The internet masks true identities. Companies use it to present a honed, targeted and user-friendly brand image. Celebrities attempt to show their “other sides” to the general public, while the great mass of Twitter users vent their frustration or anger on the micro-blogging site, or merely speculate on the issues of the day.
Yet Twitter also provides a shield for cruelty, hate and genuine abuse, the type of which would not be long tolerated in the street, on the Tube, or at any social gathering. Today, Tom Daley and Pete Waterfield failed to bring home the gold medal (or indeed silver or bronze) for Team GB that many had hoped they would. The pair dived excellently in their opening three attempts, and were leading the table before a disastrous fourth dive condemned them to exactly that position.
So, three weeks, five countries, eleven towns and cities, three languages, four currencies, many different dialects and a whole host of beers later, and my epic trek around the Balkans is at an end.
I feel particularly lucky to have been able to traverse this region of Europe, with its incredible diversity, welcoming nature, spectacular scenery and enthralling history, in the company of a great friend and for less than a grand. There is far too much to say here so all I’ll add is, keep an eye on This Chemical World for a full write up of my adventures, with many a terrible pun, historical observation and classic quote in toe. For now, hurry up 8.30 train, I’d like to get home.
Queens Park Rangers should have won on Saturday. 1-0 up through Bobby Zamora, netting on his debut and emulating his strike partner Djibril Cisse’s goal-scoring first appearance in blue and white, Wolverhampton Wanderers were there for the taking. Thoroughly dominant, against a side who had lost their last nine games, and experienced the ignominy of having their Chairman walk into the dressing room and lambast their mediocre efforts after a 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool, Mick McCarthy’s side were a miracle away from claiming all three points. Step up new the aforementioned Cisse to provide said miracle. From the lofty view of this supporter in the stands, the Frenchman’s offence initially appeared to be nothing more than reacting to a rash, dangerous challenge from the Wolves defender with a push in the back. However, Twitter instantly exploded with testimony from observers with access to instant replays. By these, Cisse was damned, and his true offence – grabbing [Johnson] by the throat – revealed to the world. In the meantime, of course, he had been dismissed, and the sting well and truly taken out of the R’s front-line. Zamora was tasked with the impossible – maintaining some sort of threat on the away side’s goal, and holding up the ball at every possible opportunity against the overtly physical defensive pairing of Johnson and Sebastien Bassong.
Villa Park is a magnificent stadium. A, excuse the cliché, proper football ground. Regional accents, surrounded by flyovers, railway lines and industrial estates, it is a slice of what the great game once was. Atmosphere-wise, however, it has suffered from the exact same sanitisation inflicted upon every other top-flight ground. When Djibril Cisse gave visiting QPR the lead last night, the murmurings of discontent in the home end turned into a wave of dissent, the stadium’s acoustics ensuring that the fans’ collective chagrin showered down on the poorly-performing players on the pitch below. It got worse for Villa as well, when Stephen Warnock planted an inch-perfect header past Shay Given – into his own net. Red-faced Warnock slumped to the ground, his head in his hands, realising that the he had inadvertently given the away side a seemingly unassailable advantage with just a few minutes remaining until the interval.
Any government can appear strong during a time of peace, growth, augmenting incomes and national celebration. In political terms, this is akin to sailing on a calm sea, and the rewards for leaders who are able to portray an image of absolute serenity and success are significant, even if their policies have little connection to, or influence on, what is actually taking place. Every politician must be aware, however, of the eternal cliché; that the next crisis is just around the corner. David Cameron’s picturesque holiday in Italy was perhaps, in his mind, due reward for what could be described as a successful first year and a bit, at least from a Conservative perspective. Yet his hopes of sailing around Lake Como without a care in the world were dashed when reports reached him that one of the world’s most historic, significant and famous capital cities had gone up in flames. That city was London, containing a multitude of nationalities and ethnicities, vast income differentials, and a citizenry with wildly divergent employment backgrounds.
What a couple of months it has been. Exhilaration, devastation, disbelief, agony, ecstasy and consternation have – at one moment or another – consumed QPR fans as they waited desperately to see if the R’s would be crowned Championship winners. The Alejandro Faurlin affair, because all major media events have to be described as such, has consumed more column inches than most other issues in the game these past few weeks. Yet from the plethora of varyingly informed stories that have made their way onto newspaper pages since April, none were proven right by the course of events.
For Nottingham Forest, tonight’s game is a chance to take the first, tentative step towards restoring one of England’s great football clubs to its former glory. Rivals Swansea, meanwhile, will be looking to stake their claim to become the leaders of Welsh football by making the step up to the Premier League, and show Cardiff City how promotion is won. Forest are currently the bookies’ least-fancied side for this year’s play-off lottery, and their run of nine games without a win earlier this season has perhaps contributed to this consensus. However, they are certainly one of the Championship’s in-form sides, having won five of their last six matches and veritably stolen a place in the top six off a wasteful Leeds United.
Swansea are also in good form, winning three games on the bounce in the run-up to this tie to snatch third from Welsh rivals Cardiff, but Billy Davies’ side have been here before. Despite losing to Blackpool at this stage last season, Forest will have the experience of such a big occasion, and this should contribute to a much-improved performance second time around. Despite playing some of the division’s most attractive football, indeed few would disagree with the Swans being awarded this title, one would have to fancy Forest for the first leg, especially at home.