The Topsy Turvy Football League

It’s early (very early) in the season but the initial shape of the  football leagues already presents an interesting picture. In a hierarchical league, one would expect that with few exceptions that the teams gaining promotion the previous year would be at best in the bottom half of the division once promoted. Indeed in a truly hierarchical scenario, ignoring purchase of talent in the close season, they should be close to the bottom three. 

After just three games it’s interesting to see the opposite happening. In the championship, Southampton and Brighton are unbeaten after three games, In league Two Crawley & AFC Wimbledon have made excellent and good starts respectively and to a slightly lesser extent, Wycombe and Stevenage have made big impacts in League One. At the end of last season, Norwich of course gained successive promotions to reach the most competitive league in the world.

So, does this represent a flattening of the leagues or are other factors in play? If this is indeed down to a flattening of the leagues then it would be against  a background where cash is becoming more unevenly spread across the leagues – an environment which should create the opposite effect.  It could be though that on promotion, a team is more likely to come out with more passion, belief and the desire to prove oneself than teams who have remained in the league. Think back to Blackpool last year and Hull the previous year who started the Premiership season with real strength before dropping back to their more realistic levels.

Anyway, far too early to make a call but worth a thought and could be worth monitoring through the season

Complain about the Community or Change it?

I’ve heard lots of comment, tweet and news reports this week from people telling others what they need to do to to solve ‘the crisis’ that we find ourselves in after the rioting. I’ve seen many tweets comparing rioters to bankers or even to MPs, citing lack of discipline in schools or lack of community schemes as the problem.

There’s also been commentary about how this ‘underclass’ don’t want to help themselves – that the benefit culture expect everything to be handed to them.   At the end of the day, it’s pretty easy to sit around and complain and suggest that the problem is someone else’s to sort out. But this attitude is not limited to the rioters. The general population are just as happy to see it as someone else’s problem. It’s easy to blame schools, to blame lack of community effort or even MPs for being corrupt. 

I just wonder how many people who criticise the discipline in schools or teachers for not instilling a sense of respect into these kids have bothered to look into helping out at their local school. Most schools have vacancies for Governors. A role which puts your right at the heart of the school, making strategic decisions on behaviour policies and discipline. You don’t even have to be a parent – in fact it’s often easier to make subjective decisions if you are not.If you don’t want to make that sort of sacrifice, schools often want help reading with kids or getting involved in the fundraising for the school. 

I wonder how many people who still bleat on about MPs being corrupt and the expenses crisis actually bothered to vote. Each one of us had a chance to look at the person representing us and decide where to place our cross. How many peopel actually bothered to get out there, pound the streets and campaign. We all had a chance to remove anyone from parliament that we wanted but few got involved. In the end, it was easier to leave it to others and complain. 

I wonder how many people who say we need more youth projects, more funding for initiatives in the community have ever volunteered at one. How many have  even regularly put their hands in the pockets to help local initiatives. At the end of the day, its much easier to shoot from the sidelines

One of the most positive things that the past few days has been the clean up campaigns which have shown  that people are actually keen to support their community. Maybe that is the launchpad for others to get involved. Rather than blaming others and saying what’s wrong with the country, go out and change it for yourself. 

Twitter’s Rumour Mill

I’m often asked by friends “What is Twitter and what do you use it for?” For me, Twitter is like a gigantic newsfeed where I can tailor the news I receive to focus on the events that directly impact or interest me. It’s different from picking up a paper or watching the bbc news as the feeds are more subjective and depending on how carefully the lists of followers is built, it can reflect views from all ends of the political spectrum. 

So, with that in mind, I was interested to note what happened on the nights of the riots. On Tuesday evening Twitter was certainly a great medium for picking up peoples thoughts on the riots and for understanding the latest outbreaks of violence. However, very quickly  Twitter rumours started to surface. The ease of retweeting meant that the speed of dissemination was amazing and before long reports of trouble across the Milton Keynes areas was being reported. Over a very short period of time, a sense of unease and even panic was coming out from Twitter around Milton Keynes. 
At that point (and mainly due to certain journalists who were keen not to scaremonger) some sort of social order set in and tweeters seemed to passively accept it. In the Milton Keynes case, the local paper (The Citizen) became the focal point for people to report their own sightings in and then for them to consolidate them and provide one source of truth. Through this method, rumours were very quickly squashed and the growing panic died away. 
So… what we ended up with on Twitter was the news coming from one source…an excellent service on the night but almost the complete opposite of my definition of why I use Twitter.

Teaching Parenthood

It was with mixed feelings last week that I heard reports of a government initiative to give parenting the  the fruit and vegetable five a day overhaul. Should my tax money be going to fund high level pointers into how to bring up my children? Should governments even be getting involved to this level of detail in peoples everyday lives? Who are they to be tell us how to bring up our children?

The problem is that on reflection they probably have a point. Bringing up children is bloody hard work. Like playing golf, being the best always seems a few steps away. Constantly beating yourself up, are we being too hard on them, too soft, playing with them too much or too little, too pushy or too laid back? So actually any guidance is probably useful. Five quick steps to double check that you have done your best for your kids that day are not going to hurt anyone, even if they may not necessarily add anything. The issue I still had is whether the funding that went into developing this is the best use of tax layers money.

And then one looks at the events of this week, those involved in the riots and the looting are often incredibly young. The first question that comes into mind is where are the parents? What parent would not know where their offspring was at 9,10 or 11 at night. And then one lands at  the root of the problem, this social group that has been created with little parental guidance. The group with no parental role models, no parental respect and therefore little respect for authority, rules or the community. The benefits culture creates a reliance on others, a culture of dependance where it is easy to see everything as someone elses fault.

Solutions will focus on those bits that are more easily controlled. Pumping money into youth projects to create community identification, creating extra jobs and opportunities for a group of people who are from environments where no one in their family has worked. Blaming teachers for not teaching social responsibility. And yet they miss the underlying issue. Ultimately everyone’s child is a reflection of their parent. Some children go off the rails as they grow up but core values are taught within the family circle.

Of course getting those 5 steps to successful parenthood from those who are constantly looking for better ways to improve their children’s upbringing to those who have no idea where their children are at 11pm is more difficult. Launching it on radio four as they did last week just may not do the trick…

The Positive Side Of Rioting

It’s all too easy to focus on the hugely negative aspects of the violent behaviour this week and indeed at times words are difficult to find to summarise events. Attempting to explain to my 8 year old son what was happening brought home how pointless and without reason the actions were. Clearly, politics, economics, poverty or the shooting by the police of a man carrying a loaded pistol had little to do with the motives of the majority.

Bringing Out The Community Spirit
(Image © Burma Democratic Concern)

As one tweeter put it last night ‘only in the UK could people wearing £100 trainers and organising violence on their £300 smart phones claim poverty’.

And yet times like these bring real heroism to light. Jozsef Toth who walked in front of a group of riot police asking the rioters to cease their hostilities in order that an injured, elderly woman could be rescued, a group of Sikh’s banding together and protecting their community, Millwall fans out in force safeguarding the local community, staff in a restaurant using rolling pins to  protect innocent customers from rioters and worshipers in a mosque defending that building and then the wider community from the onslaught. And of course the twitter account set up to clean up our capital, which led to 100s of residents coming out together to protest in a different way.

One of the most touching stories of all was that of the 80 year old owner of the burnt down furniture business who, after seeing his family business burnt to the ground was still keen to get the delivery van in and get orders out to customers. Still desperate to do an honest day’s work even after what he had been through The irony of that, that many of the rioters and looters have never bothered to do a days work, sums it all up for me. For them, violence, looting and complaint about people not doing enough to help them presents a much easier way out.

For me, it’s people like this that deserve the gongs in the honours lists. People who are focussed on protecting their community, safeguarding other individuals and continuing to work hard in the light of extreme adversity. These are the people that make Britain strong.

Season Tickets – Value for Money?

The study published yesterday into the price of watching football (and associated ‘Pie’ Charts) got me thinking about whether a season ticket is actually good value at the Dons. I’ve thought about it a few times over the past season as friends were able to snap up cheap tickets for lower category games. I think there are two main reasons for buying a season ticket: To ensure your seat for all games and to reduce costs.
MKDons is one of the few clubs I’ve supported where there is a real option as to whether to buy a season ticket. (For my definition of supported see ‘I’m not a real football fan’) We have a fantastic ground built to accommodate the increasing support as we move up the leagues. That means though that at present there is plenty of space. In most grounds, even if not full, there is restricted space around the best areas of the ground – the ones where you want to buy your season ticket. At Stadium MK, there is loads of space and therefore one of the main reasons for buying a season ticket disappears. You can be sure of getting a ticket in your preferred area of the ground for pretty much any game. 
With regard to the second point, I was interested to see what the financial benefit was of purchasing up front. I will assume a model with all home games included (as it’s my own fault if I miss games due to holiday etc. My season ticket cost me (admittedly I bought it late!) £668 which breaks down as £440 for me and £228 for an under 18 in East Premium. I’ve taken Grade A & B prices at non member prices. 
Over the first nine games (as these are the only fixtures with pricing categories are assigned), the saving is already £87.  Pro Rata that for a season and you get a saving of £223 over the year by having a season ticket.
Now wouldn’t that have been a great stat for the club to put out to secure that last push for the 5000 season tickets? If they had wanted to of course…

What Price an Away Shirt?

As MK Dons confirm that their season ticket promotion topped out at around 4800, it strikes me as a great result for the club but a poor one for their customers. For those not close to the Dons, the club announced with a great fanfare that if they sold 5000 season tickets before 5pm on 1st August, they would reward each purchaser with a free away shirt. 

Now, I’m sure that the figure of 5000 was always an ambitious one – it makes sense with a promotion like this to set a stretching target. What seemed odd to me was the lack of information coming out of the club as the figure got closer and closer. As was well documented on Twitter over the past couple of weeks, it has become very difficult to get firm numbers out of the club. If MKDons were keen to hit the promotional target one would expect regular updates over the past couple of weeks to encourage a late push for tickets. Yet is was down to a small group of fans in the Twitter community to try and create that last push.
Once the club reached the 4750 / 4800 figure (which one would imagine would be their internal target) the promotion aim seems to have changed. It was massively in their interests not to hit the 5000 ticket figure at which point they have an exposure of 5000 shirts which even at cost price probably equated to about £100k. (roughly 50% of RRP). Indeed the announcement that came out yesterday that season ticket holders would be eligible to buy an away shirt at half price plays even more into their court. Like most half price marketing promotions, this will encourage the increased sale of away shirts (which they probably wouldn’t have previously sold). Even at half price, the club are likely to be making a small profit from each sale or are at least increasing footfall into the club shop. 
Of course there is the view that good news financially for the club is good news for the supporters. Increased season ticket sales & £100k saved on free shirts might be £100k to spend on the salary of a loaned player. Extra away shirt revenue from the half price promotion together with increased sponsor exposure from additional away short sales also boosts the coffers. I can’t help thinking though that this has been acheived at the expense of the supporters through a promotion which had very little chance of ever delivering. 
Maybe I’m just being cynical. It would be interesting to know what the season ticket total was last season to understand how high the bar was originally set and to understand why it was so difficult to get any information from the club as the target got ever closer.