Thursday, 28 April 2011

Cup Final Countdown: 16 Days To Go

Tomorrow is the 41st anniversary of the 1970 FA Cup Final Replay between Chelsea and Leeds United at Old Trafford.

It's gone down in football folklore as one of the most brutal finals in history - Don Revie's hard-as-nails Leeds trying to give a collective wedgie to Dave Sexton's King's Road vajazzlers.

The Wembley final was moved to April 11 to allow World Cup-holding England to do some altitude training ahead of the doomed Mexico campaign. It finished 2-2.

In the black & white replay, Mick Jones put Leeds in front before a sensational flying header from Peter Osgood's sideburns made it 1-1. Dave Webb went on to win it for Chelsea in extra time.

BBC TV News wordsmith Geoff Byrne was there in full colour. This is his moving 40-second story of loose change and a loose 1970s attitude to school attendance.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Cup Final Countdown: 17 Days To Go

Wembley today from the window of a first floor office in Isleworth.

You can just about make out the stadium arch in the gap between the grey panels on the new building being erected by the West London Waste Authority.

But time is running out. Once those panels go in this picturesque view will be lost forever.

The site is actually a trash transfer station: every night a train moves 800 tonnes of rubbish from the bins of Hounslow, Richmond and Ealing to a tip in Sutton Courtenay in Oxfordshire. The dump is nearly full and they're looking for another one.

And the plastic tube at the front of the photo is a market gardening area for the good folk of Sky TV to tend their tomatoes in their lunch hour.


UPDATE: It turns out the new structure is a Combined Cooling and Heating Plant. It will make the new Sky Sports building, called Harlequin 1, "one of the most environmentally sustainable media production facilities in Europe". The plant will supply approximately 40% of the building's energy. It's powered by burning recycled wood, such as pallets, or wood diverted from landfill. 

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Cup Final Countdown: 18 Days To Go

Useful directions for any City fans in the Gunnersbury Park area on May 14: turn left.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Flying Kites in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Country

Brilliant in Turville and Skirmett today.

Cobstone Windmill in Ibstone, overlooking the Buckinghamshire villages, was the setting for the 1968 kids' musical starrring Dick Van Dyke.

But it's the Red Kites that are the star attraction now. Dozens of them soar and dive over the valley looking for carrion - a spectacular sight on a bright, warm and sunny day.

We saw two Swallows - this one perched on a wire over the Bull and Butcher pub and another flying up the side of the valley. More to follow in the weeks ahead.

Cup Final Countdown: 19 Days To Go

Photo: D O'Driscoll
Wembley today from Western Avenue at Gypsy Corner.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Bluebell Woods: West London Getting Warmer

April 24, 2011
It was the open day at Perivale Wood today.

Since the 1970s, the Selborne Society has opened the private gates of the ancient deciduous woodland near Ealing for all-comers to enjoy the thousands of magnificent bluebells on the first weekend in May.

But last year they had to give in to the changing climate and move it a week earlier to the last weekend in April - the flowers were coming out and peaking earlier.

Even today it was clear the bluebells were wilting. Indeed, the wardens said this year they were at their beautiful best as early as April 12 - around four weeks earlier than 40 years ago. There is already talk of moving the open day to a week earlier next year.

It's certainly been an exceptionally warm and dry April this year which has undoubtedly been a factor in  the earlier blooming. But even in the last decade the difference is obvious.

April 26, 2003
The photo of Grace above was taken in the wood on April 26, 2003 - almost exactly eight years ago. The bluebells are clearly fresher and stronger than they were today.

And there's no doubt that the collated data since 1970 in this part of west London points to a trend of warmer springs and earlier bluebell carpets.

The conclusion seems obvious: evidence is growing that global warming is making a steady but significant difference to the flora and fauna of Perivale Wood.

Cup Final Countdown: 20 Days To Go

Wembley today from Horsenden Hill.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The WWE Live Wrestling Experience

Rey Mysterio launches a signature rope leap
* My first visit to the 02 Arena since it stopped being called the Millennium Dome - a fabulous venue for this sort of event but so huge I'm not convinced I'd want to watch a gig there.

* Price list: pint of Stella or Becks - £4.50; foot-long hot dog - £4.15; small portion of chips - £3.40.

* The US wrestling view of Britain was summed up by three icons on the set: a London bus, a black cab and a red telephone box.

* The lighting and backdrops were spectacular.

* I'm sure we sat in the same row as Ruth Gledhill, the religious affairs correspondent at The Times - she spent most of the evening walking in and out of the row and treading on toes and the rest of it on her iPad but to be fair she probably had a deadline for one of her excellent reads.

* The wrestling action was very stop-start: it felt like it needed editing together, which it will be when it's shown on TV but that's no consolation for the paying punter.

* Pro-wrestling works better with commentary.
Big Show about to get hit big
* The wrestler called Big Show is a latter day Big Daddy - memorable looks but not enough action.

* Too many of the bouts were grapple fests with not enough spectacular aerial action.

* Rey Mysterio was the best on the night.

* The 02 Arena is very difficult to get away from when a power failure shuts down the Jubilee Line: it meant a Thames boat, the DLR, the Central Line and a 12.30am arrival home.

* Me, Joe and Mark agree: you only need to see live WWE a maximum of once.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Leaving Wembley With Vince: The Video

Wembley Bullet Points

* I've never been up so many escalators inside a football ground before. Made it feel like a shopping centre.

* The view from the upper tier, level with the goal line and with the arch in view opposite, was fabulous, although the steep terracing meant it wasn't for the faint-hearted.

* A pint of Tetley Bitter cost £4.20.

* The chatty man sat/stood next to me was the flag carrier for the Chorlton Blues.

* City didn't turn up for the first half hour and we all thought we were going to get hammered.

* The Berbatov misses after 15 minutes were a good omen.

* Balotelli's shot from 30 yards changed the game even though Van der Sar saved it.

* The Poznan looked amazing when done by thousands of sky blue shirts behind the goal.

* Toure's goal was sensational.

* Scholes' sending off was a magnificent example of karma - he spent the week taunting City in the papers and scored the injury-time winner for United at Eastlands last season.

* Time really can stand still when the fourth official raises that stoppage-time board.

* The Wembley PA helped the celebrations at the end by playing great City songs - Blue Moon, Doves, Oasis.

* City players doing the Poznan with their back to the fans at the end was a nice touch.

* Getting out and on the tube at Wembley Central was a doddle. Hardly saw a United fan but they made a sharp exit at the final whistle.

* The Taste Of Lahore on Wembley High Street does an excellent chicken karahi for £6.50.

* There are no decent pubs or takeaways at Willesden Junction.

* ITV should have done a late-night highlights show but then what do you expect from that mob.

* City are in the FA Cup Final.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Semi-Final Tickets 30 Years Apart

My Wembley ticket today is 20 times more expensive than City's last FA Cup semi at Villa Park 30 years ago. Mancini's team probably cost a 100 times more than John Bond's...

Friday, 15 April 2011

Ich Bin Ein Wembley Berliner

Tomorrow's massive FA Cup showdown with United will be my first Wembley semi-final since England v Germany at Euro 96.

Fifteen years ago I was a reporter at BBC Radio 5 Live. The England tickets had sold out instantly and were going for a fortune on the black market. But I found out the day before the match that there were still some available in the Germany end.

The problem was, you needed a German passport to buy them at the Wembley box office.

So I called the World Service radio boys and asked them if any Germans fancied coming along with me and buying two tickets - one for them and one for me. Sure enough, one of them did.

Job done and ticket price claimed back on expenses.

It made a decent report on the Peter Allen and Jane Garvey breakfast show - the glamorous TV news boys even phoned up and asked me to do a version for them, which helped me get a stint on the Six O'Clock News.

I remember more about the experience of being with the German fans than the match itself. My new pal from the World Service translated their most colourful chants, which consisted of putting index fingers to each side of their heads in a devil-horn style and taunting the English about having mad cow disease.

I also remember the explosive moment when that Kuntz equalised. The German turned to me and shouted cruelly but accurately: "Dat's Football!"

Aside from not being with the English knuckleheads, there were two other bonuses about being with the Germans: the famous Gazza golden goal miss in extra time was at our end (one less pint and we'd have won it), and the penalty shoot-out was, too - even though the goal was still about half a mile away in the horrible old Wembley.

So that was odd: England lost but I was an honorary German for the day and everyone was delighted.

Tomorrow I'll be with 30,000 other City fans at the new Wembley. Only one result will make us happy, no matter where we're sat.

Man in City shirt lifts FA Cup

Me and Joe at TV Centre in 2002: Is this the closest a City shirt has been to the Cup since that final in 1981? Could all change if we beat United tomorrow...

Monday, 11 April 2011

Terns Return: World Still Working

The Sandwich Terns are back in Norfolk.

A lot's happened since they bailed out to Africa for the winter: major earthquakes, tsunamis, a nuclear catastrophe and City reaching an FA Cup semi-final.

But to paraphrase Ted Hughes on Swifts, if the terns have made it back again, the globe's still working.

The birds were making life a lot noisier for the mostly grey seals on Blakeney Point during our boat trip on Saturday morning. More pictures here.

The first returning Swallows of the year were also brightening up street wires in Salthouse and Gunthorpe.

And we got some great views of Marsh Harriers: at Gunthorpe (a first), Cley and this one at Lakenheath RSPB reserve on the way home.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Mancini's City: Shot-Shy, Tough-Tackling, Deadly


Very interesting stats on Sky Sports News confirm what's obvious to most of us: we don't shoot very often compared to the rest of the top four but when we do they tend to be on target and go in.

The research was prompted by a Spurs fan after it was pointed out that City have scored nine more Premier League goals than Tottenham despite Harry's reputation for all-out attacking flair.

Away, we've got the fewest shots but the highest percentage of goals to shots. At home, we're second only to United in the goals/shots ratio.

Both stats confirm what we already knew: our strikers, and Tevez in particular, are ruthless in front of goal.

It's also striking that Chelsea have had more than twice as many shots as City away from home but more of City's have been on target.

What is surprising is the high amount of tackles we put in: testament to the tirelessness of De Jong, Barry and the rest.

Let's hope Mancini keeps them off the leash against Liverpool on Monday. They were a treat to watch against Sunderland at home last weekend.


Monday, 4 April 2011

London Garden Blight: Parakeets v Trampolines

There were seven Rose-ringed Parakeets in my Shepherd's Bush back garden when I opened the curtains at 6.30am today.

Three were fighting for space on one of the two sunflower-seed feeders. The others were perched in the still-leafless fig tree that overlooks them.

At this time of year we usually see them before we hear them: sunrise is around 6.35am and it's still chilly enough to have the windows closed all night.

But give it a month and their unmistakeable, ear-piercing kyik! kyik! squawking will be waking up everyone with a half-open bedroom window by first light at 5.30 in the morning.

It's around then that I stop filling up the bird feeders. I actually quite like the noise myself - it's part of the west London soundscape and I'd much rather be woken early by a Himalayan parrot than Farming Today on Radio Four.

But the elderly next-door-neighbour isn't as keen. He's too neighbourly to make an issue of it but the tinfoil things he hangs from the branches of his fig tree and the way he shoos-off the birds whenever he sees them are a bit of a giveaway.

He's not the only one who'd rather they weren't there. Fifteen months ago Natural England made it legal to shoot parakeets and destroy their nests and eggs without a licence if the landowner has a good reason, such as crop or habitat destruction.

That was in response to the huge surge in the population in London and the Home Counties - there are nearly 5,000 breeding pairs these days and each bird can live up to 18 years. Not a bad effort by the few pioneering film-set escapees of 60 years ago.

Supporters of the permission-to-cull legislation say the incomers are also a threat to our native garden birds, especially House Sparrows which have all but vanished from parts of north and east London.

But in my bit of W12, we've got a thriving population of chattering sparrows in the inaccessible Dog Rose bushes at the back of the garden and they regularly scrap with their more glamorous rivals for a perch on the feeders.

Great Spotted Woodpeckers are also said to be under threat because the parakeets use the same sort of tree holes they favour for their nests.

But in the last three years, woodpeckers have been regular visitors to the hanging peanut feeder on the other side of our garden. They come more often, not less.

All anecdotal, of course, but I'm very fond of the parakeets. Visitors are amazed the first time they see them in the garden and they certainly liven up summer evenings when squawking, fast-flying flocks of 30 or more sweep over the rooftops before settling down to roost at Wormwood Scrubs.

And given the choice between their noisiness and the sound of excited toddlers bouncing on and falling off trampolines all weekend - boing, boing, waahh! -  it's a no-brainer.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

My First Chiffchaff Photo

A Chiffchaff today
Regular readers will remember that I had to use a picture of a Dunnock to go with my annual Chiffchaff sighting stats in a previous post.

Never again.

Because today I snapped an actual Chiffchaff on Horsenden Hill near Perivale.

Other images of the day included a Slow Worm covered in ants, a Green Woodpecker and two of the Terrapins which live in the Grand Union Canal.