A 2nd Brexit Vote is indeed The Only Democratic Option. But….

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It seems to me that it would be totally unreasonable – and, in fact, totally undemocratic for there not to be a 2nd ballot. There can surely be no disagreement that though the 1st Brexit referendum called for a vote to leave the EU in principle, it did not validate an exit under any terms.

Since June 2016 it has become crystal clear, putting aside the issue of government competence (surely that should be ‘incompetence’ – Ed), that the matter of negotiating an actual disengagement is a Gordian Knot of incalculable proportions. Indeed, in a previous blog piece (see: here) I expressed the sentiment that the whole process seems now to have been a 21st-century version of national St. Vitus’s Dance. Many commentators, including Robert Peston in his excellent book WTF, have analyzed the vote for Brexit as a ‘Perfect Storm’ of issues that reflect the underlying socio-economic conditions of the UK in the early 21st century rather than a majority vote of a specific nature. To which must be added the inconvenient truth that the unwritten UK constitution became a democratically flawed instrument once Maggie Thatcher trampled all over it.

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In the 1960’s, at the birth of my political consciousness, I became attracted me to the Young Liberals who espoused a middle-ground, social democratic, political position that I have held through to this day via my support of The Liberals, the SDP and the Liberal Democrats. Since the 2016 Election, I have bemoaned the fact that I no longer have a party to vote for. My ears thus pricked up earlier this week listening to an interview, on Radio 4’s morning news programme, with Philip Collins who was arguing for the vital need for a new social-democratic party to develop in the UK. As a result, I started to read his book, Start Again: How We Can Fix Our Broken Politics, which was published on Thursday. In the opening chapter, he observes that:

  • “the Conservative party has dragged the nation into its own private feud,
  • the Labour party has fallen victim to a juvenile anti-capitalism
  • while the brand of the Liberal Democrats is fatally tarnished”

leading to a fundamental break in the ‘unconscious contract’ (i.e. The Unwritten Constitution) between the political classes and the public it serves. He goes on to argue that, given the current social bankruptcy of our main political parties, this rift will lead to even more undesired consequences unless a new party evolves that provides answers to the following 10 issues of our times:

  1. How does Britain make a living?
  2. How do we reduce inequalities of income & wealth?
  3. How do we provide a home for all?
  4. How do we make technology work for us?
  5. How can we improve life chances?
  6. How do we ensure justice between the generations?
  7. How do we restore faith in politics?
  8. Where should power lie?
  9. How do we create an Open Society?
  10. What is Britain’s place in the world?

Tick, tick, ten times over. I agree wholeheartedly with Philip Collins’s view that the two current main political parties can, and will, not address these issues and that the evolution of an impactful party that does so is sorely required. However, I am the strongest believer that the strength of a country’s social & democratic values is reflected in the institutions that serve it. That is exactly why the centre-piece of my national political credo has always been electoral reform and why the Liberal Democrats weak-wristed pursuit of change via the 2011 Alternative Vote Referendum broke my political heart. A strong social democratic political party is certainly what the UK needs to lead the country forward, but true long-term change can only come via electoral reform that ushers in a constitution that enables positive voting and provides legal & political checks-and-balances.

If Collin’s analysis and conclusions are to bear fruit, it will require politicians with the courage to abandon short-term vote-getting in favour of longer-term interests. This will require a change of direction of individual voter attention away from self-interest towards the needs of the nation as a whole – in other words, that society that Margaret Thatcher claimed no longer to exist. There is a solid truth in the ironic notion that a country gets the government it deserves. Which brings us back to the notion of a 2nd Brexit referendum. If this ever takes place and the result is seen by the victors as a vilification that they were right, and that those that didn’t originally vote like them were wrong, it will achieve nothing of any long-term consequence. Our politicians have not served us well, of late, but we haven’t helped ourselves either. We need to learn, and quickly, the import of JFK’s most famous imploration:

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What One Says and To Whom One Says It

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My valued UK reader will be very aware of the row that has been rumbling on, over the past few months, around Anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. Ever since Jeremy Corbyn’s ascendancy to the leadership, his long history of cavorting with extremists has brought the matter into question. Further fuelled via asinine proclamations on the matter of Zionism by some of Labour’s local & national lights, the matter has morphed into a dispute over the definition of Anti-Semitism. Since I started writing this, Labour’s NEC has finally agreed to adopt the IHRA definition of Anti-Semitism but this really is a politically-expedient papering over of the cracks and really doesn’t change much.

Over the past year, I have been attending a Sunday morning Adult Discussion Group, led by our Rabbi, on the history of Zionism. More-often-than-not these mornings have involved heated debates on not only the matter of Labour’s alleged Anti-Semitism but also not-unrelated events. In the week of Israel’s heavy-handed response to border incursions from Gaza, my critical concerns were clearly a minority opinion with most justifying the actions on a number of fronts. I have been on the ‘thin-edge’ of many debates on Israel over the years and invariably my opinions will receive a response to the effect that: “Aren’t there enough opponents to Israel without Jews joining their numbers?” My counter is, and always has been, that criticism of events is not opposition to the whole. In fact, I believe that it is of vital importance that Jews should and must voice any objections on the basis that any government that can rely on unrestrained endorsement is inherently dangerous. When I voiced this opinion, our Rabbi, whose knowledge and gestalt I admire greatly, counselled me to take care of where I expressed my opinions else they be misused. I understand his point but feel his ‘not-beyond-these-walls’ imprimatur is misguided, as it is an argument based on expediency & inconvenience at the expense of personally held beliefs.

 

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Interestingly the group is undivided in its criticism on two official Israel events: the early morning arrest of a rabbi who officiated over a mixed-faith marriage and the Israeli government’s amendment of the country’s nationality laws. Recently, I was copied in on this Discussion Group email:

All of us share the frustration and sadness about the emerging socio-religious-political direction of Israel – the homeland which inherently we regard as the base and focus of our identity. I spent two-thirds of my life in Israel, and am still in close contact with it.   After and despite the War of Independence, I witnessed positive collaboration between Jews, Arabs and Druze but I am struck by the changes of recent times – a combination of self-centered vision, religious extremism, and sheer stupidity – now embedded in “The Nation’s Law” (Hok Haleom) which recognises only Jews as legitimate citizens of the country and offers minimal concessions to people of other denominations; many of whom have their roots in parts of the country well before the Balfour declaration … Remember how we, Jews,  felt some decades ago when countries abroad treated Jews as under-dogs restricted to Ghetto communities?  Now think for a moment about the non-Jews in Israel losing their full rights … And there is more to it: Israel’s ‘Hok Haleom’ (“the nation’s Law”) endows all Jews with full rights on land, property, elections and more, even if they are not full-time residents in Israel; but such rights are not offered to non-Jews, including veteran local tribes living in Israel.  They will receive a ‘second grade’ set of rights….. 

Sadly this email, excepting my breach of the ‘Keep It In The Family’ protocol, is unlikely to receive an audience beyond our Discussion Group. It’s not that such opinion will not find its way into the national arena, but rather the question as to who will say what, and to whom.  Should the writer of the above email constrain herself from airing her opinions to a wider public for fear of their opinions being misused? And what if Jeremy Corbyn himself were to give a speech to the effect that Israel is an Apartheid state? These are difficult questions, and context is clearly important, but Freedom Of Speech surely has to be upheld as a pillar of any democratic society.

Putting this tricky issue aside, it seems to me that fair comment needs to pass both of the following two tests:

  1. be non-offensive to a community audience
  2. and extendable to parallel scenarios

These tests are not 100% perfect and my choice of ‘community’ as a yardstick is possibly controversial in that it acknowledges, for better or worse, that the world is currently organised into national societies. However, I have chosen the word ‘community’ carefully in that it allows for certain exceptional issues – woman’s rights, slavery etc – to be deemed as matters for the global community. Whether Boris Johnson’s recent remarks*, on the wearing of the burka, fall into this category is debatable. I would suggest that opinion that the Burka be banned, on that basis that all citizens be identifiable in public places in the UK, is reasonably a national matter and fair comment under Test 1. However his ‘jokes’, about burka-wearers looking like bank-robbers or post boxes, clearly fail Test 2; as no sector of our community deserves to have ‘fun’ poked of them on this basis. Similarly, criticisms of Israel that are held exclusively of that country, while excusing/ignoring/legitimising similar actions elsewhere, are indeed evidence of prejudice as they clearly fail Test 2.

It’s not easy in these times of polarised opinions. The error of our ways is, I believe, the elevation self-entitlement to the exclusion of community values. Society, and in certain cases the world itself, needs to be a participant of equal right in our discussions. Not every matter can be treated as non-negotiable, there has to be common cause. Lose sight of this and our world becomes a Tower of Babel, which will destroy itself via oceans of speech and deserts of communication.

* My non-UK reader, and others, may be interested in this article here

BREXIT: It’s not too late to stop this MADNESS!

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Almost 50 years ago, I well remember seeing the Ken Russell film, The Witches (1971), in which group madness takes over the inhabitants of a town resulting in the burning on the stake of the central character of the film – a priest, played by Oliver Reed. The film was based on a 1952 book, The Devils Of Loudun, written by Aldous Huxley and based around a real event that took place in 17th century France. Huxley, no stranger to the idea of dystopia, clearly saw those real events as a significant historic counterpoint to Brave New World, his futuristic novel of foreboding.

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The phenomenon of societal madness is a well-documented one. In most cases, the madness is induced by the elevated presence of individuals or groups, who orchestrate events for their own purposes. In tribal groupings, the orchestrators are now often labelled as Witch Doctors, very often whipping up proceedings at the behest of their Tribal Elders. Such events are not restricted to primitive tribes. In the Middle Ages, they took place not only in Loudon but in other centres – so much so that participants were thought to have become afflicted by a medical condition:

Dancing Mania, (also known as Dancing PlagueChoreomaniaSt. John’s Dance and St. Vitus’s Dance), was a social phenomenon that occurred primarily in mainland Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries. It involved groups of people dancing erratically, sometimes thousands at a time. The mania affected men, women, and children who danced until they collapsed from exhaustion. One of the first major outbreaks was in Aachen in 1374, and it quickly spread throughout Europe; one particularly notable outbreak occurred in Strasbourg in 1518. The phenomenon was poorly understood, and remedies were based on guesswork. Generally, musicians accompanied dancers, to help ward off the mania, but this tactic sometimes backfired by encouraging more to join in. There is no consensus among modern-day scholars as to the cause of dancing mania. Theories proposed range from religious cults being behind the processions to people dancing to relieve themselves of stress and put the poverty of the period out of their minds. It is speculated to have been a mass hysteria, in which physical symptoms with no known physical cause are observed to affect a group of people, as a form of social influence. [WIKIPEDIA]

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It seems to me that history may look back at The Brexit Referendum, and its aftermath, in not dissimilar terms – a 21st century manifestation of social madness. It is certainly true – or at least, I trust it to be true – that the intentions of the Tribal Leader in question, David Cameron, were quite the opposite; to still once-and-for-all a madness that confronted his Party. But madness it was nonetheless:

  • madness of leadership to even offer such a major status quo change on the basis of a simple majority
  • madness to pose a bipolar question on a multi-faceted issue
  • madness to invoke Article 50, and put the UK in a 2-year straight-jacket, without parliament agreeing on what sort of Brexit we want.
  • madness of us to participate in the whole process

It is this last point that worries me greatly. I did participate wholeheartedly in The Referendum buying into the proposition that the European project is misguided. Following the election of an isolationist Post-Truth American President, I have changed my mind; but that is beside the point. What vexes me, as an honours graduate with a degree in politics, is that I joined in so enthusiastically in The Brexit Dance; completely impervious the complexities, difficulties and inevitable resulting mayhem. If I, as an ‘educated & informed’ individual, danced along then what chance did the proverbial ‘Man on the Clapham Omnibus’ have of reasonably sitting the dance out. You may say that wholesale abstention would not have changed anything but the legitimacy of the process would certainly have been undermined.

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Last week, I attended a 3-day Summer School at The London School Of Philosophy. One of the papers presented was on the subject of Stupidity. After offering up several options, the reader of the paper eventually proposed that STUPIDITY is when you propose a concept when you ‘know’ all the reasonable objections to it to be true. One of the examples he gave was to continue to smoke when one ‘knows’ that smoking leads to premature illness or death. Is this not what we are doing in continuing with The Brexit Dance?

There are so many reasons why we should NOW be calling a halt to the dance. These seem to me the four principal ones:

  • we can’t decide what we want
  • everything the current world is telling us is that the UK needs to be party to major European political decisions
  • we have run out of time to reach a mutually acceptable agreement
  • Brexit is tearing us apart as a society

If the above doesn’t convince you, let me offer you one other thought to chew over. The majority for Brexit in June 2016 was approximately 1.25 million. According to the Office For National Statistics, some 600,000 persons die each in the UK. So by end-March 2019, given the 72% turnout, approximately 1.2 million, of those who voted, will no longer be with us. It is not entirely unreasonable to project that at least 1 million of these would be elder folk, the generation that overwhelmingly voted for Brexit. Factor in that by 2019 those aged 16-18 in 2016 would now be able to vote, then it is not at all unlikely that we could be leaving the EU based on a minority, not majority, decision!

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It is not my intention to suggest that voting, either way, was wrong or right. Rather, that it surely must be obvious to all that the conditions, internal or external, are not conducive to the taking of such a radical national change of direction. This view is further supported by shifts, afoot within the EU, on many of the very issues that so exercised the opinions of Brexit voters. And yet here we are – Soft Brexit, Hard Brexit or No Deal Brexit –  on the brink of heading up a cul-de-sac, trapped by a questionable result carried by a small majority. History is full of examples – World War 1 comes readily to mind – when nations carry out actions based on values that are not fitting to the true situation at hand. Surely there must be some way that the UK can yet escape from the trap of this ill-conceived decision and come to its senses?

2018 WORLD CUP: The Ericle’s Round-By-Round Review

FINAL

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VIVE LA FRANCE!

FRANCE was the best team at the 2018 World Cup Finals and is the worthy winner. Bravo !

Russia’s World Cup was a sumptuous footballing feast – a global tournament that more than did justice to the sport. In footballing terms it will likely be remembered for the following:

  • The first use of Video Replay (VAR) at a major tournament. VAR was a success. There is room for improvement but surely decisions made from a collective and considered viewpoint are to be welcomed over those made by an individual in an instant
  • VAR also had an impact on the way football was being played and has the potential for being a ‘force for good’ in the game
  • There were a record number of penalties (22), almost certainly as a reult of the VAR system
  • There were only 4 Red Cards and only one ‘Straight Red’. To a man, referees have been most restrained in their deployment of cards and the game has been better for it
  • There have been an above average number of exciting games; 9 winning goals in the 90th minute or later
  • 73 0f the 169 goals (43%) scored have been from ‘set pieces’

This last point highlights, what is for me, the most salient aspect of this tournament – that organisation and pragmatism proved themselves to be the winning characteristics of successful teams. Possession football, as pioneered by the great Spain teams, has been countered by break-away football were teams win on the counter and, more-often-than-not, have the minority of the possession. To which now has been added an emphasis on success from dead-ball situations.

Despite my plaudits for the French side, I can’t help feeling a trifle short-changed by seeing a team of such talented individuals playing so deep and defensively. That is not to say that the brilliance of Griezmann, Mbaape & Pogba did not shine through but it was not the total football that we have come to so enjoy from the great Brazil sides. Perhaps when you have Girou as your striker, who can offer great hold-up play but couldn’t produce a single shot on target throughout the tournament (true!), then such tactics become more understandable.

So that’s it for another 4 years. Inshallah that The Ericle will be adding its ‘2-cents worth’ to those proceedings. Hasta la Vista!

* MY BETS: I placed 60 bets during the tournament at a total cost of £161 and netted a positive return – mainly by dint of identifying France as the potential winner & England’s progress to the Semi-Finals – of £14.69. This represents a 9.7% return over 4 weeks, which is a mini-triumph of some sort! (To see all my bets click here)

SEMI-FINALS

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CROATIA deservedly progressed to the Final of the 2018 World Cup. Unlike England they grabbed the opportunity that, in terms of the tournament, was the equivalent of the Parting Of The Red Sea. The semi-final was lost in the 2nd half in general and in the midfield in particular. The English media has been creaming itself on the perceived ‘pride’ with which this team has played and the vox publicum has echoed this. I, for one, cannot fully subscribe to these sentiment. Yes, the

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team was young and the manager intelligently sanguine. However the pride that I perceived proved itself to be closer to that of the Lion in The Wizard Of Oz than that of a King Of The Jungle. We did show some fearlessness and confidence in parts but certainly not in the whole. England’s first match set the tone of its tournament: 20 minutes of self-belief at the onset and the 70 minutes of collective failure to seize an initiative from one of the tournament’s lesser teams. Neither can the Panama game be represented as evidence of any more than what it was – the crushing of a minnow. In the penalty shoot-out against Columbia we, as usual, ‘blinked first’ and were effectively saved by a post. The victory over an obturate Sweden can be presented as evidence of character, but this ignores that opposition’s virtual impotency in front of goal. No, when it comes down to it, the true lack of quality of this England team is underscored (sic!) by its apparent inability, for the most part, to score from open play. The reasons for this are crystal clear to me: the failure of Raheem Sterling & Jesse Lingard to put away chances and the absence of Harry Kane from the 1st third of the pitch for most of the games. Hodgson’s Euro 2016 tactics, when Kane took corners, were rightfully derided; playing him so deep was a crime not that far removed. Yes, the defence played well and barring the odd error – which every team does make – kept to its end of the bargain. Jordan Pickford & Kieran Trippier were outstanding. But playing ‘like lions’ …… give me a break. At 1-0, in the first half against a rocking Croatia, we should have put them to the sword and whatever Gareth Southgate said to them at half time it certainly wasn’t enough of the right stuff. England surrendered the midfield & the wings, and in not shutting down Modric we became joint-architects to our own defeat. This does not take away from the qualities of CROATIA, who are to be admired on many dimensions but, in the end, this England team did not seize the day and does not deserve the lionisation it has been receiving.

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As Ericle followers will know, I have fancied FRANCE from the off; and put my money where my mouth was, (see here).  They are team with a depth of outstanding individuals and a pragmatic team ethic. The victory over Belgium, IMHO, was no ‘near thing’. Belgium’s beating right & left midfield-ventricles, De Bruyne & Hazard, were effectively shut down and for the most part offensively they were restricted to long-range chances. FRANCE will surely win this World Cup not only because they have flair but also because, as a collective, they know what it takes to win a football match. However, in any 90 or 120 minutes, one can only have a maximum of 22 legs on one’s side and strange things can happen; but the Ericle is of the strongest opinion that the name of FRANCE is as good as on the trophy.

QUARTERFINALS

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The quarterfinals produced 4 epic encounters: 1 historic, 2 relatively formulaic and one cliff-hanger – but all exciting games for supporters, & onlookers, involved in the outcomes.

One must never underestimate the value of playing on home turf and so it proved the case with Russia. It was an expectations-exceeding World Cup for the host nation. To go out on penalties in the Quarterfinals was more than a ‘result’ an achievement that could be marked Private Eye style by the following:

So Farewell
Then Russia
Your team
Was written off
But confounded the nyet-sayers.

It was said
Your thugs
Would put in their boots
But perhaps they were holidaying
In Siberia instead

So now
You can only watch
Where others can tread
And take sycophantic plaudits
For Putin on a grand show 

E J ERICLE (Aged 17 1/2 in 1966)

It would have been somewhat of a football travesty had CROATIA not prevailed over Russia. If this had been a boxing match, the contest would have been billed as one between a pugilist and a fighter. In the end, the pugilist prevailed but only by dint of the crude, and cruel, blows that are penalties.

In truth, ENGLAND has done little more to date than come up to scratch in a competition where they have a history of falling short of the expectations that a self-entitled nation perennially set for them. But that’s been more than enough to raise the spirits & hope of a nation that ‘may have stopped believing but never stopped dreaming’. Losing the B-team match against Belgium was indeed fortuitous, as England then faced 2 national sides of approximately similar ‘pay-grades’. However, it is for what this team has not done that it being rightly feted. In other words, it has produced performances that are to be expected from a squad of talented professionals who play week-in-week-out at the highest levels of club football. CROATIA is an opponent of similar FIFA ranking who, in Modric & Rakatic, has 2 players of undoubted footballing skills & intelligence and an overall competence that more than matches England. This will be another true test of character. I am expecting a cagey nervous match, with England shading it by the odd goal in normal time.

The 1st half of the Brazil v Belgium game was the stand-out 45 minutes of the tournament, so far. BELGIUM may not be our eventual winners, but those 45 minutes encapsulate the leitmotif for the 2018 World Cup – a competition where teams prevailed on the basis of their getting the most out of the resources at their disposal rather than relying on moments of inspiration from uber-talented individuals. A more xenophobic interpretation could also be that it was the half of football where the current state of South American football was seen not to be a match for its European counterpart. South American football at Russia 2018 at times produced some wonderful moments; but though goals change matches, consistency wins tournaments.

It is a shame that Cavani could not play in the Uruguay v France game, but I don’t believe that the eventual outcome would have been different. In many ways, Uruguay is to be admired – a small nation that continually punches above its weight and, I mean this in the nicest possible way, the South American team that played with a style closest to its better European counterparts. This quarterfinal was one fought between 2 teams where pragmatism dictated the strategies; in Uruguay’s case because that’s the way they always play, in FRANCE’s case because that is the way that they chose to play. One of the fascinating dimensions of The World Cup is how national characteristics and traits – real or supposed – are perceived to come to the fore. None more so than France whose enigmatic national character is mirrored by their football to date. They have the style but do they have the substance? Will France storm the Bastille or is theirs a Maginot Line that ultimately is an illusory construction.

In Mbappe, Griezmann & Pogba France have players who can change any game in an instant. The same for Belgium with De Bruyne and Hazard. France possibly have the stronger defence, Belgium, IMHO, the best goalkeeper in the world. I’d definitely prefer to have Lukaku in my team over Giroud and also, in Martinez, Belgium has the more proven manager. I can produce all sorts of footballing reasons for either side to prevail in this game. In the end, it may come down to the framing that constitutes the competition – a tournament of teams defined by their national identities. In the end, Belgium is a country that is marched over and has given us a deep fried vegetable, a great surrealist painter and a fictional detective with a prominent moustache. Crass though it is, in the end, my money is on France to have the culture and that little bit of je ne sais quoi to prevail.

In summary: The Ericle predicts – with a considerable degree of uncertainty – a FRANCE v ENGLAND Final.

Finally, my bets (see here) have moved back into the black, by dint of laying off my wagers on France & England to win the tournament.

ROUND OF 16

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The Ericle is still recovering from ENGLAND’s dramatic win on penalties. My Colonial reader says he is in 2 minds about us. I’m not – this is a very competent team. It may not be stuffed with Galacticos but this has been a World Cup where many of its superstars are already watching the games from home. Columbia were just a smidgeon off from being this World Cup’s ‘Argentina 1966’ for us – another game we won 1-0 under very challenging circumstances. You need some luck to win a World Cup but I also chose to believe in the work ethic and spirit of this England squad. I am very confident that ENGLAND WILL BEAT SWEDEN. I watched their game v Switzerland and it’s hard to see who will score for them.

The insanity that was Argentina 2018 was underscored (sic!) by the fact that they lost to France by the odd goal in seven. Those 3 goals worry me but I still feel that FRANCE have more than enough to edge past URUGUAY in a Quarterfinal game that could be very intense and passionate.

BELGIUM were fortunate to get past Japan. Verthongen can head another 100 balls like the one that got them to 1-2 and not score a goal. However, this should not hide from the fact that the quality among the Belgians is mouth-watering. Roberto Martinez also is an outstanding manager and I have a strong feeling that they will find a way to beat BRAZIL. Brazil, everybody’s perennial darling & favourite, are again bringing an unmatched style of football to this World Cup; with players with a vision & touch born on the sands of The Copacabana. But I am not convinced that they are the real deal. Belgium’s defence looks the superior and, if they can prevail in the midfield, they could win more comfortably than most can imagine.

Never underestimate a home side but surely RUSSIA have run their race. They have one strategy: to defend with determination and physical strength and then hope for a break. CROATIA will break them, I believe.

In summary, I expect FRANCE v BELGIUM and CROATIA v ENGLAND to be our semi-finals.

An update on MY BETS can be found here. If I am going to escape with some skin on my individual match-bets, I will need to be perfect from here on in. However, given the possibility of a France v England Final, my tournament bets may yet become glorious.

ROUND THREE

Germany

Germany’s departure has sent a seismic shockwave through this World Cup, raising questions over all the Usual Suspects. Germany’s ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ approach has cloaked them with the deserved aura of serial winners – a juggernaut that delivered a whole that was far more than the sum of its parts. It seemed that Germany could always find an answer even when the quality of their playing resources suggested otherwise…until now. The great Spanish & Brazilian sides managed the same but their formula has always involved a Galactico or six. This Germany side was unlucky to go out at the first hurdle; but with the wisdom of hindsight, it was only a matter of time. This team was slow in both pace & decision-making, lacked an accomplished striker and carried an institutional arrogance that stuck with out-of-form favourites and left a potential game-winning Johnny-Come-Lately (Leroy Sane) at home.

The World Cup is a competition like no other in that genetics plays a big part. 15 of the 19 World Cups have been won by just 4 teams: Brazil (5), Germany (4), Italy (4) & Argentina (2) while of the other 4 single winners – England, France, Spain & Uruguay – 2 were won on their home turfs. Of the multi-winners still standing only BRAZIL has suggested that it could have the right stuff but it’s not been convincing to-date and in Neymar they have a narcissistic maestro who may produce … or not. In Messi, ARGENTINA has an undoubted footballing genius but there seems to be an institutional insanity in their camp – a madness that has left Aguero out of the starting line-up and has a non-manager who seems to be totally out of self-control.

So what of the four other World Cup winners still left in the competition:

FRANCE: on paper have the talent but don’t seem to have found the way to turn Greizmann into the serial goal-scorer that he is at club level. Pogba, if he can shake off the damage of playing under Mourinho, has the potential to galvanise this team but he needs to find his moxie quickly

SPAIN: undoubtedly brilliant but the managerial sacking seems to be an albatross hanging over this team. They need to accelerate through the ten stages of grief if they are to go deep into the competition.

URUGUAY: have the steel and splashes of individual brilliance but seem a notch short. Their game against Portugal could be team-defining

ENGLAND: have a chance to reach the semi-final but will need to produce at their very best to get there. The meaningless game v Belgium revealed the lack of quality in depth of the squad.

Of all the potential World Cup virgins, BELGIUM have most impressed so far and one surely has to fancy their chances. Of the rest, CROATIA seems the best of the bunch, especially if Modric can keep turning it on. Take Ronaldo out of the equation and PORTUGAL are a very ordinary side .. but you can’t, and as long as he’s on the pitch he can produce a goal out of nothing. COLOMBIA, DENMARK, MEXICO, SWEDEN & SWITZERLAND are disciplined outfits, each with touches of individual class, but World Cup history suggests they will not have enough. Finally, surely we will be saying goodbye to JAPAN & RUSSIA in the next round.

Finally, I am sad that Senegal has not made it through to the Round of 16. Their football was fast & fresh, their fans a joy and to go out on yellow cards is true schlimazel.

As for my BETS, I have managed to come out of the Group Stage in deficit to the tune of £8.33. I am glad that we have reached the either-or stages but there are some tough calls to be made. You can follow my progress here

ROUND TWO

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This World Cup is a competition that continues to give. Round 2 brought us some brilliant games; the outstanding one, for me, being Germany’s last-gasp win against Sweden.

Round 3 offers games which are in effect ‘knock-out’ ones but others which are virtually meaningless in terms of actual qualification. In the history of The World Cup, these latter games can be the ones that are the more remembered; very often for their anti-football, anti-competitive, qualities. For instance, tonight in Group A, will Uraguay – who have already qualified in 2nd place – have any intention to play party-poopers to the hosts standing in 1st position? And what about Thursday’s England v Belgium game? This could become legendary as the matter of 2nd place in the group, which offers a potential ‘easier’ path forward, rests currently on the issue of one disciplinary point if the teams draw. Conspiracy theorists through the ages may yet dine out on that one! On the positive side of the ledger, Wednesday’s Serbia v Brazil game could be legendary. Tuesday’s Nigeria v Argentina game could be similar but an improbable Iceland win over Croatia in the parallel group game, denying Argentina progress, could provide the ultimate ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ stitch-up.

But where do we now stand with regards to sniffing out the ultimate destination of the 2018 World Cup. Unlike some other competitions, which can be won by rigid teamwork alone, the World Cup has historically required the added element of a number players of world-class quality to be in the winning team. So we are looking for a side that has displayed discipline, particularly at the back, but who also have individuals that can tip the game in their favour. If ENGLAND were to win it, for which I have hopes but not expectations, they would prove to be exceptions to this rule. In fact, this is a most open World Cup, as no team with such stars has so far shown the consistency and/or teamwork to identify themselves as being even close to ‘locked-on’. GERMANY, who I fully expect to progress, undoubtedly have the teamwork but seem to be lacking quality up-front. BRAZIL have the (selfish?) individuals in abundance but play like a team who have just been introduced to each other in the changing room prior to an exhibition friendly. BELGIUM have some ‘delicious’ players but have displayed defensive frailties. SPAIN still have the look of winners but their pre-tournament managerial problem suggest a possible Real Madrid-Barcelona schism in their squad that could be their undoing. Of the teams who have maximum points so far: FRANCE seems an unbalanced team and I can’t see RUSSIA or URAGUAY as winners; whereas, in Modric, Croatia have a game-breaker and potentially a team ethic that offers promise. The same can be said for Ronaldo & PORTUGAL. In Group H, COLUMBIA showed a deal promise & quality but JAPAN or SENEGAL will not survive beyond the Round of 16. I feel the same about NIGERIA but certainly less so about MEXICO, whom I really want to do well but fear will run out of jumping beans before the denouement.  Which leads us to the enigma that is ARGENTINA, who are hanging on by a thread, and who may yet find themselves – or should that be Messi –  despite their coach, who seems like a man waiting for the guys in the white suits to take him away. Finally, as suggested above, Wednesday’s SERBIA v BRAZIL game may be the most significant one in Round 3. IMHO, SERBIA are capable of beating this BRAZIL side. If they do,  SERBIA would transistion from being a ‘dark house’ to being a real contender. On the other hand, if this is the game that BRAZIL’s star-studded group get serious about playing as a team, they would become my favourites.

So at this stage of the tournament, I am definitely not happy with my wager on France but my other bet on England promises to provide some entertainment value. (For a look at my day-to-day see here.)

ROUND ONE

Well, the first round of the Group Stage is over. What we have learnt so far:

SPAIN still look the most accomplished team at this World Cup. Any team can give up a goal to a ‘wordlie’ free kick and this World Cup will surely not see another howler from David De Gea

BRAZIL still have the most awesome players but their future in this tournament will depend more on whether they can play as a team than on the calibre of their individuals

GERMANY are far from being a spent force and I fully expect them to come through from a group that contains South Korea & Sweden

MEXICO are a wonderful team but surely they can’t produce performances like that every time they turn out?

FRANCE and BELGIUM, despite their victories, haven’t set the tournament on fire but beware of jumping to conclusions on the basis of first games

ARGENTINA are an enigma. They are much more than Messi but one does feel that if they are to be a force in this tournament it will need for The Great Little Man to find himself

ENGLAND’s self-belief is still very brittle. They deserved their victory but they can not continue to squander chances like they did against Tunisia. However, I still think that they could progress deep into the tournament.

SERBIA could be the surprise package of this World Cup

On the basis of what I’ve seen so far, any team not mentioned above, are just there to make up the numbers

As for MY BETS, I have to be happy to be over £7 up given the presence in group games of the 3rd option – the draw. To follow my bets click here

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The Ericle’s 2018 World Cup bets: Update

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Wagers to date:  £151

Open Bets: £10

WON/LOST: +£14.69 (net)

OVERALL WINNER (Bets placed 13/6)

£5 each on FRANCE + ENGLAND  WON £28.61  (BETS LAYED OFF AFTER QUARTERFINALS)

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GAME BETS*: Groups/£2/Rof16: £3/Quarters: £4/Semis: £5/Final £10

FINALS

FRANCE v Croatia: WON £4.80

Belgium v England: NO BET 

SEMIFINALS

FRANCE v Belgium WON £4.10; Croatia v ENGLAND LOST £4 😭😢😞

QUARTERFINALS

7 July: SWEDEN v England* LOST £4 😀😀😀; Russia v CROATIA WON £1.77

6 July: URUGUAY v France* LOST £4; Brazil v BELGIUM WON £6.24

* (Bets against France & England: ‘insurance bets’)

ROUND OF 16

3 July: SWEDEN v Switzerland WON £3.30; COLOMBIA v England* LOST £3 😀😀😀

2 July BRAZIL v Mexico WON £0.72; BELGIUM v Japan WON £0.48

1 July: SPAIN v Russia LOST £3; CROATIA v Denmark. WON £1.23

30 June: France v ARGENTINA* LOST £3; Uruguay v PORTUGAL LOST £3

* (Bets against France & England: ‘insurance bets’)

GROUP STAGE Round 3

(No bets placed on games where qualification of  both teams no longer an issue)

28 June: Senegal v COLUMBIA WON £1.67; Japan v Poland, Panama v Tunisia & England v Belgium NO BETS.

27 June: MEXICO v Sweden LOST £2; South Korea v GERMANY LOST £2; SWITZERLAND v Costa Rica LOST £2; Serbia v BRAZIL WON £1.20.

26 June: Denmark v France, Australia v Peru & Iceland v Croatia NO BETS; Nigeria v ARGENTINA WON £1.14

25 June: Uruguay v Russia & Saudi Arabia v Egypt NO BETS; SPAIN v Morocco LOST £2; IRAN v Portugal LOST £2

GROUP STAGE Round 2

24 June: ENGLAND v Tunisia WON £0.48; Japan v SENEGAL LOST £2; POLAND v Columbia LOST £2

23 June: BELGIUM v Tunisia WON £0.74; South Korea v MEXICO WON £1.44; GERMANY v Sweden WON £1.06

22 June: BRAZIL v Costa Rica WON £0.48; Nigeria v ICELAND LOST £2; SERBIA v Switzerland LOST £2

21 June: DENMARK v Australia LOST £2; FRANCE v Peru WON £1.32; ARGENTINA v Croatia LOST £2

20 June: Portugal v Morocco DRAW LOST £2; URUGUAY v Saudi Arabia WON £0.40; Iran v SPAIN WON £0.36

19 June: Russia v Egypt DRAW LOST £2

GROUP STAGE Round 1

19 June: Columbia v Japan DRAW LOST £2; Poland v Senegal DRAW LOST £2

18 June: Sweden v SOUTH KOREA LOST £2; BELGIUM v PanamaWON £0.40; Tunisia v ENGLAND WON £0.98

17 June: Costa Rica v SERBIA WON £1.96; Germany v Mexico DRAW LOST £2; BRAZIL v Switzerland + DRAW* Won £5.60 * (‘Hand of Eric’ – accidental bet)

16 June: FRANCE v Australia WON £0.56; ARGENTINA v Iceland LOST £2; Peru v DENMARK WON £3.08; CROATIA v Nigeria Won £1.64

15 June: Egypt v URUGUAY WON £1.24; MOROCCO v Iran LOST £2 ; Portugal v Spain DRAW WON £4.80

14 June: RUSSIA v Saudi Arabia WON £0.90

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every 4 years The Ericle pulls out his Willie

Every 4 years, at about this time, I make a point of pulling out my Willie. That’s my World Cup Willie, of course, the mascot of the England football team that competed for and won the 1966 World Cup. (Well, what else do you think I could have been referring to?!)

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4 years ago in my blog ‘1966 and all that’, (see here), I recalled how I went to every England game including the Final. It was indeed a wonderful experience and one that culminated in that memorable final; a triumph that features prominently in the English footballer psyche as both a source of pleasure and frustration.

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Which reminds me of an old joke that goes something like this:

A world-famous psychologist is addressing a full auditorium. He starts out by declaring: “Tonight, I will prove to you, without a shadow of doubt, that the frequency with which an individual indulges in sex directly correlates with their personal happiness.” He first asks for a show of hands of all the people who have sex almost every night. A modest number of hands were raised, all of who seem very happy indeed. He then asks: “How many of you have sex once a week? This time a larger number of hands were raised, all of whom seem to be quite content. He then asks how many have sex once or twice a month? Again a few hands were raised, all of whom seem distinctly less content with their lot. After polling his audience several more times, he notices one guy sitting off to the side with this huge beaming grin on his face.  The psychologist notices that the guy never raised his hand, so he asks him how often he has sex. The guy says, “Once a year!” To which the psychologist asks, “Why are you so happy if you get sex only once a year?” The grinning guy responds, “Tonight’s the night!”

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I don’t know what 2018 holds in store for the England football team. I have a sneaking feeling that things may go better for us than most dare to think. The key, I feel will be whether this team melds into a unit. In 1966, as the tournament started, England had talented individuals but were some way from being a well-oiled unit. I remember feeling quite deflated after the 0-0 draw with Uruguay. However, the team grew as with every game that it played.  The next game versus Mexico England’s start was unexceptional. However all that changed in the 37th minute when Bobby Charlton fired in a beauty, (see here), from well outside the penalty and England’s World Cup campaign finally got up-and-running. Any World Cup only really gets going after the Group Stages. At that point, after all the pre-tournament and group games, a team has to really arrive. And then, of course, there is the possibility of death or triumph by way of penalties. But on the eve of this 2018 World Cup, whereas I may not be grinning stupidly that Sunday July 15th 2018 will be England’s night, I still have a smile on my face at the prospect of what is to come. Bring it on!

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* As in 2014, The Ericle will be placing a minimum (£2) wager on every match and some Friendly Fivers on who will be the Overall Winner. To follow my bets see here.

Today’s news

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IMPORTANT QUESTIONS NEED TO BE ANSWERED. Apparently this is a picture of Karen Pierce, the British ambassador to the UN, addressing the Security Council at yesterday’s debate on the alleged use by Syria of chemical weapons:

– is this how an ambassador dresses these days?
– is it so cold at the UN that a scarf is required?

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I AM CAUGHT IN TWO MINDS BY THIS STORY, (possibility of fake news notwithstanding), as to whether I am

– outraged by the crass insensitivity
– in admiration, as an ex-marketing professional, as the astuteness of the targeting.

😃😃😃😃😃😃

Anti-semitism & The Labour Party

If you can’t – or don’t want to – believe the cancer at the heart of Labour Party, please read this pamphlet handed out by the counter-demonstrators (“Labour Against The Witch Hunt”) at yesterday’s protest against anti-semitism within the party. These are the views not of a random rabble but of organised card-carrying members of the Labour Party.

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How perverted is this pamphlet? It may fall short of the sort of language of the type associated with The Protocols Of The Elders of Zion, but the direction of travel is clear.

Clearly, The Ericle is of a pro-Israel disposition but that does not mean that I believe Israel is beyond criticism. (Indeed, I have always been a strong advocate of the importance of diaspora Jews to be prepared to let their views be known if they feel that Israeli policies & actions are wrong. I feel that way about the settlements and the excessive influence of the ultra-orthodox within Jewish politics.) However, criticism of Israel needs to be meted out according to values & standards that apply to all. When this is not the case, those perpetrating such argument need to ask themselves what is propelling them to express themselves in this way. In many cases, the reason may be that they have anti-Jewish dispositions. When such argument, incorporates references to Hitler, Nazis & the like there can be no doubt: such views are anti-semitic. When a political party provides oxygen to members holding such opinions and whose leader is only seen – at home & abroad – on anti-Israel political platforms, while also refusing to attend a state ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel, then it is entirely reasonable to suggest that such creatures quacking and swimming on the pond are anti-semitic ducks and that labelling them as such is not a ‘witch hunt’!

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Bring on the clowns!

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When Ken Livingstone made a prosaic – but totally insensitive – point that, because Hitler had espoused the concept of German Jews being transported to Palestine he was acting like a Zionist, he was rightly suspended from the Labour party. (Some feel that he should have been expelled.) When the UK’s ‘Joke’ Foreign Secretary makes a similarly prosaic point that Russia will make political capital out of the The World Cup, and then expands this to comparing Putin to Hitler, he remains in post.

Surely we deserve better than this?