Even with fees rising, you can’t put a price on University!

As a student ploughing his way through prospectuses for further education, I’ve become blind to the fact that going to University in the UK now costs treble what it used to be. As my other posts will probably tell you from, I have a deep interest in sport (that’s your cue to read them after this one if you haven’t already! Subtlety isn’t my strong point…). I have such a keen passion for writing about sport that it’s something that I want to pursue in my future career. So I want to go to the promised land of “Uni” to help me achieve this. But is it all really worth it? £27,000 for a nice sheet of paper after three years to hopefully propel myself into the outside world. Quite often, I’ve come across people who slave away at degree and can only find jobs which have absolutely nothing to do with what they studied.

But University isn’t just about the money or the business connections you can build, it’s about the experience. Many people move away from home to an obscure place that may never have even heard of before, having to live self-sufficiently for the first time. It’s also where you will make completely new friends. It’s like being thrown into nursery by your parents unwittingly to try and acquaint yourselves with the other children, only this time at a degree level. University cities and towns are often a hive of activity unto themselves, with Oxford and Cambridge often ditching cars altogether in some areas. One Good University Guide even rates night-life in University Towns. Bonkers to some, necessary information to others!

It’s also the time in life where you can experience (completely legally!) clubs and pubs for the first time and actually be able to buy yourself a drink… or seven. Just because you can. And it won’t be relying on the one 18 year old in your social group to pull in all the beer to sell on for a huge profit to themselves. It’s odd how shrewd you can become when alcohol is involved, if we were always this smart “The Apprentice” may get some contestants that are normal people, just for a change. They may even have a shred of self-respect as well, but let’s not push it.

I know that the dust has pretty much settled on the great tuition fee debate, but I bring good news! I heard that if you are willing to learn a few languages, there are European options: Learning Flemish would mean you can communicate at Belgian Universities, which cost around £1500 per year. Also, there is a free option in Denmark. Martin Lewis, money saving expert who?!

In any case, the point of this is in the title: University is surely priceless in its own way. I personally haven’t been yet, but if films across history and stories that I’ve been told are to be believed, it’s the best time of your life. So many of us these days won’t have pockets deep enough to even contemplate paying the (rather large) living costs and the crippling tuition fees. But I suppose that’s what student loans are there for. You don’t pay the money back until you’re earning enough to be able to pay it back. And best of all, the interest is the inflation rate so you aren’t paying too far over the odds either. And with your degree, it’ll put you in a better place to apply for jobs afterwards, so the extra money per year you could be making may nullify the cost of the loan anyway.

Anyway, I think University is a worthwhile investment, and it can be the best thing that ever happened, so definitely consider applying if you weren’t going to, I certainly will be.

All the while Barack and David are watching basketball, there is still a country to clean up!

Presidents of old have described Britain and the USA to share a “Special Relationship”, a relationship built on trust between two former economic powers of the world to better the welfare of those in the world. But I’m not quite sure that they meant the sort of relationship that involved having a barbecue in the back garden of 10 Downing Street; or President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron indulging their appetite for watching sports as the “pals” that they evidently are.

In terms of Diplomacy, this is all very well and good seeing two countries’ premiers getting along so well, but there is a kind of ignorance that only politicians could share in that they are completely oblivious to what’s going on in Afghanistan at this point. American and British Service Personnel are putting their lives on the line day in, day out to support the supposed greater good of trying to create a world without the threat of the Taliban and other paramilitary organisations. Meanwhile, the people charged with the clean-up job that Bush and Blair left behind are simply ignoring the job at hand to create a PR Stunt that will appease the electorate for about a week.

While I realise that the main reason for Mr Cameron’s visit to the USA is to set a potential “end-game” that would mean troops would be brought back from Afghanistan much earlier than planned, ergo control being handed over to Afghan forces earlier than planned; put very simply: If you’re there for a job, just get on with it. It is perfectly acceptable for businessmen who are trying to forge trade links with another company to want to soak up a bit of culture. But if you’re trying to save lives, and improve quality of life for millions, there’s no time to waste. If you were in your second home claimed on expenses and something had caught on fire, you wouldn’t suddenly decide to go birdwatching! You’d put the fire out. Take mind, Parliament.

So far, there have been around 2,769 coalition deaths (1,783 of which American, 404 British) with multiples of that number wounded in action, it’s bad enough seeing news that ONE person has been killed in action, let alone that many. The importance of the decision that will be forwarded by Obama and Cameron will be one of the defining moments of the campaign in Afghanistan, so there needs to be as much careful consideration as possible on the matter. It sounds cheesy but the future of Afghanistan really may depend on it.

I acknowledge that talks are now (rather belatedly) taking place, but I have this to say to you two: Next time you exchange pointless pleasantries with each other, think about the extortionate costs accumulating in war that you could be placing into healthcare or schooling. Think about the poor souls that have to endure day after day fighting for their respective country. They don’t know whether each day will be their last, they may trip an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), they may get attacked by snipers, or ambushed in the street. That’s why they are heroes to so many. But most of all, think of all the civilians that have to live their day-to-day lives in fear of radical terrorists. It’s another world out there, gentlemen, and it’s up to you and your respective Political Parties to sort it out. So get your heads out of your behinds, don’t think about the press, don’t think about whether you’ll get re-elected, just use your well-educated minds to achieve something meaningful before any more sh*t happens out there.

 

If my sporting words should ever go into history, let it be these: God Bless Referees!

As a qualified football referee with a bit of experience now, my advice for any newcomers would be this: “A good referee needs four things: Two good eyes, and two deaf ears.” once that happens, you’re on your way to better things on the footballing ladder. It’s no secret that the quality of officiating at the top level has come under scrutiny recently because of certain things that did or didn’t happen in their decision making. Even World Cup Final Referee Howard Webb has had his critics for this season so far! But these people have given up their time and effort for the sport that they love for a hobby. All the while there are overpaid, mindless louts getting credited with more than £100,000 per WEEK to play the game and use and abuse those in charge of the game at the same time. But I’ve had enough of this. It’s time we stood up for ourselves.

There are now over 35,000 FA Certified Referees in England, a number that’s only increasing as the number of training courses available have gone up considerably. Although we do get paid for what we do (ranging from about £15 to £500+ per game, guess which ones get paid more…) , it’s still our hobby. (Although there are some that are professionals, you can probably guess which ones again…)

While we enjoy our hobby most of the time, I don’t think many people like to spend their weekends being shouted at and called various horrific names while chasing 22 sweaty men around a field. All of this whilst being called a “F***ING CHEAT!” or “THE W*NKER IN THE BLACK” by the stereotypical chubby managers on the sideline who think that they’re Brian Clough or (Referee’s favourite) Sir Alex Ferguson. So why should we enjoy it? Someone needs to tell me pretty soon because I’m still stumped. Having said that, it’s being paid to keep somewhat fit so I can’t complain…

It’s a thankless job, really. But without those thick-skinned souls that brave all weathers to keep a watchful eye on sport, there would be no sport at all. How would the rugby players know when to beat the hell out of each other? Or when will the boxers know when to stop beating the hell out of each other? We would never know.

Of course, there is the odd moment when decisions go wrong. But rather than shout every naughty word under the sun to make your point heard, why not try to be civil for once? It would make our lives in the middle so much easier…

While I’m at it, to all those parents who think that your child is the next David Beckham or Lionel Messi; They aren’t. They simply aren’t. While you can give them the fake tan and copious amounts of hair gel to rival Ronaldo, if they’re playing with their mates on a Sunday morning with a team being run by a good-hearted parent, that’s probably hint enough. Putting it differently, you can say “You’re Fired!” all you want, but you aren’t going to become Alan Sugar. Please feel free to live your dreams through your unwilling children by all means, but think of the example you set when you’re calling the Official a “Biased c***”. Yeah. You know who you are.

Bitterness aside, Referees put pride and reputation at stake every time they step out onto the field for their respective sport. Be it from your local rec to Wembley, a field with sticks for goalposts to Twickenham, these games matter to the players and Referees alike. It means just as much to an Official to get a Cup Final as it is for a team to work their way into one. In conclusion, sport is for the enjoyment of everyone, not just the players. How would you feel as a player if you were being bombarded with abuse every time something happened that you didn’t agree with. It simply isn’t fair. Football can learn a lot from sports like rugby, the players are actually courteous enough to call the Official “Sir”. That’s why the FA’s Respect Campaign is so important for the future of football because very simply: No Referee, No Game.

 Myself with Howard Webb at a Referees’ Conference, November 2011

F1 Rule Changes 2012

After the first of two four-day tests in Barcelona, it seems that viewers are still none the wiser as to whom has the best car in the field, although many pundits are saying that reigning Constructors’ Champions Red Bull Racing with their new RB8 is currently the early pacemaker. This comes after four days of testing with four different teams topping the timesheets. The four days saw Williams, Force India, Red Bull and McLaren coming out with the quickest times. The pre-season form of F1 teams is notoriously a completely unreliable source of information, so testing is only really just a runout for the teams to get to grips with the new rules and regulations for the new season. But there is relative stability in the regulations for the 2012 season, so maybe there is a greater opportunity for the cars to be improved come Melbourne on the weekend, beginning with first practice on the 16th of March.

There are still some changes to the rules for the upcoming season, though. First and foremost is another technological limitation in the banning of the “blown” diffuser system that forced exhaust gases over the diffuser to generate more downforce when the driver was off of the throttle, a feature that dominated car design in 2011. Also, the controversial “one-move rule” for defending overtaking manoeuvres has been tightened up following the stern defence from Seven-Times World Champion Michael Schumacher against 2008 World Champion Lewis Hamilton at Monza last year, when Schumacher was accused of using more than one defensive move in defending his position, effectively ruining Hamilton’s chance of a podium finish. Hamilton was sympathetic afterwards and said that it was all “Part of racing”. But the FIA have decided to take a tighter stance on the rule for more clarity. The final big change of note is sole tyre supplier Pirelli becoming even more aggressive in their tyre strategy for the current season, with the 2011 “Super-Soft” Compound tyres becoming the new “Soft” Tyres, and the 2011 “Soft” Tyres becoming the new “Medium” Compound tyre, leading to a new, even softer “Super-Soft” Tyre being introduced for 2012.

12 days of pre-season testing and a single two-day in-season test is time for the teams to refine their creations for the coming season, but many teams would agree that there is no better indicator of form than a race weekend. So drivers, teams, journalists, circuit marshals and fans alike will all be looking forward to the 2012 season getting underway, no matter what the rules are and whoever wins!