton & Reddish - Ellesmere Port & Neston - Garston & Halewood - Halton - Heywood & Middleton - Hyndburn - Knowsley - Lancashire West - Lancaster & Fleetwood - Leigh - Liverpool Riverside - Liverpool Walton - Liverpool Wavertree - Liverpool West Derby - Makerfield - Manchester Central - Manchester Gorton - Manchester Withington - Oldham East & Saddleworth - Oldham West & Royton - Preston - Rochdale - St Helens North - St Helens South & Whiston - Salford & Eccles - Sefton Central - Stalybridge & Hyde - Stockport - Stretford & Urmston - Wallasey - Warrington North - Wigan - Wirral South - Wirral West - Workington - Worsley & Eccles South - Wythenshawe & Sale East
Liberal Democrats
Southport - Westmorland & Lonsdale

YORKSHIRE & HUMBER
Conservative
Beverley & Holderness - Brigg & Goole - Calder Valley - Cleethorpes - Colne Valley - Elmet & Rothwell - Haltemprice & Howden - Harrogate & Knaresborough - Keighley - Morley & Outwood - Pudsey - Richmond - Scarborough & Whitby - Selby & Ainsty - Shipley - Skipton & Ripon - Thirsk & Malton - York Outer - East Yorkshire
Labour
Barnsley Central - Barnsley East - Batley & Spen - Bradford East - Bradford South - Bradford West - Dewsbury - Don Valley - Doncaster Central - Doncaster North - Great Grimsby - Halifax - Hemsworth - Huddersfield - Kingston-upon-Hull East - Kingston-upon-Hull North - Kingston-upon-Hull West & Hessle - Leeds Central - Leeds East - Leeds North East - Leeds West - Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford - Penistone & Stocksbrige - Rother Valley - Rotherham - Scunthorpe - Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough - Sheffield Central - Sheffield Heeley - Sheffield South East - Wakefield - Wentworth & Dearne - York Central
Liberal Democrats
Leeds North West - Sheffield Hallam

EAST MIDLANDS
Conservative
Amber Valley - Boston & Skegness - Bosworth - Broxtowe - Charnwood - Corby - Daventry - Derby North - Derbyshire Dales - Mid Derbyshire - South Derbyshire - Erewash - Gainsborough - Grantham & Stamford - Harborough - High Peak - Kettering - North West Leicestershire - South Leicestershire - Lincoln - Loughborough - Louth & Horncastle - Newark - Northampton North - Northampton South - South Northamptonshire - Rushcliffe - Rutland & Melton - Sherwood - Sleaford & North Hykeham - South Holland & The Deepings - Wellingborough
Labour
Ashfield - Bassetlaw - Bolsover - Chesterfield - Derby South - North East Derbyshire - Gedling - Leicester East - Leicester South - Leicester West - Mansfield - Nottingham East - Nottingham North - Nottingham South

WEST MIDLANDS
Conservative
Aldridge-Brownhills - Bromsgrove - Burton - Cannock Chase - Dudley South - Halesowen & Rowley Regis - Hereford & South Herefordshire - North Herefordshire - Kenilworth & Southam - Lichfield - Ludlow - Meriden - Nuneaton - Redditch - Rugby - Shrewsbury & Atcham - North Shropshire - Solihull - Stafford - Staffordshire Moorlands - South Staffordshire - Stone - Stourbridge - Stratford-on-Avon - Sutton Coldfield - Tamworth - Telford - Warwick & Leamington - North Warwickshire - Worcester - Mid Worcestershire 
Labour
Birmingham Edgbaston - Birmingham Erdington - Birmingham Hall Green - Birmingham Hodge Hill - Birmingham Ladywood - Birmingham Northfield - Birmingham Perry Barr - Birmingham Selly Oak - Birmingham Yardley - Coventry North East - Coventry North West - Coventry South - Dudley North - Newcastle-under-Lyme - Stoke-on-Trent Central - Stoke-on-Trent North - Stoke-on-Trent South - Walsall North - Walsall South - Warley - West Bromwich East - West Bromwich West - Wolverhampton North East - Wolverhampton South East - Wolverhampton South West
 
EAST ENGLAND
Conservative
Basildon & Billericay - South Basildon & East Thurrock - Bedford - Mid Bedfordshire - North East Bedfordshire - South West Bedfordshire - Braintree - Brentwood & Ongar - Broadland - Broxbourne - Bury St Edmunds - North East Cambridgeshire - North West Cambridgeshire - South Cambridgeshire - South East Cambridgeshire - Castle Point - Chelmsford - Colchester - Epping Forest - Great Yarmouth - Harlow - Harwich & North Essex - Hemel Hempstead - Hertford & Stortford - North East Hertfordshire - South West Hertfordshire - Hertsmere - Hitchin & Harpenden - Huntingdon - Ipswich - Maldon - Mid Norfolk - North West Norfolk - South Norfolk - South West Norfolk - Norwich North - Peterborough - Rayleigh & Wickford - Rochford & Southend East - Saffron Walden - St Albans - Southend West - Stevenage - Central Suffolk & Ipswich North - Suffolk Coastal - South Suffolk - West Suffolk - Thurrock - Watford - Waveney - Welwyn Hatfield - Witham
Labour
Cambridge - Luton North - Luton South - Norwich South
Liberal Democrats 
North Norfolk
UKIP
Clacton

SOUTH EAST ENGLAND
Conservative
Aldershot - Arundel & South Downs - Ashford - Aylesbury - Banbury - Basingstoke - Beaconsfield - Bexhill & Battle - Bognor Regis & Littlehampton - Bracknell - Brighton Kemptown - Canterbury - Chatham & Aylesford - Chesham & Amersham - Chichester - Crawley - Dartford - Dover - Eastbourne - Eastleigh - Epsom & Ewell - Esher & Walton - Fareham - Faversham & Mid Kent - Folkestone & Hythe - Gillingham & Rainham - Gosport - Gravesham - Guildford - East Hampshire - North East Hampshire - North West Hampshire - Hastings & Rye - Havant - Henley - Horsham - Isle of Wight - Lewes - Maidenhead - Maidstone & The Weald - Meon Valley - Milton Keynes North - Milton Keynes South - Mole Valley - New Forest East - New Forest West - Newbury - Oxford West & Abingdon - Portsmouth North - Portsmouth South - Reading East - Reading West - Reigate - Rochester & Strood - Romsey & Southampton North - Runnymede & Weybridge - Sevenoaks - Sittingbourne & Sheppey - Southampton Itchen - Spelthorne - East Surrey - Surrey Heath - South West Surrey - Mid Sussex - North Thanet - South Thanet - Tonbridge & Malling - Tunbridge Wells - Wantage - Wealden - Winchester - Windsor - Witney - Woking - Wokingham - Worthing East & Shoreham - Worthing West - Wycombe
Labour
Hove - Oxford East - Slough - Southampton Test
Green
Brighton Pavilion
Other (speaker)
Buckinghamshire

LONDON
Conservative
Battersea - Beckenham - Bexleyheath & Crayford - Bromley & Chislehurst - Chelsea & Fulham - Chingford & Woodford Green - Chipping Barnet - Cities of London & Westminster - Croydon Central - Croydon South - Enfield Southgate - Finchley & Golders Green - Harrow East - Hendon - Hornchurch & Upminster - Kensington - Kingston & Surbiton - Old Bexley & Sidcup - Orpington - Putney - Richmond Park - Romford - Ruislip, Northwood & Pinner - Sutton & Cheam - Twickenham - Uxbridge & Ruislip South - Wimbledon
Labour
Barking - Bermondsey & Old Southwark - Bethnal Green & Bow - Brentford & Isleworth - Brent Central - Brent North - Camberwell & Peckham - Croydon North - Dagenham & Rainham - Dulwich & West Norwood - Ealing Central & Acton - Ealing North - Ealing Southall - East Ham - Edmonton - Eltham - Enfield North - Erith & Thamesmead - Feltham & Heston - Greenwich & Woolwich - Hackney North & Stoke Newington - Hackney South & Shoreditch - Hammersmith - Hampstead & Kilburn - Harrow West - Hayes & Harlington - Holborn & St Pancras - Hornsey & Wood Green - Ilford North - Ilford South - Islington North - Islington South & Finsbury - Lewisham Deptford - Lewisham East - Lewisham West & Penge - Leyton & Wantstead - Mitcham & Morden - Poplar & Limehouse - Streatham - Tooting - Tottenham - Vauxhall - Walthamstow - West Ham - Westminster North 
Liberal Democrats
Carshalton & Wallington

SOUTH WEST ENGLAND
Conservative
Bath - Bournemouth East - Bournemouth West - Bridgwater & Somerset West - Bristol North West - Camborne & Redruth - Cheltenham - Chippenham - Christchurch - North Cornwall - South East Cornwall - The Cotswolds - Devizes - Central Devon - East Devon - North Devon - South West Devon - West Devon and Torridge - Mid Dorset and North Poole - North Dorset - South Dorset - West Dorset - Filton & Bradley Stoke - Forest of Dean - Gloucester - Kingswood - Newton Abbot - Plymouth Moor View - Plymouth Sutton & Devonport - Poole - St Austell & Newquay - St Ives - Salisbury - North Somerset - North East Somerset - Somerton & Frome - Stroud - North Swindon - South Swindon - Taunton Deane - Tewkesbury - Thornbury & Yate - Tiverton & Honiton - Torbay - Totnes - Truro & Falmouth - Wells - Weston-Super-Mare - North Wiltshire - South West Wiltshire - Yeovil  
Labour
Bristol East - Bristol South - Bristol West - Exeter

SCOTLAND
Conservative
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale
Labour
Edinburgh South
Scottish National Party
Aberdeen North - Aberdeen South - Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine - Airdree & Shotts - Angus - Argyll & Bute - Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock - Ayrshire Central - Ayrshire North & Arran - Banff & Buchan - Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk - Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross - Coatbridge, Chryston & Bellshill - Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East - Dumfries & Galloway - East Dunbartonshire - West Dunbartonshire - Dundee East - Dundee West - Dunfermline & West Fife - East Kilbride, Strathaven & Lesmahagow - East Lothian - Edinburgh East - Edinburgh North & Leith - Edinburgh South West - Edinburgh West - Falkirk - North East Fife - Glasgow Central - Glasgow East - Glasgow North - Glasgow North East - Glasgow North West - Glasgow South - Glasgow South West - Glenrothes - Gordon - Inverclyde - Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey - Kilmarnock & Loudoun - Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath - Lanark & Hamilton East - Linlithgow & Falkirk East - Livingston - Midlothian - Moray - Motherwell & Wishaw - Na h-Eileanan an lar - Ochil & South Perthshire - Paisley & Renfrewshire North - Paisley & Renfrewshire South - Perth & North Perthshire - East Renfewshire - Ross, Sky & Lochaber - Rutherglen & Hamilton West - Stirling 
Liberal Democrats
Orkney & Shetland

WALES
Conservative
Aberconwy - Brecon & Radnorshire - Cardiff North - Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire - Clwyd West - Gower - Monmouth - Montgomeryshire - Preseli Pembrokeshire - Vale of Clwyd - Vale of Glamorgan
Labour
Aberavon - Alyn & Deeside - Blaenau Gwent - Bridgend - Caerphilly - Cardiff Central - Cardiff South & Penarth - Cardiff West - Clwyd South - Cynon Valley - Delyn - Islwyn - Llanelli - Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney - Neath - Newport East - Newport West - Ogmore - Pontypridd - Rhondda - Swansea East - Swansea West - Torfaen - Wrexham - Ynys Mon
Liberal Democrats
Ceredigion
Plaid Cymru
Arfon - Carmarthen East & Dinefwr - Dwyfor Meirionnydd  

NORTHERN IRELAND
Democratic Unionist
Belfast East - Belfast North - East Antrim - East Londonderry - Lagan Valley - North Antrim - Strangford - Upper Bann
Ulster Unionist
Fermanagh & South Tyrone - South Antrim
Sinn Fein
Belfast West - Mid Ulster - Newry & Armagh - West Tyrone
Social Democratic and Labour Party
Belfast South - Foyle - South Down
Independent
North Down

Seats in bold changed hands

Election 2015: Tangled up in news

STILL not decided who you are going to vote for when the polls open? Don't bother listening to the national press - which seems altogether pretty confused.

In fairness to the newspapers, this is a General Election in which the result and the aftermath are going to be much more fascinating than a largely uneventful campaign.

There has been no Gillian Duffy moment, no John Prescott punches and certainly no incidents of party leaders falling into the sea.

Green leader Natalie Bennett has had an unfortunate frog in the throat in an "excruciating" interview - while UKIP has had inevitable problems with a candidate or two.

The three main Westminster parties, however, have run sickeningly dull, stage-managed campaigns in which journalists have been restricted in how many questions they could ask - and even in their access.

Of course, there were always going to be the broadcasters' set piece events: first, David Cameron and Ed Miliband were quizzed by Jeremy Paxman before being questioned by the audience on Sky and Channel 4 in the Battle for Number 10.

A couple of weeks later, there was a seven-way leaders' debate on ITV - and then, two weeks after that, an opposition leaders' debate followed on BBC.

Finally, last week, the usual Question Time panel format was replaced by questions from the audience to Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband and Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg separately.

Unfortunately, none of it has been particularly enterprising or even stopped me - a self-confessed political geek - from watching football during the Battle for Number 10, going to a football pub quiz during the leaders' debate and a gig during the opposition leaders' debate.

Of course, I did the best I could to catch-up on such events by watching the news headlines and then full re-runs where time allowed.

But at no stage did it feel, at the time, as if I had missed out on anything particularly major - and the complete stalemate in the polls would suggest this to be true.

As such, perhaps it is no surprise to have seen national newspapers over the last few weeks ramp up the rhetoric in an attempt to get something - anything - extraordinary to happen.

Instead, all they seem to have achieved is a bunch of, often contradictory, headlines which make them look rather silly indeed.

For instance, after the seven-way leaders' debate, the headline on the front page of the Guardian was "Labour buoyed as Miliband edges Cameron in snap poll".

By contrast, the Telegraph went with "Miliband flops as outsiders shine" and the Sun produced a dreadful double-entendre next to a photograph of Mr Miliband.

In fact, an average of the four polls held after the debate made it difficult to tell who had 'won' - with Mr Cameron on 22%, Mr Miliband on 21.5%, UKIP leader Nigel Farage on 21% and Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon on 20%.

Ever since, of course, Ms Sturgeon's reputation has grown and she has emerged as one of the principle figures of the campaign - even though she is not standing for Parliament herself.

The Scottish Sun has even backed her party in a complete contradiction to its own national edition which has backed the Conservatives to "stop the SNP from running the country" under a minority Labour administration.

The Daily Mail has also taken to a demonisation of Ms Sturgeon - even referring to her as the "most dangerous woman in Britain". Funnily enough, that again did not quite make it into its Scottish edition.

It also appeared rather confused again yesterday when top half of its front page ranted against a potential Labour government and the bottom half despaired at a basic public service, waiting times for GPs.

Elsewhere, the Telegraph seems to have become obsessed with offering the whole of its front page to letters from business people backing Mr Cameron's government.

Shortly after the Budget, it published a "key" list of supporters - and then, in a separate list, the solicited responses of 5,000 small business owners were plastered across the paper just over a week ago.

Except the impressive number of 5,000 was rather less than that - some of the names were duplicates, others no longer had current business, and at least one signatory even asked to be removed.

Daily Express readers will no doubt be disappointed when it slowly dawns on them that, under the First Past the Post electoral system, UKIP's relative popularity will not translate into dozens of seats.

Meanwhile, the Independent must also be bracing itself for disappointment having stuck by the Lib Dems.

The Guardian, which backed the Lib Dems in 2010, has switched its allegiance to Labour - but it, too, was caught out when it prematurely predicted a surge for Mr Miliband's party on the back of just three half decent polls in a row.

Instead, the polls, averaged week-on-week, have remained obstinately level.

However, this does, of course, leave the election wide open with claims to post-election legitimacy perhaps even extending to the total number of votes overall as much as total number of seats.

It is important then for everyone to use their vote, and for everyone to vote on the strength of their own views - not those of anyone or anything else, least of all the newspapers.

Polling stations are open from 7am-10pm.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

World Snooker final: Battle-scarred Bingham gets run of the ball at last


2015 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL 
(8) Shaun MURPHY 15-18 Stuart BINGHAM (10)
Session One (4-4): 103-44 (68), 69-51 (59), 74-5 (65), 0-105 (105), 15-68 (56), 90-0 (90), 7-55, 30-73 (65) 
Session Two (5-4): 74-57 (M 74 B 57), 106-1 (106), 121-14 (121), 97-41 (51), 1-76 (76), 7-129 (123), 0-113 (89), 76-0 (76), 22-67 (53)
Session Three (2-6):  4-87 (87), 40-68 (51), 0-112 (112), 23-95 (50), 80-4 (59), 0-87 (87), 84-0 (84), 7-86 (57)
Session Four (4-4): 73-6, 6-102 (102), 75-55 (75), 68-29 (64), 76-0, 56-80, 3-68 (55), 1-88 (88)


STUART BINGHAM caused a major snooker shock last night after he became the oldest player to win the World Championship at the Crucible since Ray Reardon in 1978.

Essex potter Bingham, aged 38, knocked in an 88 break in the 33rd frame to beat 2005 champion Shaun Murphy 18-15 in one of the best finals of recent years.

There were no fewer than six centuries in the showpiece match, a total which ensured the 2015 tournament broke the overall record for Crucible tons. Eighty-six were scored in the end.

Indeed, Bingham's first major contribution to the contest was a run of 105 - although this was simply necessary to get a foothold after Murphy opened with breaks of 68, 59 and 65 to 3-0 up.

By the end of the first session, Bingham had levelled the contest at 4-4 - but, on Sunday evening, Murphy re-established his dominance with back-to-back centuries as part of a sequence of four frames in a row.

Somehow, Bingham clung on and he came back again with runs of 76, 123, and 89.

And, although Murphy took frame 16 with his own effort of 76, Bingham took the 17th to trail only 9-8 overnight.

Having been 3-0 and 8-4 behind, that was some achievement - and, having restored parity immediately with an 87 yesterday afternoon, Bingham then opened up his own three-frame advantage.

All the momentum was with the man nicknamed Ball-run - and, in frame 20, a sequence of 14 reds and blacks even gave rise to the possibility of a first ever maximum break in a World Championship final.

Sadly, it was not to be as Bingham missed out on the 147 after being unable to remove the last red off the cushion.

Nevertheless, he quickly got over any disappointment and held his lead into the last session, cancelling out Murphy's frame-winning runs of 49 and 84 with contributions of 87 and 57 himself.

Regardless, it was always going to be in the concluding session where the final was properly decided - the match had swung too many times and was too close to think otherwise.

But Bingham pretty much picked up last night where he had left off in the afternoon, equalling Murphy's early effort with a 102 to retain a three-frame lead.

Yet it was by no means an unassailable advantage - and, in fact, it did not last - as Murphy knocked in breaks of 75 and 64 to make it 15-15.

For the next hour and four minutes, though, the two finalists would then contest the most pivotal frame of the match.

"It’s unreal," Bingham said. "At 15-15 I thought my chance was gone. My arm felt like someone else’s and the nerves had got to me. 

"But we had a marathon 31st frame, I pinched it on the colours and from then on I played pretty solid."

The decisive breakthrough actually looked to have been made quite early on by a long red from Bingham - but the cue ball cannoned off another red and went in-off.

Murphy tried to capitalise but missed on the yellow, found himself snookered and then went in-off himself three times before an excruciatingly four further misses.

By this stage, the penalty points had given Bingham control of the frame - and he again put Murphy in trouble by sending the yellow up to the top cushion and putting the 2005 champion behind the green.

Incredibly, Murphy went in-off again - but it was not until the 32-year-old unintentionally potted the blue and left the chance of snookers nigh-on impossible that Bingham began to find breathing room.

And, at the same time, not just breathing room - yes, the frame had lasted so long that it had even involved a bathroom break for Bingham. 

Undoubtedly, though, it had all been worth it - and, as it happened, it was the first of one last three-frame push.

Frame 32 went to Bingham, thanks largely to a 55 break - and Murphy then still had no answer as his opponent got in first in the 33rd and, ultimately final, rack of the match.

The high quality 88 break was in keeping with the match and the tournament as a whole with heavy scoring frames far outweighing tactical battles.

As such, it was no surprise to see Murphy emerge from the top half of the draw after world number Mark Selby fell victim to the Crucible Curse - and a remarkable debut effort from young Scotsman Anthony McGill.

However, it was perhaps more of a surprise that neither Ronnie O'Sullivan nor Judd Trump could make it through from the bottom half.

That, of course, was down solely to Bingham who beat them both - with the Trump semi final going to a final frame decider following a string of centuries.

It was the emotionally-charged but well-deserved 13-9 win over five-time champion O'Sullivan, though, which Bingham admits really gave himself the belief he could go on to win the title.

And maybe that is all that was missing previously from Ball-run - that little bit of self-belief.

Certainly, there were no problems with his effort or attitude, as no player on the circuit has worked harder or travelled and played more than Bingham since Barry Hearn's global revolution of snooker.

All the toil then has culminated in this 17-day marathon of snooker - and so, while he may have been an unexpected champion, he can hardly be considered an unworthy one.

Yes, after all the defeats - and even the jibes - over the years, last night meant it had all still been worth it. Bingham had reached the pinnacle of his sport.

EARLIER RESULTS
FIRST ROUND Best of 19 frames

(1) Mark SELBY10-9Kurt MAFLIN

(16) Stephen MAGUIRE9-10Anthony McGILL

(9) Joe PERRY10-4ZHANG Anda

(8) Shaun MURPHY10-3Robin HULL

(5) Barry HAWKINS10-9Matthew SELT

(12) Mark ALLEN10-3Ryan DAY

(13) Ali CARTER10-5Alan McMANUS

(4) Neil ROBERTSON10-2Jamie JONES

(3) DING Junhui10-7Mark DAVIS

(14) John HIGGINS10-5Robert MILKINS

(11) Marco FU10-6Jimmy ROBERTSON

(6) Judd TRUMP10-6Stuart CARRINGTON

(7) Ricky WALDEN8-10Graeme DOTT

(10) Stuart BINGHAM10-7Robbie WILLIAMS

(15) Mark WILLIAMS2-10Matthew STEVENS

(2) Ronnie O'SULLIVAN10-3Craig STEADMAN

SECOND ROUND Best of 25 frames

(1) Mark SELBY9-13Anthony McGILL

(9) Joe PERRY5-13Shaun MURPHY (8)

(5) Barry HAWKINS13-11Mark ALLEN (12)

(13) Ali CARTER5-13Neil ROBERTSON (4)

(3) DING Junhui13-9John HIGGINS (14)

(11) Marco FU8-13Judd TRUMP (6)

Graeme DOTT5-13Stuart BINGHAM (10)

Matthew STEVENS5-13Ronnie O'SULLIVAN (2)

QUARTER FINALS Best of 25 frames

Anthony McGILL8-13Shaun MURPHY (8)

(5) Barry HAWKINS13-12Neil ROBERTSON (4)

(3) DING Junhui4-13Judd TRUMP (6)

(10) Stuart BINGHAM13-9Ronnie O'SULLIVAN (2)

SEMI FINALS Best of 33 frames

(8) Shaun MURPHY17-9Barry HAWKINS (5)

(6) Judd TRUMP16-17Stuart BINGHAM (10)

CENTURIES
145 Neil Robertson, Stuart Bingham
143 Neil Robertson
142 Neil Robertson
141 Neil Robertson
139 Ronnie O'Sullivan
138 Shaun Murphy
137 Anthony McGill
135 Ricky Walden, Ding Junhui
133 Neil Robertson, Judd Trump
132 Zhang Anda
131 Barry Hawkins, Joe Perry
130 Neil Robertson
129 Neil Robertson, Judd Trump
127 Ali Carter, Shaun Murphy, Judd Trump
125 Anthony McGill, Shaun Murphy
124 Mark Selby
123 Stuart Bingham
122 Anthony McGill  
121 Shaun Murphy (x3)
120 Mark Selby, Marco Fu
119 Neil Robertson
118 Ronnie O'Sullivan
116 Ronnie O'Sullivan
115 Matthew Stevens, Mark Allen, Neil Robertson (x2)
113 Judd Trump
112 Stuart Bingham
111 Matthew Stevens, Shaun Murphy, Judd Trump (x2)
110 Ronnie O'Sullivan
109 Neil Robertson, Matthew Selt, Ding Junhui, Judd Trump, Mark Allen, Barry Hawkins
108 Mark Selby, Barry Hawkins (x3), Judd Trump (x2)
106 Jimmy Robertson, John Higgins, Mark Davis, Shaun Murphy (x2), Stuart Bingham
105 Shaun Murphy (x2), Stuart Bingham
104 Ricky Walden, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Stuart Bingham, Barry Hawkins (x2)
103 Ronnie O'Sullivan, Barry Hawkins (x2)
102 Matthew Selt, Stuart Bingham (x3), Barry Hawkins, Judd Trump
101 Mark Allen, Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby
100 Stuart Bingham, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Shaun Murphy

Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Season 2014/15: Chelsea close in on title

Premier League
Table
CHELSEA moved within just three points of clinching the title after coming back to win 3-1 at relegation-threatened Leicester City last night.

Veteran Didier Drogba and skipper John Terry scored to overturn the Foxes' lead given to them in first half stoppage time by Marc Albrighton.

And, then with 10 minutes remaining, Ramires sealed the win with a bullet of a strike to put the Blues onto 80 points, 13 clear of their nearest rivals Manchester City and Arsenal.

Earlier this week, Chelsea openly celebrated a 0-0 draw at the Emirates Stadium against the Gunners while being criticised by the home fans for being "boring, boring Chelsea".

But, manager Jose Mourinho - who stands in line to win a third Premier League title with a home win over Crystal Palace on Sunday - defended his team.

"I think boring is 10 years without a title - that's boring," he said. "If you support a club and you wait, wait, wait for so many years without a Premier League title, then that's boring."

History tends to be written by the winners and Chelsea deserve credit for their ruthless efficiency. For most of their rivals, though, this has not been a particularly memorable season.

Arsenal, at least, are favourites to retain the FA Cup in the Final on 30 May against Aston Villa - but, despite the signing last summer of £35m Chilean Alexis Sanchez, yet more injuries have meant a sustained title challenge has not followed.

Manchester City, meanwhile, will be especially disappointed by failing to defend their crown for a second time in recent years - and for failing to have put up much of a fight this time either.

Recent away defeats at Burnley and Crystal Palace, and a 4-2 reverse against Manchester United at Old Trafford confirmed the blue half of Manchester will be trophyless, and Manuel Pellegrini's future looks nothing if uncertain.

Manchester United, currently fourth, will also fail to pick up anything - for the second successive season.

Nevertheless, a sequence between the end of February and start of April of six consecutive wins suggested Louis Van Gaal had made more progress than his predecessor David Moyes.

Indeed, the Red Devils look almost certain to be back in the Champions League next season after the failings of Liverpool at the start and end of this campaign.

The Reds had suffered more defeats by Christmas than in the whole of 2013-14 and, although this was followed by a 13-match unbeaten run, three league defeats in the last five and a Cup semi final loss to Villa have left manager Brendan Rodgers in trouble.

Liverpool are still fifth for now, level on 58 points with Tottenham Hotspur whose recent form has also been a bit patchy.

Southampton remain just a point behind and, with a far superior goal difference to either Liverpool or Spurs, a seventh-placed finish is the least they deserve from a more than decent effort.

At the bottom, though, it is now beginning to look a bit bleak for Burnley, the Clarets having lost their shooting boots at the worst possible time.

Main striker Danny Ings has failed to find the net since February - but no one else is helping out either. Burnley have scored just once in the last eight games, and are now five points adrift of safety.

Queens Park Rangers are only a point better off and surely need something from their next two games, both of which were away - against Liverpool and Man City.

But, while it would be a surprise if Burnley and Queens Park Rangers escaped, the last relegation spot has turned into a bun fight.

Sunderland currently occupy the dreaded third-from-bottom placing, on 30 points, having won only five times all season - although two of these victories came in the Tyne-Wear derby over Newcastle United.

Relegation jitters are consequently also being felt on Tyneside too. Seemingly safe having reached 35 points at the end of February, the Magpies have sunk to seven consecutive defeats under caretaker manager John Carver, the club's worst run since 1977.

Meanwhile, between the two north east sides, Leicester (31 points), Villa (32), and Hull City (34) have all showed signs of picking up their form.

Prior to their defeat to Chelsea, Leicester had won as many league matches in three weeks - four - as they had in the previous eight months.

And Villa, under Tim Sherwood, won at White Hart Lane and then reached the FA Cup Final with a Christian Benteke-inspired comeback win over Liverpool in the semi.

Finally, by also finding success against Liverpool on Tuesday, Hull recorded back-to-back victories for only the second time this season.

For now, of course, they all remain in trouble and need at least a win - but the spectre of relegation seems to be hanging over the north east more than anywhere else at the moment.

The Championship
Table
WATFORD sealed a place in the Premier League - and so, effectively, did Bournemouth too - after a dramatic penultimate weekend in the Championship.

First, the Hornets won 2-0 away at Brighton & Hove Albion in an early kick-off for their fifth win in a row.

And then they could only sit back and smile as chasers Middlesbrough and Norwich City both failed to follow the leader in the afternoon 3pm kick-offs.

Boro's failure was particularly bizarre. Level at 3-3 against Fulham, having been 2-0 and 3-1 down, manager Aitor Karanka allowed his goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos to go up for a corner.

Fulham dealt with the set-piece, cleared the ball, and seconds later had a 4-3 win as Ross McCormack completed a hat-trick by slotting into an empty net.

A point would have kept Boro in with a shout of automatic promotion on the last day.

But, in going for glory, they have effectively condemned themselves to the playoffs along with Norwich, and two of Ipswich Town, Derby County, Brentford or Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Ipswich, sitting on 78 points, hold pole position in that race - but must travel to Blackburn Rovers on the last day on which all the kick-offs are set to 12.15pm on Saturday.

Otherwise, the contenders are all at home with Derby, on 77 points, hosting Reading, while the other two teams - Brentford and Wolves, both on 75 points - face relegated pair Wigan Athletic and  Millwall.

Of course, Boro's Greek tragedy only ensued because Bournemouth then won easily against Bolton Wanderers on Monday night.

The 3-0 win at Dean Court was as convincing as it sounds, as the Cherries put a cherry on top of an excellent season and a fairytale rise with three stylish goals from Marc Pugh, Matt Ritchie and Callum Wilson.

Mathematically, Eddie Howe's men could still be caught by their Teesside rivals - but their three-point lead is backed up by a hefty goal difference of +50, compared to Boro's +31.

It is simply not going to happen - and perhaps attention instead can be turned towards the Championship title - as Watford, at home to Sheffield Wednesday, defend a one-point lead over Bournemouth who travel to Charlton Athletic.

Elsewhere, the other midweek match this week saw Rotherham United secure their Championship safety with a 2-1 win at home to Reading.

That safety had been placed in doubt after the Millers were given a three-point deduction, subject to appeal, for fielding an ineligible player in a 1-0 win over Brighton.

But goals from Matt Derbyshire and Lee Frecklington instead condemned Wigan and Millwall to the third tier regardless of what happens.

It has been a spectacular fall from grace, in particular, for the Latics, their downfall coming less than two years since they won the FA Cup against Manchester City at Wembley.

Meanwhile, Blackpool will remain rooted to the bottom, having won only four times in 48 league and cup games all season.

The Tangerines were relegated as early as Easter Monday, and still require a win on the last day at home to Huddersfield Town to avoid becoming the worst side ever to play in a 24-team second tier.

Amid further, completely justifiable, fan unrest following the removal of the statue of the legendary Stan Mortensen by chairman Karl Oyston, that would seem unlikely.

And so the halcyon days of the Premier League - only four years ago - must feel like another era altogether at Bloomfield Road.

League One
Table 
BRISTOL CITY completed an excellent league and cup double this season after adding the League One title to their win at Wembley in the final of the Football League Trophy.

The Robins gained promotion in style - with a 6-0 away thrashing of FA Cup giant-killers Bradford City - before sealing the championship with a point in a 0-0 draw against Coventry City.

Earlier, in March, Steve Cotterill's men won the Football League Trophy for a record third time with a 2-0 win over Walsall after goals in the first half hour from Aden Flint and Mark Little.

But, while Bristol City have been ultimately dominant in their triumphs at this level, the second automatic promotion place is still very much up for grabs.

Heading into the last day, Preston North End hold a one-point advantage over Milton Keynes Dons but the Dons have a far superior goal difference.

Preston also host Colchester United - in the relegation zone but still scrapping for their lives - while Milton Keynes are at home to already-relegated rock-bottom Yeovil Town.

Can the Lilywhites hold their nerve and prevent Milton Keynes from an automatic path to the second tier for the first time?

Certainly, whoever comes out second best will be disappointed as they are forced to join Swindon Town, Sheffield United and surprise package Chesterfield in the playoffs.

At the bottom, Yeovil have been relegated for a while - but there is an almighty scrap to avoid the other three places.

Second-bottom Leyton Orient, on 48 points, are in most peril ahead of their match away at Swindon - but, as mentioned already, Colchester - on 49 points - probably have the toughest task of all as they travel to Preston.

Currently just below the safety line, Crawley Town - on 50 points - host Coventry, who themselves, are not yet quite safe on 52.

Notts County, also on 50, travel to mid-table Gillingham - while Crewe Alexandra (52) are away to Bradford, aware that their far inferior goal difference keeps them very much in trouble.

The deciding matches are all played concurrently on Sunday at 12.15pm.

League Two
Table
BURTON ALBION will play in the third tier of the English football system for the first time in history next season after a 2-1 victory away to Morecambe on 18 April.

The Brewers now harbour ambitions of the League Two title ahead of their final day clash away at Cambridge United.

Leading Shrewsbury Town by two points, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's side may need to win given their inferior goal difference to the Shrews who face Plymouth Argyle at home.

Regardless of what happens, though, both teams will be playing League One football in August, Shrewsbury having gained promotion on 25 April to bounce back to the higher level at the first attempt.

The third automatic spot is still undecided, however. Southend United currently occupy the spot on 84 points, two points ahead of Bury and three points ahead of Wycombe Wanderers, but with the worst goal difference of the three.

Mind, it is awfully tight - Southend are currently +18, Bury +19 and Wycombe +21 - ahead of the final matches which are on Saturday at 3pm.

Phil Brown's Shrimpers travel to Morecambe to face the Shrimps - while the Shakers of Bury travel to relegated Tranmere Rovers.

Outsiders Wycombe are also on the road to Northampton Town - and will most likely land in the playoffs alongside Stevenage and Plymouth.

Heading out of the Football League altogether are Cheltenham Town and, more shockingly, Tranmere after Hartlepool United pulled off a truly great escape.

Bottom from the end of October until the end of March, Pools confirmed survival last week with a 2-1 home win over Exeter City.

And former Tranmere boss Ronnie Moore must take a lot of credit for the sterling job he has done since his appointment in December.

Instead, then, it is the Merseysiders who have lost their Football League status after a period of 94 years.

And Cheltenham, unbeaten and top at the end of August, have won just five games since to return to Conference level for the first time since 1999.

Conference Premier
Table
BARNET ensured their stay in the Conference would last just two seasons after pipping Bristol Rovers to the only automatic promotion place.

Martin Allen's Bees beat mid-table Gateshead 2-0 on the final day last Saturday to stay ahead of Rovers - who had smashed seven past Alfreton Town.

That awful defeat sent Alfreton down with the worst goal difference in the division as Welling United survived despite a final day loss at home to Southport.

AFC Telford made a swift return to the Conference North (or the National League North as it will be called next season), while Dartford and Nuneaton Town also ended season-long struggles on the wrong side of the relegation line.

In the playoffs for the second promotion spot, Bristol Rovers actually seem to have dusted themselves off and recovered from the disappointment of losing out to Barnet.

The Pirates beat Forest Green Rovers 1-0 away in the first leg ahead of the return match will be played on Sunday at the Memorial Ground.

Meanwhile, the other tie - Grimsby Town v Eastleigh - kicks off this evening and also concludes on Sunday before the Final at Wembley on 17 May.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

And the band played Waltzing Matilda


GALLIPOLI was one of the greatest military failures of all time - and a nation-defining moment for Australia and New Zealand.

Devised by First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, and others within the British government, its intention was to break the horrific stalemate on the Western Front by launching a second line of attack against Germany's ally, the Ottoman Empire.

Instead, the eight-month campaign contrived to be fought in even worse conditions than Flanders as the allies lost heavily and the corpses piled up to rot on the beach.

Altogether, over 100,000 on both sides were killed. The Turkish, while strategically victorious, lost 56,643 lives, the British lost 34,072, and the French lost 9,798.

But Australia (8,709 deaths) and New Zealand (2,721 deaths) were disproportionally affected.

And so, while the British especially mourn losses at the Somme and the French do likewise with regards to Verdun, Australians and New Zealanders will never forget Gallipoli.

Now, in much the same way as 11 November allows for reflection in this country, Aussies and Kiwis commemorate the loss of servicemen from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps on 25 April.

It is a public holiday in both countries known as ANZAC Day - and this year's memorial service was particularly poignant given it marked 100 years since the fateful battle began.

Rewinding back to 1915, the assault on the appropriately-named Cape Helles went wrong pretty much straightaway.

The allied troops were ill-prepared whereas the Turks had primed themselves well, having fully anticipated the invasion.

The hellish scene is described by Scottish-born, Australian-based folk singer Eric Bogle in his song, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.

Most notably covered by the Pogues on their 1985 album Rum, Sodomy & the Lash, Shane MacGowan spits out the lyrics in bitterness and disgust at the apparent cheapness of human life.

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
Then turned all their faces away

Shock was indeed the overriding emotion in Australia and New Zealand as the two emerging nation states suffered a baptism of fire.

In Britain too, Gallipoli had major after-effects, not least on Churchill who was forced out of government.

The ruling Liberals were forced into coalition with the Conservatives and, soon after the war, lost power altogether, being consigned into opposition until the current coalition was formed in 2010.

Churchill, meanwhile, recovered his reputation a little by serving in the trenches of the Western Front. He would, of course, recover it fully 20 years later.

For the thousands of dead at Gallipoli, however, there was no time to recover.

World War One was less than a year old - but, with the fateful Race to the Sea and the subsequent failure of Gallipoli, it had already cost too many lives.

The concept of a Lost Generation had become a reality. RIP.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Selby takes on the Crucible Curse


MARK SELBY will become the latest man to take on the Crucible Curse when he begins the defence of his first snooker world title today against Kurt Maflin.

The Curse, which has affected even the greats like six-time winner Steve Davis and seven-time champion Stephen Hendry, has ensured no first-time winner has successfully defended their crown.

Joe Johnson in 1987 and Ken Doherty in 1998 have come closest to this achievement, reaching the Final before losing to Davis and John Higgins respectively.

But the fact that only Davis, Hendry and, more recently, Ronnie O'Sullivan have won any sort of back-to-back titles at the Sheffield venue shows just how difficult it is.

Indeed, it would be a surprise if Selby was to break the mould. It is not that the Jester from Leicester has turned into a bad player - but his status as the defending champion will always lend itself to a bit of extra pressure.

And that is not always something he has dealt with, as he has admitted himself.

Still, it would be a massive shock if Selby lost in the first round to World Championship debutant Maflin who - though born in Lewisham - lives in Oslo and represents Norway following naturalisation.

Instead, Selby's biggest threat in the top quarter of the draw would appear to come from fellow-Englishman Shaun Murphy.

The 2005 world champion cued beautifully to win his first Masters title at the Alexandra Palace in January, eventually thrashing Neil Robertson 10-2 in the Final.

Murphy also seems to have an altogether much more relaxed outlook on life after a rollercoaster start to his career.

For, when the Magician won his world title 10 years ago, he was aged just 22 - becoming the second-youngest champion after Hendry.

He was also only the third qualifier ever to win and had been 150/1 with the bookmakers at the start of the tournament.

The success did not last - and was even considered in some quarters to be a complete flash-in-the-pan until the 2008-09 season brought him a UK Championship title and another Crucible final appearance.

Still, though, the lack of a second world title drove him to the verge of quitting, something he openly admits in a revealing interview on the BBC Sport website.

"There were a few dark years when I wasn't practising enough, was doing too many golf days and charity events," said Murphy.

"Then when I started putting the hard work in, banging balls in all day long, day after day, I still wasn't getting anything for it.

"Losing 6-1 to Mark Selby in the semi-finals of the Masters last year was almost the final nail in the coffin. I could have easily walked away from snooker there and then."

But, without much of a fall-back plan, Murphy persisted - and victory in the Masters meant he completed snooker's prestigious Triple Crown.

Another run of form like that over the next 17 days and the Harlow-born 32-year-old will be a massive threat - he is my tip to emerge from the top quarter.

The second quarter is dominated by the presence of Australian Robertson - the only former world champion of the section.

By his standards, the Aussie has not had a particularly great season with the Wuxi Classic - played last June - his only ranking title of the campaign.

He also seems to have got into the nasty habit of giving his opponent the initiative early on in his matches.

In the Final of the Masters, he was blown away by Murphy before he even had a chance of getting into the game.

Similarly, the Thunder from Down Under found himself 5-0 down to Graeme Dott in the fourth round of the UK Championships in York before a stunning comeback to 5-5 ultimately failed.

At least, in this respect, the marathon format at the World Championships favours Robertson - and he also has a good record against his likely second-round opponent Ali Carter.

A place in the semi finals is the least Robertson would expect of himself - but, on current form, it would be difficult to see him going past this stage.

Quarter three is headed nominally by world number three Ding Junhui - but, with only one quarter final and one semi final in eight previous Crucible appearances, the Chinese has little World Championship pedigree.

Instead, Higgins leads the way in the section with four world titles - though his overall reputation is little recovered from the infamous News of the World sting operation.

Judd Trump, then, is the talent who most people will be keeping their eye on for a run deep into the tournament - and, as the last player to start his campaign on Wednesday night, the 2011 runner-up will be itching to get under way.

In the bottom quarter, Welsh friends Mark Williams and Matthew Stevens have been paired in what promises to be an entertaining repeat of the dramatic 2000 World Championship Final, won 18-16 by Williams.

The section, though, is dominated by five-time champion O'Sullivan who, like Trump, is another relatively late starter this year.

O'Sullivan is also inevitably the bookmakers' favourite - but, following his defeat in the Final last year, the Rocket seems to have arrived in Sheffield to less of a fanfare than usual.

His absence from the China Open last month for unspecified "health reasons" suggests his mind may not be as firmly on the game as it could be.

And, in a recent interview with the Guardian, he was typically enigmatic about his future, both in the short-term and the long.

Now aged 39, O'Sullivan knows there might not be many more chances for him to catch Davis and Hendry.

Nevertheless, with his standing in the game already assured in his own right, this is undoubtedly something for the writers and pundits to obsess about, rather than O'Sullivan himself. 

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