Can’t applaud that

By the age of forty-something, one should know better than to get annoyed about the outcome of a football match.  After all, we all know, it’s just football.  Right?

Right.  Well, kind of.

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Except when:

  • you go 2-0 up against the run of play away from home and end up hanging on for a draw;
  • it feels like 3 precious promotion points have been reduced – again – to a single solitary notch on the board;
  • your young and talented centre half has had a rush of blood to the head;
  • your immediate promotion rivals have convincing home wins;
  • you feel your team invited the draw by camping out in their own half after going ahead; and
  • your train home is delayed so you end up writing this blog post sitting on the floor at St Pancras station (I live north of London, not by the sea, despite the blue and white allegiance).

Except when except when except when all these things conspire to create an illogical sense of annoyance.

Time, then, for a reality check.  Not even the most blinkered of BHAFC fans could have possibly hoped that the Albion would be undefeated up to 15 December with only one more match to play before Christmas.   Nor that we’d be guaranteed in the top four on 1 January 2016.  Nor that we’d (quietly) be looking like genuine promotion contenders.  It’s really come to something when we regard 3 points won at Burnley, Derby and QPR as between 3 and 6 points lost.  Especially when we’ve rediscovered the art of winning at home.  What do they say?  Win at home, draw away, and promotion takes care of itself.

But football fans are greedy, we always want more, we can always see what’s wrong.  Against QPR the criticisms are easy to find.  Calde, bless the man, looked out of his depth; we put too much pressure on Stockdale in the first half with unhelpful backpasses; our goals were a bit soft from a QPR perspective rather than the result of clinical finishing; Dunk’s recklessness; our defensive distribution was poor and so on…

…but most of all we did set up camp in our own half for 30 minutes or so after scoring our second.  I almost expected QPR to charge us rent for the way we set up shop.  Why did we do this? Maybe the Albion Roar guys called it right:

I’m not going to criticise Chris too much for this,  the man is working wonders, but I’m interested to know why we didn’t seek to kill the game off at 2-0 with another goal or at least implement a kill game strategy.  Instead we seemed to put up the “please shoot” neon signs and the outcome was inevitable.

And so the annoyance does creep in.

There, dear reader, is the problem with football.  Even in this season of all seasons we mere football fan mortals, lose our perspective.  This is not the usual perspective about where we’ve come from since the dark days, this is perspective that even title contenders have off days, throw away points and don’t win every game.  Which is why I refer you back to the “reality check” paragraph above.  If you’re still feeling annoyed, read it and read it again.  Then once more for luck.  And if that doesn’t work, then read this over on NSC.

Next up the Boro roll into town.  A must win six pointer?  Not really, no.  A big game, yes, but the season doesn’t ride on it by any means.  And nor does this QPR result.  Let’s get that perspective back and remember that we’d have grabbed with both hands the chance to be top four (minimum) on 1 January and we could yet be top one.

Last thing, if you don’t mind.  The title of this blog post.  Not my sentiments.  Not at all.  But they were the words of one Albion fan as the rest of us applauded the boys in yellow when the final whistle went.  A throw away comment in the heat of the moment, I’m sure.  But let’s have that reality check again.    You can and should applaud a 2-2 draw at Loftus Road and most of us did just that before running to get our much delayed trains.  Yes, we’ve got our war stories about the ones that got away.  But don’t forget, the other 23 teams in this division will all have their own war stories too about what could’ve been, what should’ve been, and 21 of them are below us at the time of writing.  I know whose war stories I’d rather have.

And war stories or not, the Championship table tells a pretty compelling story, even on this most, erm, annoying of evenings.

Getting vertigo

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged Brighton. Why is that? Not much to moan about I guess.  Scratch that.  Loads, LOADS to shout about.

Especially today. Played badly scored late winner, that’s promotion form isn’t it?

I love an away day to Elland Road. In the main part, that’s for the company (a triumvate of Brighton (me), Leeds (BMF) and Bradford (Bman) fans). And because we always get something. As it’s BMF’s home game we sit with the Leeds fans. Not an easy place to be when the ball hits the goal and it’s not Shearer or Cole. But I also love Elland Rpad because it’s “proper”. Proper football club. Revie and Bremner statues. An atmosphere with a bit of frission. Walking there through the Elland Road terraces. Club legends Eddie Gray and Norman Hunter out and about in the stands.

imageBack to the lack of blogging. Ah yes, lack of stuff to moan about. After all, for a club that’s been to the brink and back, we’ve not really had much to moan about for a few seasons now. Except last season of course. But this season…

We know it’s not time to get carried away. Possibly the toughest league in the world to get out of. We’re not playing with the swagger of league leaders. We’re possibly a tiny bit light on firepower. We’re drawing games we should win. We uncharacteristically looked shaky at the back at Leeds. But. We. Are. Top. Of. The. League. Say we are top of the league.

Before today, I’ve been joking after the last 3 draws that this is our bad spell of the season and we’re still top. Maybe that’s not so funny because it’s true. Missed penalty against Wolves, 94th minute equaliser against at Bolton, missed a hatful at home to Cardiff, won arguably despite ourselves at Leeds. And we’re still top.

Let’s just analyse today a little bit. Dunk had a poor first half. Entire defence looked rickety on set pieces. Rosenior didn’t look on the pace. March’s distribution was loose. Greer lucky Leeds didn’t score from a terrible clearance (more of a pass to the oppo). Stockdale almost victim to a comedy clearance. Baldock anonymous. Only Stephens and Bruno looked really on it plus some new signing called Bobby someone.

But we won. And how. There are dinks over the keeper and there are dinks over the keeper. There are badge kisses and there are badge kisses. There are legends and there are legends. And we are top.

We all know what the big question is and we’re too scared to think about it properly. Can we sustain it?

I’m less focused on the 4 point gap to second than I am the 8 point gap to seventh. Rationally, I don’t think we are top two. But nor did Bournemouth fans last season. And we’ve got that all important thing in any top team, a strong spine. Stockdale, Dunk et al, Stephens and Hemed. Quite fancy those four (well, we’re Brighton so we can say that and yes, small in fact tiny minority of Leeds fans, your “we can see you holding hands” gag was as hilarious as it was original).

Can we sustain it? Dunno. But the bad spell has to end soon, the quick fire passing attacking and swarming men in the box approach we saw in the first few games will return. I’m not ready to predict if we’ll be top two. My personal hope is we are top four by Christmas which will stand us in much better stead than we could ever have hoped for and I’d like Uncle Tony to buy us one more striker for Christmas please. But I do predict we’ll batter someone. Soon. They have been warned. The “bad” spell will end and let’s see what happens then.

In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the view. Getting a bit of vertigo being this high up for so long but I think I can get used to it.

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#billablehour

I’ve never blogged about anything remotely political, economic, charitable or campaign-driven before. I’m making a rare and brief exception here (don’t worry, normal service will be resumed in the next blog post).  And for the first time ever I’m going ‘pay per view’ for this post.  It will cost you £5 to read – click here and pay up first (if you haven’t, I’ll know, I’ve got those cookie wotsits installed and stuff like that and your screen will explode in 60 seconds).

This week, via Twitter, I saw these four things.

First, the tragic picture which distressed the world and made many of us sit up and take proper notice not only of the refugee crisis but also the scandalous apparent lack of co-ordinated governmental approach to help those poor, desperate human beings fleeing desperation beyond description.

Second, the FT, a newspaper which does not publish firm calls to action unless it believes in them, published a leader which I believe had no small part in prompting our Prime Minister into what looks like a change of heart and government policy.

Third, that wise friend of many lawyers, Paul Gilbert, made his own small but powerful contribution to the debate.  Another call to action.

And finally, Sean Jones QC he…..well, he did what most of us didn’t do whilst going about our oh so busy lives.  He bloody well did something.  He did something simple.  He did something clever.  He did something which will make a little bit of a difference.  He did this.

I don’t really know Sean, I’ve met him once briefly, but he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who wants loads of back slapping and ‘well dones’.   He wants action.  He wants us to do something.  So if you’re a lawyer and even if you’re not, please donate again (coz you did at the top of the page, right, otherwise your screen will have exploded?) to the #billablehour campaign  by clicking here.  It won’t undo the desperate tragedy of Aylan Kurdi’s death.  But it might just go a small way towards helping make lives better.

Art, brains and law

Have you heard the one about the artist, the neuroscientist and the lawyer?

No, nor had I until I attended my first Life With Law event last night where the programme (curated by a barrister believe it not) facilitated just that.

Life With Law is an LOD project, a series of talks which offer inspiration and ideas for living a good, happy and satisfying life whilst – wait for it – practising law.  Does that remind you of your training contract?  No, me neither.

I started my evening in discussion with a Legal IT Consultant as to whether the contract drafting process itself is creative.  The ability of the lawyer to speak to their client, grasp the idea percolating in a client’s brain and put it down clearly on paper.  We reached broad agreement that this was an example of creativity, of sorts, in action.  But I ended my evening putting forward this theory to one of our LOD lawyers who tore the argument apart, pointing out that the lawyer is merely documenting the client’s own creativity, rather than demonstrating any creative nous themselves. It’s up to you to decide who is correct.

Perhaps that lawyer’s view was reflected in an audience poll.  Whilst the majority of the audience felt themselves to be creative, only a minority believed the practice of law offers much room for creativity.  We’re just a bunch of frustrated muses trapped behind our keyboards.  Arguably most worryingly of all, only a few felt that their workplace was where they thought most creatively about work.

The main event was talks from Cathy Haynes, a curator, artist and writer, and Professor Vincent Walsh, Professor of Human Brain Research at UCL.

Perhaps surprisingly, we heard some common themes from the worlds of art and science (which reminds me that when I was at Uni, the Law faculty couldn’t decide which of these categories it sat in and Law was designated as a Social Science – perhaps that explains a lot).

Cathy advised us to: make it a habit to break our habits; create virtuous problems; set ourselves a weekly pleasurable conundrum; create empty head space; get bored to prompt some creativity; have the courage to be vulnerable; dare to get into the arena; not be afraid to fail; learn the rules then forget them; and do something different in our working week.

The Prof underlined the need to sleep a lot and often.  As he memorably put it:

Sleep is 36 per cent of our lives and we just hope it kind of goes alright [but] the smart things in the brain are done when we aren’t thinking.  Sleep helps creative problem solving.

There you have it – if you ever needed an excuse for being late for work, forget the tube strikes, this goes straight to the top of the list.

Life With Law attracts a broad church, there’s no agenda and the only rule is to come with an open mind.  You might not agree with everything you hear, but what you do hear will make you think and just possibly take you outside of your comfort zone (I certainly was when the discussion turned to finding out the weight of our soul…).

Follow @LifeWithLaw for details of the next outing and see #LifeWithLaw for tweets from the event.

Time to re-set the legal profession?

As one GC recently put it to me, “the re-set button has been pressed on the legal profession”. Whilst the button has certainly been pressed, the machine has not yet rebooted.

If one needed to look for evidence of the re-set, that was provided by Mark Harris, CEO and Founder of Axiom who received a Special Achievement Award at the as always excellent FT Innovative Lawyers awards held in London recently.  If anyone had suggested ten years ago that in 2013 a US start-up would be winning legal awards ahead of, and more importantly winning work from, the Magic and Silver Circles they would have been laughed out of the Square Mile.

If one needed to look for evidence that the machine has not yet rebooted, then it’s worth taking a closer look at a few of this year’s FT award entries.  Whilst many were truly innovative and congratulations must deservedly go to the winners, a handful  strike me as business-as-usual, not innovation.  For example, “providing cutting-edge competition advice”, having “a one-day brainstorm session” and “international expansion”.  Entries like this demonstrate that whilst the words “legal profession” and “innovation” are not quite paradoxical terms, they do not always fit comfortably into the same sentence.

Whilst many leading thinkers and practitioners have long talked about the systemic changes the market has seen over the last ten years, if firms continue to submit business-as-usual entries for the UK’s leading legal innovation awards, it surely illustrates just how far the profession has yet to travel on its innovation journey.

It’s too easy to lay the blame solely at the door of the legal service providers.  But (with few exceptions) any firm which thinks it can continue to rely on a model which is simply the continued provision of traditional legal services will at some point suffer a rude awakening. The market’s new ‘disruptor brands’ such as Axiom and Lawyers On Demand (LOD) are here to stay and as clients are awakening to the positives that innovative flexible legal resourcing may bring to their teams and organisations, many leading firms are reassessing their client offerings and adapting to these new services either by entering the market or seeing the business case for working with those alternative service providers on certain projects.

Ultimately though the providers will not reshape the landscape themselves, clients will play the instrumental role in ensuring that supply meets demand. Whilst clients understandably demand “more for less”, the most innovative General Counsels are also open minded in terms of how they are willing to work with their legal service providers.  More for less with no change to service provision just simply will not work.  More for less with structural service change will.

Over the last seven years, LOD has seen that many clients are already alive to this with client demand leading to major disruption in the market place.  LOD was an early stage service which was conceived to meet that early disruptive demand and we are now facing the challenge ourselves of seeing who wants to disrupt the disruptors. Whether launched as a standalone service, or with the backing of an international law firm, there is an ever increasing queue of alternative legal service providers ready and willing to play.  LOD’s secondment model remains an innovation success story, but we know that we won’t “win” unless we continue to evolve our service offerings and pricing structures in line with market demand and increased competition.

“Put yourself in the client’s shoes” is a constant LOD mantra and service development is a daily theme in our office. Whilst services like LOD are leading global law firms to reassess their models’ and not ‘rest on their laurels’, competition from other flexible legal resourcing services means we at LOD are constantly evaluating our offering to ensure we continue to fulfill client demand.

I’d like to think as the FT awards evolve that the bar will be set even higher and that we won’t see even a handful of “business as usual” entries and instead will continue to see people and practices push the boundaries of innovation in future years.  But to prevent that from happening, the profession (both supply-side and client-side) needs to think about what it wants the future to look like.  As Harris put it on the night, “Bigger is not better, better is better”.  Indeed, but what is better?  That’s a question which both law firms, alternative providers and in-house lawyers need to answer – because if they don’t, someone is going to answer it for them in which case they will lose far more than the chance of winning an award.  Change does not happen by talking about innovation, it comes through creative thinking, brave steps and hard work.

Once the machine does finally reboot, the game could be up for those who don’t play better.  But the good news is that those who embrace change, however uncomfortable that might feel at times, have the potential to be game-changers.  I see plenty of opportunity ahead.

Oh when the Saints

The Cup did not so much overflow with romance at Clarence Park in this FA Cup first round tie, rather than get drowned in reality.

But, without wanting to get too misty eyed about jumpers for goalposts, this was a reminder of what football is really about.

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Saints had already played through four qualifying rounds to get to this stage of the cup, to be rewarded with a home tie against league opposition, struggling Mansfield Town.  If Hertfordshire itself is not exactly a hotbed of football (sorry Watford fans), the cathedral city of St Albans certainly isn’t.  But walking through the cobbled high street at lunchtime before the game, there was a faint murmur of FA Cup excitement, the odd pub or two spilled onto the pavement and posters adorned local shop doors.

This was only my second visit to Clarence Park and this time we went en famille.  Fans queued patiently over the railway footbridge to make their way into the ground, about 3,000 more than usual, the programme seller was doing brisk business and had to make an emergency call into the club “shop” to restock his cardboard box fifteen minutes before kick off.

We took our place behind the goal on the terraces, kids allowed to stand at the front and almost able to touch the players.  The top boys (well, 16 year old GCSE students free of their parents for the afternoon) of St Albans filled the middle of the terrace, leading the support.  Terrace banter was ever present from the first minute after the linesman made a complete horlicks of a corner kick decision about a corner kick.  How we miss the wit of the terrace wag in our all seater stadia in the higher leagues.

Our community was evident everywhere we turned, bumping into people from the local school, the village football team, the rugby club and a colleague.  Congratulations must go to one St Albans fan who’d even made his own triple life size FA Cup to mark the occasion, fingers crossed it makes the highlights on the tv, it deserves to.

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The half time raffle included a tin of Quality Street with some mini Toblerones for one of the runner’s up.  Fittingly, local legend Dave Clarke graced the pitch before the match and it was nice to hear he has been appointed a club ambassador for the Saints.  A mention is also due to the Mansfield drummer, beating his drum periodically through the game, he must be a real favourite amongst the away support if he takes that to every away game.  And a special mention to the Clarence Park groundsman, I’ve seen many worse pitches in much higher divisions, it positively glowed that luminous green under the floodlights which only football fans know exists as an actual colour.

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To a neutral like me, the score was almost secondary, but for the record the Stags ran home winning 8-1.  There was a sniff of an upset in the air after the Saints sneaked ahead after 8 minutes and the first half was a pattern of consistent pressure from the home team.  But 2 goals in the last five minutes of that half put the Stags ahead and the result was never really in doubt from that point, with the second half turning into shooting practice for Mansfield.

I’m a cup romantic at heart and a bit of a grumble about lack of replays, penalty shoot-outs and worst of all Saturday tea time kick-offs for the grand old final itself, so this was a lovely reminder of what the cup is about.  In theory, anyone can get to Wembley.  In reality, that’s not the case of course, but at 3pm as the golden last shades of the sun fell over the trees in the park which border this typical non-league ground, the magic of the cup was certainly in the air.

I plan to be back to Clarence Park a bit more often and let’s hope a few more of today’s 3,000 do so as well.

Make mine a sangria

“Oscar Garcia, he drinks sangria, he came from Barca, to bring us joy.”

The latest song from the Albion faithful has lacked conviction until 11 wonderful second half minutes against Bolton Wanderers this afternoon.  A second half that has perhaps allowed Albion fans to drink from the good cup of optimism for the first time this season.

I’ll fess up that this is only my second viewing of the Albion this season.  A combination of reasons meant that I got zero value for money for my East Stand season ticket in the first three home league games of the season which I couldn’t attend.  My first sight of the mighty blue and white (well, yellow) was at QPR away on Wednesday followed by Bolton at home on Saturday.  Call me a Plastic if you like.

I didn’t enter this season full of optimism.  Defeat at Palace left me with the biggest football hangover I’ve had for many many years.   I’m old enough to know better but that defeat hurt deeply for a long time.  And we all know what happened after Holloway left the Amex with his Wembley tickets tucked in his back pocket.  We watched from the sidelines at the mini-implosion that was the departure of Gus, Mauricio and Charlie.  Whatever the reasons, it was sad that our journey on the Gus Bus had to end in such an excruciating way.  As a result of all this. I started this season predicting a tenth place finish for the boys in blue and white.

And the start to the season has, until about five past four this afternoon, been stuttering.  Not disastrous, but not spectacular.  The surge to the play-offs last season when we seemed to sweep all before us for two or three months felt a long time ago.

Until this afternoon.  There are lots of reasons I love not only this result, but this performance.

First, Oscar has removed the monkey off our back that was the “we never come from behind to win” moniker.  Nice to have that little curse lifted.

Second, Barnes got the goal that his running at QPR deserved.  Okay, well he deserved it even if he didn’t quite get it, but he caused it.  I’m an Ash fan, certainly think he has a part to play even if I doubt his ability to lead the line alone at this level, but boy does he put a shift in.  Nice to see that rewarded with his pressure resulting in an OG.

Third, Calde scored.  Cult hero that man is and anyone who doubts it really needs to listen to his performance on The Albion Roar last season.  Total class act.

Fourth, for the third goal Buckers showed us the skill we all know he has but which has been missing a bit of late.  Plus Spanish Dave seemed back on song on Spanish Day.

And fifth, and I’m not always his biggest fan, Lua Lua bossed the game.  I mean, really bossed it.  I’ve not seem him do that before for 90 minutes and he showed how effective he can be when his head is in game mode.  I found it puzzling in the extreme that the match sponsors gave man of the match to Rohan Ince.

So, it’s sangrias all round then.  The Seagulls’ flight path is back on track.  Six games unbeaten.  Five points from nine against Reading, QPR and Bolton is a healthy return.  Perhaps that will help the Amex finally get rid of its post-play-off hangover, an eleven minutes to blow away the cobwebs.

Of course, there’s a long way to go just yet.  This is only the beginning of Oscar’s journey.  But that second half today from a squad still somewhat decimated by injury was the cause for much optimism.  Who needs a Gus Bus when you have Oscar’s wardrobe, the only man who can get away with wearing Farahs, a sweater and tie and still look classy.  Well, I guess he has come from Barca, they can get away with that look on the continent.

Perhaps he really has come to bring us joy.  But I’m sticking with my prediction of tenth for now.  I hope I’m wrong.