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You Are The Quarry is Morrisseys first album release in seven years (since 1997s somewhat coolly received Maladjusted), and his first with new label Attack Records. In that time the musical landscape has changed somewhat, and I have to admit that until the release of this album I hadnt been listening much to his previous work (either as a solo artist, or with The Smiths) as of late. Having seen this advertised in advance of its release and hearing the somewhat fast-paced, catchy single Irish Blood, English Heart frequently on the radio, I decided to purchase this album and see whether it would see a return to something like his best from the Mancunian, or whether it would be one of the many albums there seem to have been lately that have seemingly taken an age to release, only to be somewhat disappointing upon purchase. Thankfully though, the album proved to be very good indeed, and though it perhaps doesnt quite rank up there with some of his best work with The Smiths, it can, in my opinion be placed up alongside Your Arsenal and Vauxhall and I as one of his best solo efforts. The album starts off gently guiding us into what can perhaps be described as both a vitriolic and somewhat humorous look at America and its virtues (at one point citing Americas proclamation of doing things in a just and truthful way and then off-setting it against a country which has never had a President that is either black, female or gay), though he does concede that (with reference to America) I Love You, come the end of it. The track is not a particularly heavy one, with a strummed guitar and some keyboard work against an almost soothing backbeat, though lyrically it is strong, biting and encompasses many of the elements that endear Morrissey so much to those whom are his fans (As he now chooses to live in Los Angeles, it could be considered a slightly risky choice of opening track, given that a large portion of his global fan base hail from the States, though attendances at his recent U.S. concerts would indicate that not too many have been put off). The aforementioned first single from the album, Irish Blood, English Heart then follows and injects some raw energy and pomp into the album, and which turns his gaze on the UK, offering some stark criticisms of this part of the world, and even getting in a sly dig at the criticisms he faced in 1992 for posturing with the Union Jack, amongst other things. The track is lively one with a searing lead guitar that perhaps leads one to-think that the album is going to be a somewhat fast-ish paced one with a heavy guitar influence, though after the sub-three minutes burst of this track comes a more introspective and perhaps more typically Morrissey tune, in I Have Forgiven Jesus. This track is what many choose to believe is Morrisseys favourite lyrical subject- his own hurt and pain (at one point listing each of the days of the week and finding that with every one comes a source of despair), but though the lyrics may be somewhat downbeat (and some have suggested a light-prod at Christianity, though despite the title of the song, I dont think myself that it is massively doing too much of that), the song is unusually catchy, and the tune of the whole thing is not as sombre as perhaps would be expected, with it building to a crescendo-like ending at its finish. Similar themes are explored in fourth-track, Come Back to Camden, in which it seems Morrissey is both reminiscing about a past/lost love, and then lamenting that same loss soon after. His voice soars at points in this song to reach some incredible heights while simple (some would say almost throwaway) lines such as drinking tea, with the taste of the Thames are sung with an almost sombre relish that reinforce that at the heart of all his work, Morrissey is very much a quintessentially English type of artist. The next track Im Not Sorry is musically a little similar in the verses to the albums first track, though it is one of my least favourite tracks on the album despite the fact that its listenable enough, and his voice is almost soothing throughout, it doesnt do as much for me as others on the album. From one of my least favourite tracks on the album, the next is one of my favourites, and displays that not only is Morrissey a fine lyricist and songwriter, but that if necessary, he can also cut it as a bit of a crooner. The track in question is The World Is Full of Crashing Bores, which although seemingly having its moments of self-doubt (No-one ever turns to me to say take me in your arms and love me), is a scathing look at modern music and the artists clogging up the charts as a result of the Pop Idol culture that we are seemingly caught up in at the moment (such stars are described as thick as pig-sh*t and afraid to show intelligence for fear of tarnishing the image theyve built up). Morrisseys voice throughout the whole album certainly sounds the strongest its ever been and on this song, which at points goes from quite high notes to those that are somewhat lower, it is very smooth and strong, and unlike that of any modern-day artist whom I can think of. Up next is How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel, which is musically very upbeat, with some nice guitar work throughout, and which is juxtaposed with the lyrics that are again somewhat typically brooding and also a little defiant of those whom are not understanding of Morrisseys subject matter or those whom choose to be somewhat cynical about it. First of the Gang to Die is next and is the second single to be taken from the album is the next up, and is probably the most upbeat tracks of all of those featured on this album and by all accounts is an ode to his many Hispanic fans. This song is a real pop/rock track, with an almost sing-a-long chorus, a mini guitar solo and notable riff. Many people whom I know are surprised when they here this track and I tell them its a Morrissey song, as they often just view him as that mopey guy from The Smiths and dont associate such music with him, which is a bit of a shame, because its not the first time hes come out with something like this. Let Me Kiss You is the next song up (and also the third single from the album, which has had simultaneous versions released by both its song-writer, Morrissey and Nancy Sinatra) and again slows the pace of the album down to almost easy-listening level. Id describe this as almost a twisted love-song, with the lyrics conveying how much love he has, but how its not received well by the person its intended for, and ventures back once more to the torment that is a key feature of all of the singers best work, with him describing himself as someone whos physically despised. Like much of this album, from looking at the lyrics, it would appear to be a track that if anything would be likely to cause one an onset of depression, but when matched up with it music it comes across as a wonderful track, and one which stays in your head and that you find yourself humming after a short time. Track 10 is All The Lazy Dykes, which for those perhaps looking at not listening would appear to be an attack on lesbians, but which is actually a sarcastic reference to some of the many people who describe them in this way, whilst commenting that perhaps they would be happier, and not quite as bitchy, if they were one themselves and that by such descriptions, many people are perhaps masking such feelings. Although many have not been to sure of what to make of the subject matter, the song is tuneful enough and carries a message, though it is perhaps one of the albums weaker points. The albums penultimate track I Like You is again a faced paced number whilst also being a love song. Its a nice track as a lead-in to the albums end and is another very upbeat number. Its lyrical content is perhaps not as deep as its predecessors, but its another very good pop/rock number (though due to some very high notes perhaps lacking the sing-a-long element of First of the Gang To Die). Like so many good things though, the best is saved for last- You Know I Couldnt Last. This is a tremendous song with which to close the album, which is classic Morrissey, combining moody, melancholy verses with uplifting, crooned choruses and which manages to leave you wishing that there was more. As you may have been able to tell, I am a great fan of this album (its definitely up there with the best of this year in my opinion), and would recommend it to anyone, whether or not you have enjoyed any of his previous work. I would say that to really appreciate it, the album needs a couple of listens, but think that there is something here that most people could enjoy.
I decided to purchase the bulk of Christmas shopping online this year, and so with that in mind, I felt that it could only be beneficial to me if I tried to take advantage of the ipoints website of which I’ve been a member for quite sometime. There are a number of reward schemes out there, but having read poor reviews of many, I found that ipoints was one of the few that was consistently praised in reviews, both here on Dooyoo and in some magazines I’d browsed too. After hearing such positive things about them, I signed up towards the beginning of this year, hoping that perhaps this would be one site that promises ‘rewards’ and that actually delivers on them rather than simply wasting your time. The basic purpose that ipoints and many other ‘rewards’ websites serve (or allegedly serve in many of the cases) is that they will reward you points (in the case of this site these are known as ‘ipoints’, surprisingly), for doing various things through their own sites, and the partner sites with which they are affiliated. Sometimes you can literally get points at no cost to yourself what-so-ever. Ipoints works with a number of survey sites, and often offer around five points for signing up for survey sites (with additional points awarded for actually taking part in the surveys that you are selected to take part in), filling out questionnaires or occasionally even for writing reviews on sites like Dooyoo (which actually appears from looking on ipoints, as though it is no longer an ipoints partner site). You can also click on the advertising banners for occasional rewards of one or two points, or take part in free lottery games which give out points as prizes for matching different numbered balls. However, by far the best way of accumulating ipoints is to buy things through their numerous partner sites, which regularly change, but that always include a steady number of some of the internets’ most popular shopping sites, such as Bol, CD Wow and Amazon. So, having collected these points, what is there to exchange them for? Unfortunately you can’t exchange ipoints for cold hard cash, but they do have a wide range of stores as partner sites, meaning that if you so choose, and obviously providing that you’ve amassed enough ipoints, you can exchange them for more or less anything, from books and CDs (which you can normally get your hands on from around a hundred or so ipoints) up to Hi Fis, Televisions and DVD players (for which you would need 9,999 ipoints, and which would most likely take an extremely long time to amass). If you choose simply to only collect the free ipoints that are occasionally dished out, and that are usually only available once, then it could be a long time before you get to exchange your points even for a CD, but if you are a regular internet shopper like myself, then the rewards on offer can pile up very quickly indeed, and you can soon find yourself able to order any number of such products (so far in just under a year, I have claimed seven free CDs and three DVDs in exchange for ipoints). So then, having established what ipoints set out to do, and how you can go about ‘rewarding yourself’, let’s take a look at what the service itself is like. Basically once you have amassed enough ipoints, the way the site I set out should allow you to quickly select a product that you would like to receive, before going through a brief confirmation procedure, after which your goods should be with you in about 5-7 days in most cases. I have never had any real problems with ipoints from this side, and upon my ‘cashing in’ of points, goods have normally always been despatched to me within that timescale. This is one way in which the ipoints service is very good, and the fact that goods are despatched to you so promptly enables you to quickly see that, yes, this site does in fact live up to it’s promises and that yes you can get products basically for nothing through using their site. As the goods are normally always sent and packaged through the partner sites (and as they are all reputable sites such as Amazon and Bol), then the majority of times goods are sent to you, they are likely to be exactly what you ordered and free of defects or faults. As I have never had any problems with faulty or incorrect products being sent to me through ipoints, I can’t really comment on their returns policy and if they will actually ‘refund’ points to your account, but I would assume that this side of things is probably run in the same, efficient way in which they ensure goods are sent to you and that it would just be a matter of contacting the customer service department…. ….which brings me on nicely to the only area of the ipoints website and set-up that I have any real qualms with. Now, having read to this point of my opinion, you are probably thinking that I would have no need to be contacting their customer service department with any grievances, but unfortunately that is not the case. From time to time, it would seem that points which you earn from one or two of the ipoints partner sites (the most common examples of this I have found are Amazon and the Luckysurf Lottery game) are not always credited to your account, and even when you wait a week or so for them to be added they still do not appear and then there is no other option but to contact their customer service team via an e-mail address supplied on the website. As I have had this problem on a number of occasions, I know by now that usually you do actually get a reply from ipoints within 24 hours of your e-mail, usually from a man named Tom Quinn. Mr Quinn’s e-mail replies are very polite and apologetic, and he always assures you that your points will be credited to your account ‘ASAP’. The first few times that I received this reply, I found that, yes indeed, true to his word, Mr Quinn had made sure that the points that I was due had found their way into my account by the following day at the very latest. However, as the year has gone on, I have experienced the same problem time and time again and have received the same replies to my e-mails as before. However this time the points are not added so quickly and it seems to take continued prompting to get these points added to my account (at the moment, I am chasing him up on some points that I won on the Luckysurf lottery game over a month ago, and on some purchases I made at Amazon, through ipoints over a fortnight ago, and still with no joy). This is gradually leading me to take a look at other rewards websites that are out there, as while I am willing to stick with ipoints for now (after-all it is only on a couple of the partner sites that I am not being credited with my points- others seem to be credited as well as they always have), this continued practice of telling me my points will be added to my account ‘ASAP’, and then seeing that they have not been over a month later is damaging my faith in the site somewhat, and to me it is showing signs of a slowly deteriorating service as these problems were not experienced during my first six or so months of usage at the site. Overall at the moment though, I would still recommend the site, especially for folks that use the internet as a place to shop on a regular basis as it really does offer some good ‘rewards’. The only downside is that it’s becoming a little more trying than it used to be at making sure that you do get exactly what you are due from this site, which hopefully is only a temporary blip in a service that until recently has been excellent.
I’ve been meaning to write this opinion since writing my piece on Jonathan Wren, but have never gotten around to it. After finishing my job that I’d found through Jonathan Wren and found them to be of no real assistance to me in finding a new one, I decided to try and find some more agencies to assist me in my search for work, in the hope that some of them surely have to provide a better service than what I’d encountered previously. However, before I could make any contact with them, I managed to stumble into a short-term role in an insurance firm and it was as that role was coming to an end that one of my colleagues recommended Witan Jardine to me. When my role ended I contacted Witan Jardine, along with a host of other employment agencies and was surprised that they invited me in to talk to one of their consultants just two days after I had made the initial contact, enquiring as to whether or not they had any suitable work for me (compared with waiting up to two weeks after for some of the others that I’d contacted). After arranging for me to speak to the consultant at a time that was convenient to me, which I duly did. Upon my arrival there, I was greeted by the receptionist, who took my name and showed me along to my ‘interview room’ where I was told that my consultant would meet me a few moments later. While I was waiting (and it was actually only a couple of minutes), the receptionist kindly offered to make me a drink, which I accepted, and this immediately made me feel a lot more at ease than at previous (or subsequent) visits to other employment agencies. My appointed consultant also did much to make me feel at ease, conducting the ‘interview’ as more of a relaxed chat and discussing my CV and previous roles that I’ve done along with what the consultant thought would be the best area for me to progress to. I was in there for about an hour, and was let feeling positive about my prospects about finding a new job, though he did warn that around the start of the year (the time I happened to go and visit) was a notoriously slow time for new work coming in. He told me not to hesitate in contacting him if I had any work-related questions, before also briefly introducing me to some of his colleagues whom he informed me would also be searching for work for me. Before I left he told me to make sure to call him every three or four days to check if anything suitable for me had come up, which was a pleasant surprise after dealing with the staff at Jonathan Wren who seemed to go out of their way to avoid speaking to me. The first few weeks of the year passed, and although I had heard nothing from them on the work front, they still seemed confident that something would come up soon, and as I hadn’t heard much from the other agencies I’d registered with I thought it must be the slow start to the year that Witan Jardine talked about. After those few weeks passed though, I started receiving news on potential jobs that Witan Jardine would like to put me forward for, I also received similar offers from other agencies, and as I wasn’t in a position to turn down employment I said to all of them that I’d be more than happy for them to send my CV along to any prospective employers. At first I had no luck, in that after seeing my CV many of the companies decided that I was not suitable for the job. Witan Jardine dealt with this by telephoning me and telling me this directly, explaining the reasons that the companies gave, and assuring me that they would soon find something else. This was a far better approach to handling this situation than what I received from the other agencies that I had registered with (including established names such as FSS Financial, Morgan McKinley, Kelly Services and Dunlop and Badenoch) who opted simply not to t ell m e anything and then upon my phoning to enquire about the roles I’d been submitted for, often met me with a puzzled tone to their voice and an all too familiar line of ‘sorry, the company decided you weren’t quite right for the role and decided not to pursue it, I thought we’d already told you’. Witan Jardine though were true to their word and gradually became the only agency I used- they were finding me a couple of companies a week that they were sending my CV to (all of which either matched or exceeded my salary requirements, unlike those which I was put forward for by the other agencies I mentioned, which usually fell a little short), and eventually I received an interview with a company. It was the preparation for an interview given by Witan Jardine that also gave me full confidence that this was one of the better and more reputable agencies out there. The standard procedure there (which by the way I have never encountered elsewhere) was to first of all e-mail you a dossier on the company you are going to be interviewed by, the role itself, and details of company websites, so that you can gather more background information so that you are well informed at the time of interview. They also invite you into their offices again on the day of your interview with the company and run through the role itself, the type of things that the employers are looking for, the skills on your CV, which should be emphasised, and exercises in dealing with different types of questions that you may face whilst in the interview. This resulted in my attending an interview fully confident and not at all intimidated by the prospect, and rather actually looking forward to it, following the preparation given by my consultant. The first two interviews I had though, turned out to be unsuccessful, while the third interview I went for was basically nullified when the company decided to change their mind and promo te someone into the position from inside their company, but on each occasion, Witan Jardine, and the consultants there were very reassuring that I had done the best I could, and that with time something would surely appear. They also provided me with a great deal of feedback form the company themselves on how they thought I did in the area and discussed with me in depth what things I did well in the interview and what things I could improve on, as well as advising me how to make those improvements. By the time my fourth interview came around, I was confident that I had made the necessary adjustments to my interview technique and in my pre-interview briefing at Witan Jardine, the consultant also seemed to agree. I then went off to my interview, which I felt had gone really well, and this was confirmed when my consultant said that although they have two more candidates to see, that they would definitely like to see me for a second interview the following week. The following day, though I received even better news when I received a n e-mail from my consultant telling me that after seeing all of the candidates, the company had decided to skip the second interview and offer me a start date the following week, which I happily accepted. I am now very happy in my new job, and felt that Witan Jardine went a very long way to helping me get it. The staff there are friendly, polite, and seem very committed to finding work for those who choose to use your service, and don’t give up on you too quickly after a set-back or two, unlike what I encountered from other agencies in the past. I wholeheartedly encourage anyone looking for financial work in London (I don’t know if they have other UK offices) to give them a try- they offer a quality service and are from my experience are highly likely to help you not only to find a job, but also to help you improve your interview skills and other job-searching te chniques.
For as long as I can remember, I have shopped at my local ASDA superstore. Since I was very young, I can always remember weekly shopping trips to ASDA with either my parents or grandparents (sometimes both), and have always found ASDA to be an enjoyable place to go for the weekly necessities- until just recently that is. My local ASDA store is about a thirty-minute walk from my house, though usually a car journey gets us there far quicker. There are ample parking spaces (I’m not sure exactly how many) and a McDonalds is in very close proximity of the store for those that like fast food as part of their shopping trip, instead of the food served up in the ASDA restaurant. Speaking of which, that brings me on to my first point about the store. The ASDA café or restaurant (as it’s sometimes called) is situated just to the left of the entrance and overlooks the car park. The food there is always varied (from traditional English fry-ups to things such as beef lasagne and spaghetti Bolognese- they also have occasional ‘themes’ with Italian-Food weeks and the like as well as offering vegetarian meals too) and reasonably priced (cheaper in fact than many local cafes). However in recent years the quality of it seems to have deteriorated somewhat. This deterioration seems to have coincided with the rise and promotion of the ASDA budget-range ‘Smartprice’ (formerly known as ‘Farm Foods’). ‘Smartprice’ products are an ASDA own-brand that is specifically aimed at saving the customer money, by offering a whole range of products (particularly food products and drinks) at lower prices than major brand names and even the standard ASDA own- brand goods, but also this normally means a reduction in the quality of the product (this is not always the case, as things like tissues, and ice creams I have always found to be on a par with most other similar products, but many of the food pr oducts are not of the quality found in the top brand-name goods). I am not entirely sure whether or not the ASDA restaurant started using these lower-priced, but also lower-quality budget goods to serve to customers, but it was at the time when ASDA were heavily promoting ‘Farm Foods’ that the quality of the meals really started to go downhill in my eyes. The meals were dryer than previously and the bread products considerably more stodgy and bloating. This could of course be related to something other than a switch in the makers of the food that is served, but I feel that this could definitely be the case. As for the layout of the cafe/restaurant, it is fairly spacious, catering for a reasonable amount of people, and giving them a good environment in which to eat their meals. There is a smoking and a non-smoking area so it caters for a broad spectrum of customers. I have also come across an altogether different problem on my last two visits there (sometime ago now). I encountered problems of under-staffing in the area, as the trays on which you carry your food to your table on had all been used, and the person serving behind the counter had to walk all the way around, and collect them off of tables, before wiping them down and placing them back in the collection area- this, as you would expect caused significant delays to serving times, and would likely deter many people who may have popped in there in their lunch break from going there again. Now then, lets talk about ASDA itself, after that mini-rant about the café. The store itself is nicely laid out in marked aisles that let you know where to go when looking for certain products, and unless you visit between opening time and 11.00am and any time after about Four O’clock, then it is likely that you would be able to navigate the store comfortably and with little crowding in the aisles. The store stocks a wide range of goods and products , notably food and drinks (of all kinds), as well as household goods, clothing and a growing electronics and entertainment section. Since the American ‘Wal-Mart’ group acquired ASDA, the electronics section has grown considerably, bringing in DVD players, wide-screen televisions, toasters and many other goods. While these products are not by any stretch of the imagination ‘top-of-the-range’, they are often made by reputable companies such as Sharp and LG, and are offered at very reasonable prices (currently there is a 28-inc stereo sound television on sale for under £450 and they were selling DVD players at under £200 two years ago when it was almost unheard of). On top of that, the products come with a three-year guarantee and these are largely the reasons why the electronics section at ASDA is becoming more popular all the time and is gradually growing. The entertainment section offers a good selection of the latest CDs, Videos and DVDs (as well as some not-so-recent titles), normally priced at anything from £1-5 the RRP. There is always a good special offer on as well, with certain videos usually retailing form £4.99, CDs for £6.99 and DVDs from £12.99. There is a separate counter for goods sold in the area, and two people normally always staff it. The entertainment section of ASDA really can’t be faulted. To list and price them all would be a mammoth undertaking and I suspect that the cost of everyday household requisites on the whole would be pretty much the same within a few pence either way at any other of the well known stores. As mentioned earlier, the store does a great deal more than just sell the products detailed so far, and the aforementioned 'Smartprice' brand really does offer big savings on goods, so long as you are prepared to sacrifice quality in some of the areas in which you by these products. It is not only through ‘Smartprice’ though that ASDA is able to be competitive on price. It’s ‘ASDA’ brand goods are also usually anything up to a third less than major brand names and these goods do not have such a marked difference in quality, be it food, cosmetic goods or anything else. In fact if you take the goods out of the packaging, it can often be hard to differentiate from the major brands and the ‘ASDA’ brand. The brand names themselves are often usually anything from 2-10p less than they would be in most supermarkets and convenience stores (compared to my local ‘Spar’ store they are sometimes even up to 30p less) and in terms of competing with similar stores; there is really only Tesco that can challenge ‘ASDA’ in terms of price. However, price, although being important is not the be-all and end-all of shopping- indeed, it matters very little at all if the goods you want are not in stock, and unfortunately this is quite often the case for me and my family when we choose to shop at ASDA, though this has only been the case, since the much-publicised Wal-Mart-takeover. Due to the working times and patterns of my family and I, our weekly shop can take place sometimes at 10 in the morning, while other weeks it will be in the early afternoon, or sometimes 8 in the evening. Shopping in the morning you would think is not so bad, and normally it isn’t, although the store can be quite busy at times. Generally though, you are able to lay your hands on what you want, and can get all of your shopping done there and then. However shopping at ANY time other than that virtually guarantees that getting all of what you want is going to be almost impossible. You see, the problem with my local ASDA (and I don’t know if this applies to all ASDA stores) is that once stock has run out, it is very rarely replenished that same day- therefore it is not uncommon to be walking around the store eve n as early in the day as 2-3pm (the store is open most nights until 8pm, and 9pm of a Friday) and to see masses of empty shelves). Having been confronted with this situation many times, I have asked staff whether or not they are planning to re-stock, but am always informed that if it’s not on the shelf, then it is not likely to be until at least the following day. The unfortunate thing is that this problem actually seems to be getting worse. It was only yesterday that I was in the store at 11.00am, just a couple of hours after it opened in search of some fresh rolls for my lunch, certain that ASDA (which is well-known for it’s on-site bakeries) would have some in stock. However, this proved not to be the case, and so I asked the baker when he would have the next batch ready, only to be told that they are all out of flour for the day and that they would be unable to produce any more fresh bread products until the following day. I found this to be very poor and it is instances like this, that have become all too common-place lately that are forcing me to go further afield to my nearest Tesco, where staff can regularly be seen re-stocking the shelves and ensuring that there is always enough products on the shelves for the majority of the day. There are many positive points to the store though, with large delicatessen and cooked meat counters where the staff are always very helpful and willing to assist you in selecting just the right type and amount of what you want. I have also found the staff to be very helpful also when enquiring about some of the Indian dishes that you can select fresh from the counter, they even told me the individual ingredients of some of them, in case I was allergic to any of them. In fact the staff are also polite and friendly whether you’re asking them for something or whether you just happen to ‘bump into’ them, the main problem is that there doesn 8217;t seem to be enough of them. Quite often you can be standing at the deli’ counter for around five minutes without seeing any member of staff behind there, and it is not uncommon for announcements to be put out for staff alerting them that they have customers waiting and when it comes to ‘cashing out’ at the end of your shop things are no better. My local ASDA branch has 30 tills, but it is very rarely that over half of them are staffed and this often results in long queuing times. At stores like Tesco, this doesn’t happen as much, as generally they open up another till once staff see big queues developing, while at ASDA this just isn’t the case, and so it’s not been unknown to wait for up to ten minutes before you pay for your goods even in the stores’ less-busy periods. One good aspect of ‘cashing out’ at ASDA though, particularly for the elderly or disabled is that they have a number of ‘Happy to Help’ staff who will pack your bags for you and place them into the trolley. I have even known these staff to help the elderly out to the car park with their goods, so I would say that this is definitely an area where ASDA excel. That brings me onto the access for the disable, and this is another area in which ASDA can be commended. The car parks have been made with ramps that lead to zebra crossings, which are particularly beneficial for those in wheelchairs, and there is also a facility to actually use a wheelchair provided by the store if you are only partially disabled, and can perhaps walk short distances but not get all of the way around a big store. The ASDA ‘greeters’ are responsible for fetching these, and if necessary attaching them to specially made trolleys, and this is a major help to the disabled persons’ shopping experience. You can even telephone them just before you arrive, so that there is a wheelchair ready and waitin g as you arrive at the store. As previously mentioned, this is where the service provided by ASDA is top-notch. There are also adequate disabled toilet facilities, as well as male and female toilets for the able-bodied. From my experience all of these are regularly cleaned and maintained to a high standard, unlike in many other establishments, where the same cannot be said. Something else that ASDA offers is petrol at a station situated towards the back of the car park. The prices are, usually lower than you would find at many well-known petrol stations, and which you can also use a special loyalty card with to build up points, which can eventually be exchange for a money-off voucher from the clothing section of the store. This is another positive point about ASDA, though I believe that the points scheme is soon ending, apparently to make way for even lower petrol prices. Whether or not this is the case, is yet to be seen. Overall, I would conclude by saying that ASDA offers great prices, good service and a great range of facilities for it’s customers but is unfortunately let down by an apparent lack of staff and regular shortages of much of it’s stock. It can still be an enjoyable shopping experience, but the frustration of going there so often and then having to go back later for something they didn’t have in first time around is now making Tesco seem much more appealing even though I have to travel considerably further to get there.
I was looking through some boxing tapes the other day when I came across one I hadn’t seen for a while- ‘Chris Eubank- Simply The Best’. I sat and watched this and it brought back a lot of memories. I really first got interested in boxing through watching Eubank fights throughout the 1990’s, so having got the tape out and reminded myself just why he was such a special addition to British boxing, I though I would write an opinion on him (please note that it will concentrate largely on Eubank the boxer). Born in on August 8th, 1966, Christopher Livingstone Eubank, lived with his family in Brighton, but as he grew older and went through school, found himself getting into fights and other trouble with people his age, and after many school suspensions, was sent to the United States by his parents to complete his education, in New York, which he did, graduating in 1986. To keep him away from the trouble that had dogged him in the UK, Eubank’s parents arranged for him to be trained in boxing at the Jerome boxing club in the South Bronx, as a form of discipline as well as to keep fit. Eubank adapted well to the sport, and before entering the professional ranks, he got to the semi-finals of the ‘Golden Gloves’, and won the Spanish ‘Golden Gloves’. A middleweight, his first five fights, really against no better opposition than club fighters, were all held in either New York or Atlanta, and each of them went Eubank’s way by decision over four rounds. Eubank’s first fight in his home country was a brief first round knock-out of Darren Parker (a fighter no better in quality than any of his US opponents) in 1988, before taking on a succession of opponents of a similar calibre in six-round match-ups, winning all of them, most by the big KO. In February 8th 1989 he gained some recognition with an eight round points victory over Jamaican fighter, Anthony Logan , who was known to UK fight fans primarily for giving highly rated Nigel Benn some problems in his previous fight. Eubank was getting himself noticed by this stage, largely thanks to his trademark posturing and vault over the top-rope, and two points victories over Frankie Moro and Randy Smith, followed by a succession of knockouts in his next six fights, gave him a 20-0 record by 1990, and earned him a shot against a higher calibre of opponent, WBC International Middleweight champion, Hugo Corti on March 6th of that year. His points win in that fight and impressive displays in his next three (a points win over Eduardo Contreras, an eighth round knockout of Kid Milo and a first-round demolition of Renaldo De Santos), led to an all-British WBO World Middleweight title contest in 1990 between Eubank, and British fan’s favourite, Nigel Benn, who had made two successful defences of the title. The first four rounds featured aggressive toe-to-toe action from both fighters that many thought would favour Benn, but it was Eubank getting the upper hand, causing early swelling under Benn’s left eye, when in the fifth round, a great right hook from Benn floored his undefeated challenger, and gave him the edge, but Eubank quickly shook of it’s effects, and continued to work on Benn’s damaged eye, eventually forcing a ninth round stoppage to claim the title. After defeating a crowd favourite like Benn, Eubank further angered boxing followers with a blatant head-butt at opponent Dan Sherry in his first title defence, which almost cost him his title (he won the fight narrowly on points), and earned him a £10,000 fine. A sixth round knockout of Gary Stretch was followed up by a disputed points win over fellow Englishman, Michael Watson in June 1991. With both boxers set to move up a weight, a rematch between the two was made just three months later in an exciting contest for the vacant WBO World Super-Middleweight title that is forever remembered for it’s tragic ending. Watson was leading on most peoples’ scorecards as the fight entered its closing stages, and many felt that his victory was assured when he floored Eubank early in the eleventh round. Eubank though, desperate to remain unbeaten connected with an uppercut that sent Watson down towards the end of the eleventh, and as the boxer was falling, his head bounced viciously off of the tightly pulled bottom rope of the ring. Watson got to his feet though but although he came out for the final round, was quickly stopped, and suddenly slumped unconscious in his corner and had to receive emergency treatment for a blood clot on the brain. The injury Watson sustained was life threatening. It ended his career as a boxer, and left him confined to a wheelchair up until a year or so ago, when thankfully, his recovery progressed a step further. This outcome to the fight though also had an effect on Eubank, who took several months out and did not appear back in a boxing ring until the 2nd of February the following year. His first match back was against tough South African, Sugar Boy Malinga, and he managed to grind out a points victory. His next five opponents, John Jarvis, Ron Esset, Tony Thornton, Juan Carlos Giminez and Lindell Holmes were all criticised by both boxing pundits and fans alike as perhaps being not quite of the standard that a World Champion should be facing. Eubank though seemed to find the contests difficult, and while most people expected none of them to last the distance with him, it was only Jarvis that didn’t (after being caught with a wicked counter-punch in the third round of their encounter in April 1992). It seemed apparent that the damage inflicted against Michael Watson had made Eubank wary of going for knock-outs in fights, and he instead adopted a far more cautious approach, usually keeping to the outsid e of the ring and staying behind his jab for much of the twelve-round duration making anything other than a points result extremely unlikely. The British fans who seemingly loved to hate Eubank were given more ammunition as not only did he still keep up the appearance of the posing braggart who swanned around in expensive suits wearing a monocle and trying to look extremely dapper, but now they were saying that his style was making his fights boring to watch. His reputation for controversy was given a further boost in May 1993 in Scotland when he was out-pointed by Irish-man Ray Close going into the final round, but managed to knock his opponent down with little time left in the round, causing it to be scored a draw (which many felt he still didn’t deserve). Still the British boxing public at large were sure that he would get his come-uppence just four months later, when he again faced Nigel Benn in a much anticipated rematch. Since losing to Eubank, Benn had become something of a ‘people’s champion’, taking on a high, genuine world class level of opposition, and capturing the imagination with gutsy all-action displays of determination and punching power and on top of that, he’d added the WBC World Super-Middleweight title so the fight was all set-up as a unification clash. The fight was arguably the most exciting that Eubank had been involved in as Benn dominated early on, before the awkward, counter-punching Eubank, clawed back the points deficit in the later rounds. Again, a fight featuring Eubank went the distance, and as in his previous fight the decision was a draw. Though this was a fair result overall, many fans protested that Benn had done enough to win by at least a round. His next three fights followed the pattern of those directly before his match-up with Close, and included a win over that said fighter over the distance, which he managed to just scrape. He played up his role as ‘bad guy’ by tormenting the fans of fighters whom he travelled to fight in their home countries, but still had not stopped an opponent since the Spring of 1992. This streak ended in August 1994, almost two years later when he defeated Sam Storey, a good domestic level fighter, but not a major name on the world scene inside seven rounds, which was his most dominant performance for a long time. He followed it up with one of his worst, doing very little in a twelve-round bore of a fight against American Dan Schommer, who most people at Eubank’s level usually disposed of a lot more emphatically, but whom Eubank was very fortunate against in getting a points verdict in his favour. People then tipped him to lose as he came up against classy British star Henry Wharton, but again, he confounded them as he turned in a sizzling display on his way to a unanimous points win. Though his performance in that fight was first-class, question marks were again raised over Eubank’s reluctance to finish off his opponents, as on a couple of occasions he had Watson reeling up against the ropes only to step back, preferring to ask the referee to consider stopping it rather than taking that decision out of the officials’ hands by ending it himself. So, having won 43, lost none and drawn two, Eubank was all set for a third contest against Ray Close in Belfast to take place in March 1995. A spanner was thrown into the works though and Close, having failed a brain scan was substituted for another Irish competitor, Steve Collins, who’d gone close at World title level earlier in his career. The fight began as usual for a Eubank contest, though he had seemingly been thrown beforehand as Collins had claimed to be hypnotised and was able to withstand more pain than the normal man. Collins also paid no attention to Eubank’s elaborate and showy entrance and as the contest progressed, it became clear that he was giving the champion all sorts of problems. By the eighth round, he was clearly in control, and extended his points margin by scoring a knockdown. Round ten came along though and suddenly it was like the pre-Watson Eubank had returned, abandoning the more cautious elements of his fight-plan and going straight for Collins. Within seconds of the opening bell, he’d floored the Irishman with an over-hand right and as he got up, a little wobbly on his feet, most people expected Eubank to finish the job. This didn’t happen though, and perhaps with thoughts of Michael Watson and the fact that Collins apparently had been trained to withstand in-human amounts of pain in mind, Eubank spent the rest of the round, moving around the ring, posing and allowing his opponent to recover. He continued this in the eleventh round, and by then it became apparent (even more so when Eubank’s long-time trainer Ronnie Davies gave him a slap) that the man who was undefeated and had become used to the moniker of ‘Simply The Best’ was on the verge of defeat if he didn’t knock Collins out. He didn’t and a new champion was crowned, finally placating those fans that had been desperate to see the showboating champion lose. After a couple of fights against lower class opposition in the months that followed (each resulting in first round stoppage wins), Eubank stepped back into the ring with Collins again. He seemed a shadow of himself though, and Collins style of continually coming forward and landing body shots seemed to weaken him more than he’d been weakened in the past. In the end, the verdict was unanimous and Collins won comfortably by a greater margin than he did in their first fight. After the fight, in September 1995, Eubank announced his retirement from the sport. He gradually though became prominent in the public eye, due to his unique dress-sense and mannerisms, though with newspaper allegations of financial problems rife, he made a return to the ring, largely unseen by the British public, in the Far East. He had moved up to light-heavyweight now, and had no problems disposing of Luis Berrera in five rounds (in Cairo) and Camillo Alarcon in four (in Dubai). This though was not the stage Eubank was used to competing on, and it seemed that these appearances (which took place in October 1996 and March 1997 respectively) were likely to be one-offs. He did though, appear once more at Super-Middleweight though, in the most unlikely of circumstances. Steve Collins, who was still WBO World champion at that weight was due to face the up-and-coming and highly rated Joe Calzaghe in September 1997, yet with just ten days to go pulled out of the match and announced his retirement. It was then decided that Calzaghe must face somebody for the now vacant title, and with the other top names in the division in preparation for up-coming matches of their own, it was Eubank who was offered the chance of re-gaining his old title. Admittedly with just ten days to prepare and little action since his defeat by Collins, many felt Eubank was just fodder for the young Calzaghe. He surprised many though by managing to last the distance, and even though the effects of making the weight in such a short time-span had visibly tired Eubank, he put up a brave fight and lasted the distance in losing the match. While a loser in the ring, outside of it, Eubank was being praised by the majority of boxing fans, impressed by the showing of guts and determination and accepting the Eubank posturing now as a form of entertainment that the sport had lacked since his retirement. He was to have one more attempt at World glory, again going for the WBO version of the title, but this time it would be two weights heavier at Cruiserweight against champion Carl Th ompson. Taking place in April 1998, it was clear in this fight that Thompson was the naturally bigger and stronger man. Eubank however showed impressive boxing skills, moving in and out of range, punching to the body and actually putting himself in the driving seat on most scorecards at the mid-way stage of the fight. He had a couple of chances to go for a knock-out as Thompson was, on occasion staggered, but again seemed reluctant to do so. Eventually though, the bigger man’s punches proved the difference and Eubank narrowly lost a decision, having fought the final three rounds being unable to see clearly due to a grotesquely swollen left eye caused by the thudding jab of his opponent. Once more, Eubank had won over the fans though and at stages of the fight, they were chanting his name, something that was unthinkable earlier in his career. Rather than ‘Eubank the braggart’, he was now seen as ‘Eubank the brave’, as he desperately fought to become world champion again, even with the use of only one eye. That fight was one of the most exciting to take place in a ring anywhere in the world that year, and there were many calls to get a rematch on as soon as possible. It happened three months later, though it may have been too soon for Eubank. As he entered the ring, there was still visible bruising under his left eye, and although he was able to put up another great display of skill and bravery, he was stopped by the referee, despite his protests at the end of round nine, with his eye having completely closed up for a second time. This time Eubank announced his retirement, and with the risk of permanent eye damage in the future, this time it was for good. Since his time in the boxing ring, he ha appeared in television advertisements, on game shows, on boxing shows as a pundit, and he even at one time has hosted his own radio show on ‘Talksport’. Many people today r emember him for his appearance on ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ last year, and in each of these appearances, he comes across as a very eccentric, expensively dressed man, who is not too adverse to the odd poetic quotation. However, for me, that is not the real Chris Eubank. The Chris Eubank that I loved to watch while I was growing up was the sharp-dressed boxer- ‘Simply The Best’, the man who kept winning just as everyone expected him or wanted him to lose. He was charismatic, he was super-confident, and he was controversial, but above all, I remember sitting watching Eubank fights on ITV (and later on Sky Sports) and just marvelling at what a good boxer, entertainer and showman he was, and despite the emergence since then of the likes of Naseem Hamed, who project themselves in a similar way, I feel that Chris Eubank was a genuine one-off, and the void left in British Boxing when he retired is one that is still left largely unfilled.
E-Wrestling? What exactly is e-wrestling, I hear you ask. Well, e-wrestling is in a way very similar to the sports entertainment phenomenon that is wrestling itself, with the major difference being that rather than being played out on a TV screen to numerous viewers, it’s played out over the internet to people who are free to come and compete themselves. Compete? Don’t worry, that is not an invitation for the many wrestling fans that surf the net to come and partake in a physical wrestling match, because unlike wrestling itself, e-wrestling relies on words and not any physical action on the part of the people who choose to join an e-federation. In some ways, it’s not too different from playing an online role-playing game. So How Does It All Work Then? As there are wrestling federations in real life, so there are various e-federations dotted around all over the Internet. These federations are run either by a group of people together or a single owner (usually known as the e-fed’s President) and are usually found in the form of a web-site although some appear as e-mail messages. It would usually be down to these people (or person as is more often the case) to try and create interest in the e-federation by recruiting members. This can be done by contacting friends, advertising on other web-sites or a slightly more frowned upon method of visiting other e-federations (from here on referred to as E-Feds), and trying to steal their existing members in order to have them come to your E-Fed. So, I hear you cry, how do you become a member of an E-Fed, and what are you supposed to do? The answer to this is that to become a member, you must select a ‘wrestler’ who you want to be in control of, and assign a set of moves to them, before either filling out an on-site application form or e-mailing the owner to let them know of your wish to join. Some e-feds allow their members to be based on real-life WWF counter-parts while others demand that you create an entirely new ‘character’ all of your own while there are others that allow both of these options. Once you are confirmed as a member then the way to get yourself noticed is to begin role-playing, most e-federations have a message board in place specifically for this purpose and this is where the main ‘action’ would take place, with verbal exchanges between members who are each trying to arrange matches or prove that they are the most skilled when it comes to portraying a wrestling character similar to those that can be found in the World Wrestling Federation. The President of the E-Fed would normally have two weekly events in place whereby the members get a gauge of how well they have been doing in their chosen roles. These events that take place are much like the wrestling shows that are seen by many on Sky Television, and matches are arranged throughout the week, based on who has role-played, how they have role-played, and whether or not the creative mind behind the e-fed has thought up any storylines for these people to take part in. Yes, you did hear that correctly, I said storylines. Most people, whether fans of wrestling or not are more than aware that is scripted and the results of matches are known well in advance, indeed wrestling now goes under the guise of sports-entertainment rather than sport and acknowledges that storylines are put in place to make the shows more entertaining. When the time comes every once or twice a week, a team of writers (or again in some feds just the President of the federation) will create a set of matches and a set of results that can help to create storylines or further existing ones. They can use things that have been suggested to them in e-mail by their members or things that they have picked up on in members’ role-plays. Hopefully they can t hen create and develop feuds between members, which make for entertaining shows (which co-incidentally are normally based on the formats of existing wrestling television shows). The reward for members to do well is to be crowned the champion of the federation, and this is usually a reward for an overall contribution to the federation in the role-plays of members, as well as an acknowledgement of quality role-playing from the members of the e-fed. So, what’s the point in it all then? Well many people choose to join e-feds to live out dreams of being a pro-wrestler through writing, in a way that they never will be able to in real life physically. Joining an e-fed can also create a feeling that you are involved in a community and can actually lead to you finding many new friends who would all share a common interest. In a practical sense, the role-playing itself urges you to be creative and can help you to improve your writing skills (usually the President of the Federation can give you pointers on what you could be doing to improve what you are writing.). Finally, e-feds also offer escapism to it’s members- for as long as you wish, you can spend time in the guise of your chosen character and are free to say and do things that you probably never would (or more likely would never get away with) in real life. So then, that’s enough positives, what of the negatives? Well for a start the people that usually choose to join these e-feds are normally aged between 13-21 and if you wind up in one that has lots of members in the lower end of that scale, then the role-plays that they write don’t usually tend to be of what could be called exceptionally high quality and it’s hard to interact with them. Another problem is that some of these federations are often operated by people this age, and so although they may initially attract a large number of members they often fail to under stand the storyline aspect of the e-federation or the need to reward those members who are dedicated to regular role-playing and are biased towards a number of their friends who are also involved and so you can end up with a situation where the federation has champions from a select bunch of people all of the time and the members who are hard-working but not really friends as such with the President are not given any praise for their efforts. In circumstances like this these types of e-feds are not normally around for long, as they gain a reputation for bias and the top members move on to other more established federations. It’s therefore good advice when joining an e-fed to try and join one with an established name or reputation that has been around for a while as normally you can be guaranteed a rewarding and enjoyable experience from these type of e-feds. Having been both a member of and e-fed in the past and a President of one (which I have recently re-opened due to popular demand), I think that there is a lot of effort to be put in on both sides, though I would have to say that running one is infinitely more awkward than being a member in one. When you are a member of one you can pick and choose when to role-play, but as an owner, especially when you have built up a loyal group of members, you are under pressure to put up pages of detailed matches and results at the same time each week, and this is normally necessary if you don’t want your members to leave and go elsewhere (Particularly if your e-fed is financed by advertising banners and you need a certain number of members to regularly click on them to guarantee it’s survival). If you have younger members in the e-fed then you are generally prone to abusive e-mail as they lack the knowledge to know that there’s a storyline in place and are angry that their chosen competitor has lost. At times like this it can make you feel as though you really don’t want to carry on with it (I mean you give up a lot of free time to run the e-fed only to get a lot of abuse in response to it), but then at other times when people e-mail you praising you on the way you’ve written match results or created storylines, it can feel quite rewarding. E-feds are not by any means for all people, as they require a lot of work and writing, whether you are in it as a member or a President, but they can be fun, they can be rewarding and they can help the way you write and think creatively. I would go as far as to recommend them, though I do recognise that their appeal lies mainly with wrestling fans. Anyway, I hope that I have given you an idea just what an e-fed is and some of the time and effort that is required to make one of a high quality. Speaking of high quality, I am not convinced that can be said about this opinion (which I’ve struggled with a bit to be honest, it’s a different style to which I normally adopt when writing), so any comments or suggested improvements will be very welcome. That’s all from me for now.
I first encountered Jonathan Wren in July 2000, as I was coming to the closing stages of my exams at college. Having decided to enter the world of work rather than go the university route, I began looking for employment, sending letters off to various companies and employment agencies, and I stumbled across Jonathan Wren after conducting a search on the internet. I sent an e-mail to them, enquiring as to whether they would be likely to be able to find any work that I would be suited to, and was told that it would be best to send them a copy of my CV by post, which I duly did. However, not long after this I was offered a temporary-to-permanent work opportunity from another employment agency, which I took, and was happy in my role, learning some skills and gaining some knowledge of finance and investments. Shortly after starting this job, I received letters or telephone calls from the other agencies and companies I’d written to, letting me know that they did or didn’t have employment opportunities, and (in the case of agencies) asking me to contact them if ever the need arose. Once of those agencies was Jonathan Wren, and as they were quite near to where I was working at that time, they asked me to go in and register with them, to save time in case they find any work, which could be suitable for me in the future. So, off I went one lunch-time and met with one of the female consultants there, who asked me about the job I was doing, my qualifications, and the type of work that I was looking for. After giving her these details, I was told that she would contact me if anything suitable appeared, or to get in touch if my (employment) situation changed. So, I went back to the job I was doing, and everything was going rather well, with my job expecting to be made permanent in the new year, when suddenly myself and some of the other temporary workers were told that our services would no longer be requ ired after December 2000, as the bulk of the department I was working in was re-locating to Scotland, where workers had already been trained to do the job. This put me back to the same position I was in a few months earlier in July, contacting companies and agencies (some of whom I’d previously refused offers of work from thinking that my role was about to be made permanent). I again contacted Jonathan Wren, this time by telephone, thinking that they would probably like to update my details, but after being put through to a different consultant (the one I’d previously met had moved offices), I was told that they didn’t have any of my details, and that I must again send in a CV. Again I sent in my CV, but this time was told that I didn’t need to register with them. Then, four days into 2001 after fearing I was looking at a potentially long period of unemployment, I received a phone call from one of the male consultants there who said he had a job for me should I want it and that no interview was necessary. He explained that the job was fairly bland, and was only an on-going temporary role but said that it is for a large bank and that there may be opportunities to move around. He then added that the rate of pay would be £8 an hour, rising by anything from 50p to £1 an hour, provided that I did a sufficient job and lasted for more than a month. I didn’t know it then, but this would become a source of irritation over a period of time. A month past and there was still no increase in my pay, but I thought it best not to be too hasty in asking where it is, as I didn’t want to fall out with this agency after only being employed by them for a month. However, in the following month, I was told that I could move onto a different area of work, but that first of all I would have to train up another temporary worker that Jonathan Wren were supplying in the role I was currently perfo rming. I happened to get on very well with this person, but the first thing that struck me, as I was showing him what to do was what he said: ‘This isn’t a bad little job for £8.50 per hour is it?' The fact that the individual I was training up (and who co-incidentally had no prior banking experience) was earning 50p more than me an hour didn’t best please me (particularly as I too should have been earning this sum since the month before), but what pleased me even less was the response of my consultant when I telephoned him shortly afterwards to enquire about my promised rise. He said that he would ‘do his best’ to try to get me a rise, as he had in fact spoken to the manager of my section earlier that very day (despite the fact she was off sick that day) and had been told that I was very good at my job. It seemed, he said that the sticking point was with the company, who were not really willing to pay much more than £8 an hour to someone doing the basic, low-level job that I’d been doing. In response to this I asked him if that was the case, why did he mention the rise to me in the first place, and also how come they are paying someone with less experience than me, who I have had to train up, £8.50 an hour. He seemed to go quiet for a while at the mention of this before saying once again that he’ll do his best to have my rise in place very shortly and to contact him if I’d heard nothing from him by the next week. The next week came and I’d heard nothing, so I telephoned him, and was met with the same reply that I’d received previously. This same scenario occurred for weeks and weeks, until about June when frequently, he wasn’t around when I called in, and when I asked to speak to anyone else, they claimed that it was best if I wait and speak to him, as they don’t know what I’m talking about. Then, in late June/ear ly July, I became very ill for three weeks and had to take time off work. I was so ill that I literally couldn’t speak for the first week of my illness, and had my Dad contact Jonathan Wren, to find out which forms I needed to fill out and send in to claim some statutory sickness pay. Upon getting through to the reception, my Dad told them what the problem was and asked to be put through to my consultant, which they said they would do. The person who picked up the phone however was not my consultant, but was very helpful in letting my dad know the procedures I needed to go through to claim some sickness payment, after telling him that my consultant was not in on that particular day. About an hour later, my Dad took a call from my line manager at work, saying that my consultant had been in touch with them, telling them I was ill, and enquired how long I would be off for (which I informed him of). The lack of truth that it seemed Jonathan Wren was telling though was now dismaying me somewhat. First I had caught them out over the amount of pay they could pay me for the role I was doing, and now they were telling me (well, my Dad) that my consultant wasn’t in, when in fact it appeared that he was. Anyhow, after my illness cleared up, I went back to work, and after less than a week back, rumour began circulating that the temporary workers may soon be replaced by some workers brought in and trained up internally by the company. I enquired about this to my consultant (on one of the few times I managed to get through to him), in another fruit-less attempt to discover why they still were not paying me the extra money that they said they would, and I was told that as far as he knew that was not true. The individual whom I trained up in my previous role was also becoming concerned, and as the rumours continued a few weeks later, he too telephoned Jonathan Wren, and received the same response from the sa me consultant. By August however, both him and me were sharing a variety of jobs, and sharing a duty to train up some of the permanent staff in roles which we had carried out up until then. Slowly, the jobs we were brought in to do were being given to those who we had trained up, and eventually we were doing nothing much more than filing and stacking up boxes. Come early September 2001, it was confirmed that the company was bringing in some people that it had been training for many months prior, and that our temporary roles would end at the end of that month. As we had been given a substantial period of notice, both me and my co-worker decided to telephone Jonathan Wren and to see if they had any plans to place us anywhere else once our roles finished. When I telephoned, I actually managed the rare feat of being put straight through to my consultant, and he said that there are a few jobs coming up that I would be suitable for, though when I enquired about the extra money that I should have received from February through to September (whilst the 50p itself may seem a small some, it works out at around £80 for each of those months), and the chances of having it back-dated, I was stunned when he simply put the phone down on me. A day or so later, my co-worker telephoned and spoke to somebody else (our consultant wasn’t in on this day, again) and asked if it was likely that there would be anything else in the pipeline. The person who answered informed him that ‘we haven’t had any work for six months, and we are not likely to have any for another six months’ (a strange way for an employment agency to promote itself, is it not?). When my co-worker very politely informed him that he had himself started within the last six months, and has friends who had been placed in jobs by Jonathan Wren just a few months earlier, he too received the ‘put-down-the-phone-as-quick-as-you-can’ treatment. < br>Anyway, after my role ended at that company, I went through the same process that I had done twice previously when trying to find a job, and had secured myself an interview for a months’ temporary work (I have tried to look for permanent work, but it always seems that temporary is the only thing available when I’m looking, and I have to make some money somehow). On the morning of that interview, I was surprised by a telephone call from my Jonathan Wren consultant, offering me temporary work for one, possibly two weeks. I explained that I was just about to go to an interview, and asked him if it was okay to speak about it later in the day. He told me that it wasn’t, and that he’d have to give the job to someone else, as it required me to be in Central London in an hour’s time for an immediate start (by the way, I live about an hour from Central London), I explained to him that there was virtually no chance of me being able to get there for that time (my trains were on strike at the time), and so he said he’d have to give the job to someone else. As things turned out, I got the job at the interview that day and started one months’ temporary work, though when that ended I got in touch with all of the agencies and companies I’d previously tried, as I searched for employment once more. This time, when I telephoned Jonathan Wren, and asked to speak to my consultant, I was put through to somebody else, who informed me that (unsurprisingly) my consultant wasn’t in, and that he could help. However, when I explained my situation, and he’d taken a few minutes, he informed me that they have no record of me (again), and that I would have to come in and re-register. He also added that if I came to re-register the following day, that he had a role to speak to me about. Once again, I went up to London, and went through exactly the same things that I had done previously with this agenc y, though at the end of this registration, the person I spoke to informed me that he was basically now my new consultant, and showed me a job description that I liked, asking if he could put me forward for the role, which I agreed to. He said that if I hadn’t heard anything from him in two days to contact him. Having waited two days and still having heard nothing, I telephoned and asked to speak with him, only to be told he wasn’t available. I then requested to speak with my previous consultant and was told that he too wasn’t available, and when I was put through to somebody else, they told me that really, it’s best that I speak to my consultant and that he will get him to call me back. As before, I heard nothing. I telephoned and went through the same procedure as before, with neither of my designated consultants being ‘available’. I finally gave up after going through this a couple more times, and getting the same response, and sending numerous letters and e-mails with updated CVs, all of which have not been acknowledged, and I have since found some rather good and on the whole more useful employment agencies. I will acknowledge that Jonathan Wren did me a big favour by finding me a job at a time when I had just been made unemployed, and that I never had any problem with not being paid on time, or anything like that. I also know some people who are very happy with the service that Jonathan Wren provides. However, from personal experience, I wouldn’t deal with them again, I felt that the way they deal with the people whom they put in places of employment was to a degree, unhelpful, rude and misleading and was left with the impression that the consultants (who when you register give a really good impression that they are committed to looking for work for you and are there if you have any queries) really couldn’t care less about you. Jonathan Wren are definitely not recom mended in my book.
I have been going to my local 'Game' store at the Lakeside Shopping Centre for many years now. Most times, I used to just browse in there but now I frequently make purchases from there because of a number of guarantees they now make. I have always previously purchased my games from a local independent store, that sells games slightly cheaper than the main video game stores (namely 'Game' and it's sister store 'Electronics Boutique') and which also offers a wide range of import titles. However, after experiencing in a decline in the service at my local independent store (it has since picked up again), I started purchasing more regularly from 'Game'. One of the main features that attracted me to 'Game' was introduced a few years back, when they introduced a policy whereby you can take back any game you purchase from there within ten days and they will either refund your money or give you a replacement product. I found this to be an excellent idea, as it was not a matter of whether the game didn't work properly or not, you could take it back for the simple reason that you didn't like it (which I have done many times) which virtually guaranteed that you wouldn't be disappointed with what you'd purchased, because you could continually change it until you were satisfied. Something else that appealed to me about 'Game' was the fact that they will match the price of a competitor if they are selling the same product for less. The combination of these two factors gave 'Game' an edge over my local independent retailer in my eyes, due to the fact that if you don't like a game you buy from them, you are stuck with it (unless of course it's faulty), but with the two policies mentioned above now in place, I could get the game from 'Game' for the same price that the independent retailer was selling it for while having the option to return it if I didn't like it. With the introduction of 'Game's' membership benefit card a couple of years ago, the benefits of this system increased. For a one-off fee of £2 you were given a membership card which is swiped every time you purchase a game, then at quarterly intervals, depending on what you've been spending in the store, you will be sent a money-off voucher which you can redeem against future purchases (so far I've had a couple of £10, £5 and £2 vouchers, so my initial fee of £2 has provided me with over £20 off money off that I otherwise wouldn't have got). Nowadays I take advantage of all three of these policies, by first having them match the (usually £5-£10) cheaper price of games from my independent retailer, then getting some points added to my card when I buy the game at this reduced price, while safe in the knowledge I can return the game if I don't like it. For those who are interested, the store also offers a part-exchange option, where you can take your old and/or unwanted games into the store and part-exchange them for money off of a title of your choice. These games are then tested for quality before being sold as 'pre-owned' games at a reduced rate than if they were brand new. Now onto the store itself: The store is well-lit with the tills and customer service (I'll come to that later) area being located at the back of the store, leaving ample room for queues to be formed without getting in the way of other shoppers too much. The layout is neat and well presented, with games on different formats being placed in clearly marked individual sections. PC games are broken down further into their genres. Gaming accessories such as light-guns and memory cards are placed in their own area, as are the pre-owned games and these too are marked-up clearly. The range of games offered is wide for the current and new formats (at the present tim e, Playstation 2, PC and Game Boy Advance would fall into this category), and the top games are placed in a chart based on how well they sell, so that you can get a rough idea of what people have been buying. The price of games is generally the (fairly-expensive) recommended-retail price, though the previously mentioned price-match option can be used to remedy this If a game that you want is out of stock they will pre-order it for you (for no extra cost) and will then telephone you to let you know when they have it. If the game you are looking for is for an older system or is hard to locate, then they have a catalogue of older titles, which you can order from (though this is not massively extensive). What ‘Game’ does not offer is import titles or machines, and so if you are one of those people that like to have machines and games a few weeks or months before they’re released officially in the UK then this store may not be for you (this will also apply if you are a dedicated follower or fan of certain games, notably some RPG’s which are often only given Japanese or American releases). In this respect my local independent store (and independent stores in general) would probably be better suited to you, as they tend to deal in this area. ‘Game’ also has a stock of DVDs which is restricted mainly to new titles and pre-owned ones that people no longer want, these like their gaming equivalents are given their own section and are reduced in price. However the brand new DVDs are generally much the same price that you'd expect to find in a high street film and music store, so there are no real bargains to be had here. There is also an area which sells a limited assortment of magazines, nothing which can’t be found in a newsagents, but none-the-less worth a look while you’re in the store (they’re quite strategically placed, so that you can see them as you queue). Now, onto the customer-service aspect of ‘Game’. In my experience customer service is a bit of a mixed bag. One thing that annoys me is that almost the instant you walk in the store you are asked by an assistant, ‘Can I Help You, Sir’. Well you perhaps could if you’d actually allowed me to have a look at any of your products first. You can then guarantee that you’ll be asked this question at least once more while you are browsing and it is something I feel that isn’t needed. If I want help, I will ask for it. The only thing that the continual presence of these ‘helpful’ people who you know are just dying to ask you that same question again does is makes me want to shop somewhere else where I can be left to look at potential purchases in peace. To counter balance that, when you are being served, the staff are always very courteous. They always say please and thank you (sometimes even asking how you are!!) and never question you or quibble when you want to return or price-match a product. The actual help that the staff can give varies a bit too. In terms of advice, some of the staff seem to be very knowledgeable, telling you what is likely to give you the best value for money, release dates of certain games and a detailed history of some of the games and formats if you request it. However some of them don’t seem to have the first clue about gaming or how to handle customers. An example of this occurred recently (12/01/02.) when I was passing the store, and called in to enquire about whether or not I would be able to return a copy of a Playstation 2 game (Madden NFL 2002) that I’d purchased for a friend’s birthday in October, but that had suddenly stopped working. The assistant I spoke to was quite helpful, and said that provided I had the receipt I could return the game and they would either replace it with another copy or exchange it for a product of the same value. I asked if they had any copies of that particular game in stock, and they hadn’t, but the assistant said not to worry, and that if I wanted him to, he could pre-order a copy, let me know when it comes in and I can then go and exchange it. I said that I’ll speak to my friend first, and that I’d know whether I needed to pre-order a copy then. The assistant said that this was fine, gave me his name, and told me to telephone my pre-order if it was needed, rather than travelling back to the store. When I got home I asked my friend which option he would like to take up, and so I gave him a call later that day, and he said he’d like a replacement copy of the same game, so I then, in turn telephoned ‘Game’ and asked to speak with the person I’d spoken with earlier. I was told that he was at lunch, but that the assistant on the other end of the phone could help. I was just getting started on explaining the scenario to him, when he rudely interrupted me upon my mention of the name of the game, insisting that I couldn’t have purchased this title, as it wasn’t out yet. He seemed a little put out when I pointed out to him that the majority of the sports games made by EA (who are behind ‘Madden NFL 2002’) are released in 2002, giving Fifa Football 2002 as an example having seen that in the store earlier in the day. He then tried to tell me that it was only available on the PC, a fact that not only did I know to be incorrect, but one which the receipt I had for the game dis-proved. I eventually finished explaining my problem and requested to pre-order a copy, to which he replied ‘OK, we’ll see what we can do, we’ll phone you if it comes in’ before putting the phone down. There was no goodbye or pleasantries here and the fact he said ‘if it comes in’ suggested that they’ll phone me on the off chance one arrives, but they won’t make a point of ordering it for me. In one day from the same store I had experienced both polite and helpful customer service and somewhat rude and not totally helpful service, which also demonstrated a real lack of knowledge about the products that the store sells. This is what I alluded to when I called ‘Game’s’ customer service a ‘mixed bag’. In conclusion, I feel that overall, ‘Game’ is a very good store from which to purchase video games, and while it can’t offer the niche and import stock that small independent retailers can it does offer a vast range of the major UK titles and formats which is what the masses are more than likely top want. It’s policies on returns and it’s membership reward scheme are very beneficial to it’s customers (particularly those that purchase games and games consoles on a regular basis) while it’s price-matching promise means that it is able to compete with even the cheapest of independent stores on price. The one major fault with ‘Game’ is that, while some aspects of it are good, it’s customer service is not guaranteed to be of the highest quality as I found out personally, and can leave a lot to be desired. For this reason I will give it four and not five stars. Overall though, ‘Game’ is a store that I heartily recommend.
In recent months, much has been written about Laurent Blanc, not all of it particularly pleasant, but I think that he has largely been the victim of a group desperate to prove that Sir Alex Ferguson was wrong in selling the defensive rock that was Jaap Stam and replacing him with the veteran French-man. I feel though that while perhaps some of the criticism has been justified, that much of it has just been over-the-top and when he has put in good performances he has recived little praise. I will not harp on about Blanc's illustrious past too much, because the fact that he has been successful at previous clubs (Marseille, Barcelona and Internazionale to name a few) as well as winning a World Cup medal has little bearing on his performances for United. I will not claim that Blanc is as good a defender as Jaap Stam (who you'll know, if you've read my previous opinion on him, was my favourite United player in his time there). I do however feel that he is doing an adequate job and that one or two stutters early on in his career at Old Trafford have been jumped on by a few fans and many in the media who have put United's poor form of October and November solely down to him. As with any defender coming to play on these shores after spending much time with a foreign club, it was always going to take a few months for Blanc to adapt, just like it did with Jaap Stam, who was criticised and written off after just a few games of his United career. Blanc's debut was a steady performance against Everton, but after looking shaky against Newcastle in a 4-3 defeat for his new club at St James' Park, the critics were already taking aim, an aim which futher honed in on Blanc following a seemingly unthinkable 2-1 home loss to Bolton and a continuation of poor form for the club(despite the fact that Blanc didn't play against Sam Allardyce's team in that unlikely defeat). He wasn't in the t eam for the Liverpool game in which none of the United players were on the top of their game, and in losing 3-1 to Arsenal, the winning goals were down to individual errors from Gary Neville and Fabien Barthez (twice). In European matches, Blanc's performances were solid, particularly in United's 1-1 draw at Bayern Munich's Olympic Stadium, where he played excellently. In two home losses that followed (to Chelsea and West Ham) and , Blanc came under further criticism and still some of that criticism can be heard even in the wake of United's recent resurgence and improved defensive record. I do not however think that Laurent Blanc is alone however in taking the blame for the slump in form from his team, in fact, I think there are a few other factors that contributed to that. One of those is the fact that he was placed into a team which was suffering from a large number of it's players being out of form at the same time. Gary Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Mickael Silvestre all hit a bad patch of form at the same time, which I believe was as much of a factor in the downturn in United's fortunes as anything else. Another thing that hampered Blanc was that he didn't know the language too well to begin with and had to rely on the translations of Mickael Silvestre to get his points across to his team-mates. This is a problem in itsef, but it was not helped by the fact that Silvestre wasn't always in the team to help him. Blanc I feel also struggled to settle, due to an injury crisis that affected his central defensive partners. He's only been at the club since September, and already his defensive partners read as follows: Wes Brown, Ronny Johnsen, Gary Neville, Mickael Silvestre, Roy Keane, John O'Shea, Ronnie Wallwork. It must be very hard for him to build a good defensive relationship with anyone when his defensive partners keep getting injured and having to be replaced. However, over the last few weeks, he and Gary Neville have had a long run together in the centre-back positions, and I think that the rewards of that lengthy period are now starting to be seen as they seem to be working a little better together to stop the goals against United piling up. As his manager Sir Alex Ferguson commented recently, Laurent Blanc individually has not been responsible for any of the goals conceded by United- yet it is widely acknowledged by many that individual errors by United players is one of the primary reasons that they've conceded so many goals this year. So Blanc must be doing something right, or at least a little better than some of his team-mates. Also, although his job is to defend the goal, Blanc has also given United something in an attacking sense that they sorely lacked last season, and that is an attacking threat from corners. Blanc is a big strong target man who is far better at attacking the ball from corners than Jaap Stam and this ability has already yielded two goals for him this season. Of course, Blanc does his faults, one of them being the way he casually strolls into mid-field areas and makes his way back in the same casual fashion, even when the opposition are attacking. People have also criticised his lack of pace, and I do admit that in a fast-paced league like the Premiership, with quick players like Henry, Owen, Anelka and Bellamy attacking you, a bit of pace is a much needed quantity. However, Laurent Blanc, like Teddy Sheringham is a player who has never had a great deal of pace and relies on his ability to read the game to help him come out on top when faced with quick opposition strikers and I feel that we may see more of this now that he is becoming more settled with a regular defensive partner, this I think was shown against Craig Bellamy and Newcastle United to good effect when Manchester United defeated them recently at Old Tr afford (3-1). I don't want anyone to mis-read this opinion and take what I am saying the wrong way. I am not saying that Blanc is the greatest centre-back in the world, and I am not saying he is as good as Jaap Stam was for Manchester United, because quite frankly, those two statements would be false. What I am saying however, is that Laurent Blanc is still a defender of reasonably high quality and is certianly capable of doing a job for Manchester United for this season, and that I feel he has been harshly viewed and treated by many in the stands and the media alike.
For anyone that has read my previous wrestling-related opinion, you will know that I've been a long-time follower of the World Wrestling Federation and it's events. Now, for those of you that have read that opinion and those that haven't (or those of you whom perhaps familiar with the WWF) I will quickly explain something about the WWF's 'Extravaganza's' or 'Pay-Per-Views' as they are known to our American friends. Up until the middle of the 1990's, the WWF used to run five 'big' events, which were given big build-ups throughout their weekly shows that would lead up to them. These events were: The Royal Rumble (in January), Wrestlemania (in March or April), The King of The Ring (In June, though this event was only added to the calendar in 1993), Summerslam (In August) and the Survivor Series (in November). In the United States, fans would have to order these events on 'Pay-Per-View' television, meaning that they had to pay a set one-off price for each of these events, each year. Here in the United Kingdom the broadcast of these events was usually live on Sky (though in the beginning some were delayed) and until the arrival of the Sky Sports channels, they were shown on Sky Movies, which was a premium channel that cost the viewer extra, and which as the name suggests, usually showed films. When Sky Sports launched, these events switched to being shown on there, along with some of the weekly WWF programming (which had previously always aired on Sky One). Like Sky Movies, the Sky Sports channels are a premium channel that the viewer has to pay extra for on top of a basic subscription, so although we weren't having to pay to view just the one event like our fellow wrestling fans in the USA, we were still having to subscribe to an extra service that costs about £15 extra a month if we want to see the major events, plus, if you want to see the live and unedi ted showing, you will have to switch on at 1am in the early hours of Monday morning, which can be an inconvenience if you have to get up the following morning for school/college/work, and so many people choose to record it. Now, as the mid-ninties approached, with the WWF caught in a bitter US ratings war with it's rival WCW, more of these 'Pay-Per-View' events were announced, with titles that have sometimes changed (so I won't name them all), and with the exception of March/April, there is now a pay-per-view each month (Wrestlemania is normally in late March, early April, and so from early February until that time there are no other 'Pay-Per-View' events, and the next one after it is in May- this is to allow the full build-up and aftermath of what is the WWF's biggest event to be conveyed fully in the Federation's weekly television broadcasts). With Sky purchasing the rights to more of these events, and the WWF's weekly 'Smackdown' show, after a year of showing these now almost-monthly events, it decided to give up the rights to some of the 'Pay-Per-Views' it had shown and these were promptly snapped up by Channel 4 (one of which was the Royal Rumble, the first of the years big WWF events, and the one featuring a unique match where 30 competitors who enter the ring at regular intervals, must eliminate each other by throwing their opposition over the top rope. The last man standing is the winner). This was great news for the wrestling fan, who could now catch some of the premier WWF events on terrestrial television albeit on a time delay at 1.50 am, with some cuts being made, and with regular advertisement brakes. Still, it's on a non-pay channel, so I thought that it's a good deal. With eleven of these events now, I must admit that I have often wondered how those American WWF fans feel at having to pay out eleven times a year to watch these events, and now it seems I, an d other UK WWF fans could be about to find out. 'Pay-Per-View' television has gradually been creeping in to UK television more and more since about 1996/1997 when Britain had it' first 'pay-per-view' boxing event. These events now take place three or four times a year and cost between £12.99 and £14.99. It has also crept into football, with Sky offering Premiership-Plus (extra Premiership football matches at a cost of £8 per match, or £50 if you order the whole set of 40 before the season started). However, in these two instances it can be seen as a good thing. In the case of the boxing, UK audiences would not otherwise be able to see it, due to the massive fees charged by promoters and overseas television to allow Sky to show the fights. 'Pay-per-View' is actually the only option that would make it possible for Sky to bring us these fights. In the case of the extra Premiership football matches, I also have no argument. Sky still show the same amount of Premiership content on their Sky Sports channels that they always have (statistically speaking they actually show more this season) and so you are being offered the chance to by something that was not available previously. The fee that Sky paid for these rights also needed to be recouped and the 'Pay-Per-View' scheme works well for them in this respect, as well as providing what I think is good value for the viewer if you take the £50 option. 'Pay-Per-View' has also made it's presence felt in the WWF programming of recent years, with live coverage of their two major UK events 'Rebellion' and 'Insurrextion' (regular fixtures in the WWF calendar in the last two to three years) being charged at £14.99 a time, although at least, unlike their other major events, we don't have to sit up until the early hours to see these events. However, that could all be about to change. Channel 4 have said they f ind the content of the WWF too violent and have given up the rights they have to the four WWF 'Pay-Per-Views'. This left the UK with no coverage for this month’s Royal Rumble event (among three others later in the year) on January 20th. Rumours surfaced that Channel 5 would purchase rights, but yesterday Sky announced that 'due to public demand' they have stepped in and bought up the rights to the 'Royal Rumble' and that it will be on Sky Box Office, their pay-per-view channel at a cost of £14, and will air at 1am with repeat showings throughout the week. Now this can be both a good thing and a bad thing. I personally think that it's great that someone has stepped in and provided UK viewers with a chance to watch this great event (shaping up to be one of the best for a long time). I don't even mind about the 'pay-per-view' price, as with the football matches, it is something which would not otherwise have been available, and Sky have had to go out of their way to get it (probably at a high price, particularly, as some have suggested if it has had to enter a 'bidding war' with Channel 5 which would have pushed the price up). However, what Sky have refused to confirm, is whether the other seven big events which it usually shows on it's Sky Sports channels (and the three released by Channel 4, though at the moment no UK broadcaster holds these rights) will be pay-only events at £14 a time. If so, that will be at least £112 a year (possibly more if Sky choose to show the other three events that were previously owned by Channel 4), and it would involve paying for events that are normally broadcast on the Sky Sports network of channels. Another problem is that those who like to tape the event and watch it the following day (due to the time it's shown) are going to be unable to do so, as Sky encrypt their pay-per-view events for copyright reasons. So these pe ople may be forced to either pay for a repeat showing, or wait until the official video is released. Only time will tell of course whether this is the case, and Sky could of course choose to show their usual events on the Sky Sports channels like they normally do. However, if they opt to make them all pay-per-view they could turn a lot of viewers away, with the pricing of the events. Sky and the WWF will have to be very careful how they deal with this, if they're not careful they could cause a dramatic dip in the popularity of sports-entertainment in the UK, and that would be bad news for both parties.
Jaap Stam was, from 1998 until August 2001 my favourite Manchester United player. Of course, after that time he ceased to be a Manchester United player at all, but in his time at the Old Trafford club he proved to most people that he was, without doubt, one of the world's top defenders. Signed in the simmer of 1998 from PSV Eindhoven for a fee of £10.5 million (a record at that time for a defender), Stam looked a true powerhouse, with his solid build and six foot, three inch frame, yet he took a little time to settle in the United back four. His United career didn't get off to the best of starts- a 3-0 defeat in the Charity Shield at Wembley against main title rivals of recent years, Arsenal prompted much media criticism towards the giant Dutchman, which particularly centered on his ability to deal with Nicolas Anelka, the then-Arsenal centre-forward, who was impressive on the day. As the season got underway, Stam still received the same stinging criticism(particularly when Arsenal repeated the same comprehensive victory in a Premiership match at Highbury), but slowly started to adapt to the pace of the English game. His strength was starting to show, as he casually brushed players aside, in order to win cruicial 50-50 challenges. By the beginning January 1999, Stam was beginning to look like a dream buy. His strength was equalled by his reading of the game, and that coupled with the ability to make some wonderful tackles and headed clearances made United look as formidable in defence as they were in attack, and after the club had lost three league games by mid-December 1998, they lost no more in either the League, the FA Cup or the Uefa Champions League that season, and completed their remarkable 'treble' triumph. Success continued for both United and Stam throughout the following two seasons, though not on the scale of his debut season (United continued to defend their Premiership trophy, bt couldn't add more cup success). Stam though, continued to look an excellent purchase for much of this time and scooped a couple of awards for European Defender of the year on successive occasions. The criticism of his debut year was now a distant memory, and Stam seemed to be enjoying his time in the English game. He was now United's number one choice at centre-back, and the question for manager Sir Alex Ferguson was who to choose as his defensive partner as injuries hit the reliable Ronny Johnsen and promising youngster Wes Brown. Stam had also established himself as a fans favourite during his three years at Old Trafford, with his all-action, tough-nosed performances earning him many admirers. He even had his own terrace chant which could regularly be heard from United fans, and he was starting to become a true Manchester Uited great in the eyes of many. Early in the 2000/'01 season though, Stam suffered a series achilles injury, which kept him out until the following year, and though he returned to complete the League triumph of that season, it appeared that something may have been missing from his game. He was beaten for pace on a couple of occasions when perhaps before the injury he wouldn't have been, and rumours cirulated that the injury hadn't fully cleared up after the operation. However the summer break came, and after much rest, Stam seemed to be back to his usual, imposing self on a pre-season tour of the Far-East. However, as the 2001/'02 season opened, trouble again loomed. United fell to a 2-1 defeat to bitter rivals Liverpool in the Charity Shield, and suddenly the usually dependable Stam looked out of sorts, making a crucial error to allow Michael Owen to put the Merseyside team 2-0 up. As was the case in his debut season, the media criticism again began, and it didn't become any quieter as Stam was again exposed by Louis Saha of Fulham in a close 3-2 home victor y for the champions in the opening game of the League season against Premiership new-boys Fulham. As all of this was going on, Stam caused controversy, when his (at that time) unreleased book, 'Head-to-Head', telling of his life at United was serialised by a National tabloid newspaper. The serialisation extracts from Stam alleged that his manager Alex Ferguson had illegally approached him, and also seemed to criticise his Manchester United team-mates, in particular the Neville brothers. Three days after the Fulham game, United travelled to Ewood Park to play Blackburn, however Jaap Stam was not even on the substitutes bench and again, rumours began to swirl. Some said that Stam's achilles injury had flaired up again, others said that his manager, Ferguson had dropped him as a form of club discipline, in much the same way as he did to star player David Beckham two seasons earlier against Leeds United. However, the growing concensus was that due to the serialisation of the book, which the Manchester United players and staff apparently had no knowledge of, Sir Alex Ferguson had decided to dispense with the services of Stam altogether, rather than keep someone who had apperently upset some of his team-mates with his much-publicised criticism of them. This appeared to be the case when Stam was quickly sold for just over £15 million to Lazio just four days later, as United played Aston Villa in the Premiership. For one of the few times in recent years, this resulted in Manchester United fans actually questioning the decision of Sir Alex Ferguson. Many saw Stam as a defensive lynchpin for United and although they felt he was wrong in what he said in his book, they felt that maybe a club ban or fine may have been more suitable than actually selling him to another club. Stam, for his part seemed stunned by the speed at which he had been sold, and added that he felt that if the book had been r ead as a whole, rather than in serialised parts, that the picture he painted of his now former club and team-mates was very different to what appeared in the newspaper in which it was serialised. Sir Alex Ferguson on the other hand, dismissed the notion that Stam had been sold on the basis of what he had written, and said that he felt his form is not what it was before his injury and that it was time to freshen things up. Few believed this, and 'Fergie' received some criticism from some of the national newspapers for this reasoning. I on the other hand believe that Stam's departure was both a combination of his written words, and what could be seen as a definite dip in performance since his return from his injury. Towards the end of the 2000/'01 season and at the start of the 2001/'02 season, he seemed to be beaten for pace far more often than in the previous two and a half years, and his strength and power seemed less effective than usual, and maybe Sir Alex felt that it was better to sell the player while he could stil attract a good price for the club, rather than placing him on the bench for a time. However, I feel that the book must have played some role in Ferguson's thinking, as he is a man known to value the club as a whole, and would probably be intolerant of anyone within it who says and does things to upset the good harmony that he has created there between the players. Looking back on things, it appears as though Sir Alex has made the right decision yet again, as the move seems to have worked out better in the long run for Manchester United than it has for Jaap Stam. Stam's replacement at United, Laurent Blanc was originally the recepient of fierce criticism, from some sections of the Old Trafford support, and most notably from the media, after his 'settling in' period coincided with a woeful run of form by United in November and early December of 2001. However, the form of both Blanc and Manchester United has improved dramatically since a loss to West Ham in early December that sent them down to ninth in the league, and after losing only one game since out of their last twelve Premiership fixtures, the champions are on top of the table once again and in with a shout of retaining their crown come the end of the season. Jaap Stam on the other hand, though still much-missed by some United fans, has not endured the greatest period of his career, since switching to Serie A. Lazio aren't having one of their best seasons, and although Stam helped them to maintain a solid defense early in their Serie A campaign, his injury breiefly flared up again this season, before he was dealt the crushing blow that the Italian FA had found a random drug test showed him as testing positive for the banned substace nandrolone. Stam has protested his innocence, and I was originally enclined to believe him, but subsequent appeals have all come to the conclusion that he was guilty, and my mind has changed somewhat as of late, and if he has actually taken banned substances then he is regretting it somewhat now, as he is banned up until the end of April this year (still- at least he won't have to worry about it affecting his World Cup prospects) To conlcude my thoughts on this situation as a whole, I feel that by (maybe inadvertantly) crossing the manager at Manchester United, by seeming to make accusations towards him and insulting the players there that Jaap Stam made up Ferguson's mind to sell him after his form had already dipped prior to this. All-in-all, and it's been said a lot before, no-one is bigger than the club, and no-one will tell you that more than Alex Ferguson. It is just a shame, for both Stam (who may not have been having the problems he's having now if he was still in England, playing for United)and for the fans of Manchester United that loved his styl e, that Jaap Stam had to find that out the hard way.
In these days of high wages and massive transfer fees, it is somewhat hard to feel sorry for top-flight footballers. However, there are a couple of exceptions to this rule, and surely one of the most prominent is David May. The centre-back was making a real name for himself at Blackburn Rovers, with competent displays which showed off his great ability to read the game, as well as the fact that he was a fine header of the ball and a solid, determined tackler who's performances showed real grit and tenacity. He was signed by Manchester United from title rivals Rovers, in time for the 1994/'95 Premiership season, and was looked upon by man as the ideal replacement for ageing Red Devils' skipper Steve Bruce. His first run of bad luck started right at the outset of his Manchester United career, when he received poor reviews from both fans and the media after being forced into playing at right-back due to an injury crisis at the club. Many put the clubs' susbsequent exit from the European Champions League down to him, when United were eliminated as Barcelona and IFK Gothenburg progressed to the next stage. However, as the season wore on, May was slowly given more opportunities in the first-team, and gradually, he started putting in some of the solid displays that had won him a great reputation at Blackburn, and the fans started to take a shine to their new man at the back. However, at the end of that season, May's bad luck again surfaced, when his new team finished second in the Premiership to the team he had departed one year earlier, Blackburn Rovers. The following season though, May found first-team football more regularly, as manager Alex Ferguson's much-vaunted 'Fledglings' arrived on the scene, and impressed the Old Trafford faithful with displays of determination and solid defending, the will-to-win was apparent in his play and his actions and he was a joy to watch when celebrating the few goals he scored. In what must have been a great personal moment for May, he scored the vitally settling first-goal in a three-nil win for the club at Middlesbrough which helped them to clinch the Premiership title on the final day of the season. The club added the FA Cup the following week, and May was suddenly reaping the rewards of his decision to move to United, and must have felt sure that he would be in the first-team for a long time to come, even with the arrival of Norweigen defender Ronny Johnsen from Turkish side Besiktas in the following pre-season. May started the season fairly well, though Johnsen also made some early appearances along-side veteran Gary Pallister. However, in what was to signal the beginning of years of agony, David May suffered a serious knee injury, as fate would have it, shortly after being added to the England National squad. The rest of the season for May was spent mostly receiving treatment for his injury, and he could only look on as Pallister and Johnsen forged a useful partnership in central defence, which proved to be the backbone of another title-winning squad. The following season saw May make a few appearences again, as Pallister spent long periods of time suffering from sciatica, though often the two men would be sharing the same treatment room as the knee injury continually halted May's hopes of making a sustained comeback. The season ended on a low-note as United finished empty-handed and the pre-season for David May turned into a nightmare of treatment and surgery, as Alex Ferguson replaced the departing Pallister with £10.5 million Jaap Stam, a strong, quick and imposing central defender who formed a great partnership with Ronny Johnsen that meant that even when May was fit (which wasn't very often), that he was left on the sidelines. Towards the end of the season, May made some appearances, though not enough to earn him a Premiership medal, as the team romped towards a league, FA Cup and European Cup treble. May did though manage to create one of United's and the European Cup's enduring images, when he jumped onto the trphy table to celebrate the team's historic win over Bayern Munich in the final, before leading the fans in their chants throughout thwe on-pitch procession at Barcelona's Nou Camp. However, despite Ronny Johnsen being plagued by injury for the two seasons that were to follow, May again found himself confined to the treatment table, as Jaap Stam asserted himself as United's dominant central defend, whether in tandem with Gary Neville or the youthful Wes Brown. During this time frustration grew even more for May, as on a couple of occasions when he had shaken off the kne injury, he was struck by hamstring problems, one of which cut short a loan-spell to Huddersfield (which ironically had been meant to improve his fitness) after just one game. Even in this current season, in which Stam has ben replaced by 36 year-old Laurent Blanc and the United defence has been somewhat more leaky than usual, May, who's grit and vocal leadership could be a great attribute has only managed one start before being curtailed by thigh and hamstring problems. The story of David May, at one time one of this country's top defensive prospects, who, through no fault of his own has been reduced to an injury-prone squad player is indeed a sad and unfortunate. It would be nice to envisage him having success in his career in the future, though whether his injuries will heal enough to allow that to happen, is another matter.
Music Box, is what I consider to be the nearest offline equivalent that we have to the much-praised CDWOW.com. It's resemblances are very striking, for instance most of the time, the CD prices are low, and are based at around £11.99 when at their full-price, but for much of the time they have 'special offers' in place where every CD (excluding doubles) retails for £9.99 (or £9.75 as is the case in my local Music Box at the moment). Another resemblance to CDWOW is that the stock of CD's carried by Music Box is somewhat limited, and mainly consists of chart releases or CDs that have been released in the past couple of months. When comparing this with the likes of HMV, you can see a substantial saving on any new releases that you choose to purchase from this store, but on the downside, they don't have much of back catalogue, and so you would probably have to look to one of the major high street music outlets if what you're looking for is more than about four or five months old. Something else that Music Box offers is DVDs (and, in some branches, videos) at low prices. While most of the brand new DVDs are at a price of about £16.99 (still cheaper than many other high street stockists), my local store (at the Lakeside Shopping Centre in Thurrock, for those who are interested) offers a good selection of DVDs ranging from £7.99 to £9.99, some of which have only been out for a couple of months or so (things such as the George Clooney movies 'The Perfect Storm' and 'O Brother Where Art Thou?' and Robert De Niro's '15 Minutes'), and others which have been out for longer, but are well established titles (such as Three Kings and Mission Impossible 1 & 2). My local branch (and several others that I have visited) seem to have a problem with the shop-layout though, and this is in no way due to the way that Music Box’s products are laid out (as the CDs can be found to one side of the st ore, split into genres, or being placed in number order if they are current chart CDs, while the videos and DVDs are sectioned in alphabetical order on the opposite side of the store), but is much more to do with the lack of space that the store offers. Although they are well lit, the stores themselves (that I’ve been in) are generally less than a quarter of the size of the major high street mega-stores (such as HMV and Virgin) and suffer from a large protruding service counter that takes up the bulk of the space. This invariably leads to the store being regularly over-crowded and hard to move in, and at busy times such as the Christmas period, it can become almost impossible to get in. I find that this makes Music Box a great deal less attractive as a store to simply browse in, than many of it’s big name rivals, who usually hold a lot more stock and have a lot more choices when it comes to music, video and DVD, but also give you a lot more space in which to look at it. Having already mentioned that the stores don’t really tend to be particularly vast areas, it should come as no surprise when I tell you that they again come-out lagging behind their bigger name competitors when it comes to listening areas that allow you to see if you like a certain CD before you buy it. You see, this is something that a lot of consumers value, especially those who don’t have masses of money and want to be sure that they like what they are going to be purchasing, before parting with their cash. I think that this type of customer probably wouldn’t use Music Box all that much, as it would make more sense to them if they tried a CD in HMV, and then, knowing that they like it paying £12-13 for it, rather than paying a few pounds less in Music Box for something that they’re not sure if they’re going to like or not, and may not end up using. On a more positive note, I have found the staff in my l ocal branch to be polite when I am being served, and helpful when I am looking for something that I can't find on the shelves (sometimes they have some stock out at the back of the store, and they always take the time to go and look at the back of the store to see if they have anything in stock). To counter-balance this though, I was none to impressed a little while back, when upon enquiring about the availability of a CD, I was asked whether or not I would like to order it, as it wasn’t currently in stock. I decided to give it a go, as nowhere else had it, and the £9.75 price was very attractive. I gave them my address and telephone number, but after a little over a month had passed and having still heard nothing, I contacted them. I was more than a little annoyed though, when they claimed to know nothing about the order and couldn’t tell me what they’d done with my personal details. I would conclude by saying that if you are looking for a good offline retailer of up-to-date releases at good prices, then this shop should be your first stop. However, if you don’t like being somewhat cramped when browsing or are looking for anything a little older, you may be better looking at other shops in the high street, or even taking a look online. **Although I’ve left my previous conclusion in, I have since visited Music Box, and according to the signs in the window, they are closing all of their branches. This could be looked at as a sign that cheap prices do not always guarantee success, and that the areas I found Music Box to be lacking in might be a more important factor in the eyes of consumers. Alternatively, perhaps the rising popularity of websites that are able to offer the same products for less (CDWOW obviously springs to mind here) have proved too much for a small chain such as Music Box (who’s only real competitive edge is their pricing) to deal with. Pe rsonally I’m sad to see it go, as it was always good for a bargain, but there’s no shortage of alternatives, so from a general consumers’ point of view, it isn’t as though we are at a loss. I think the overall quality, service and range offered by the likes of HMV still remain the favourite of most people, and it would appear that they are more important factors when it comes to shopping for music, DVD and video than simply price alone.
I first visited the site that is now known as Secondsout.com about two years ago. The site then was known as Boxingpress.com, and I stumbled upon it when I was looking for somewhere to find the latest boxing news in both the UK and overseas, particularly in the United States, where many of the top boxers are, yet whom receive very little television coverage and exposure in the UK. To my (pleasant) surprise, I found that not only did it offer exactly what I was looking for, but it also had a number of 'forums', where different people could voice their opinions on a range of boxing-related topics. I found this one of the most enjoyable parts of the site, for although there were one or two forum-users that were either rude, or intolerant of those who either have more or less knowledge on a certain subject than them (I find that in forums, you always get some people like this), the majority of people there seemed friendly, intelligent, and knowledgable on the subjects which they were talking about. As time progressed, the site altered somewhat, which, if anything helped to improve it. Boxingpress merged with another site, 'Secondsout.com' and while keeping it's own layout, adopted the Secondsout name and their team of writers. As time has moved forward, the site has improved again, the forums are now split into sections, 'General Boxing Chat', 'British Boxing', 'Mystical Matchups', and also a forum of Spanish speaking users. I find ( and did find, particularly at college, in breaks between lessons) that the forums are a great way to engage in a lively debate about aspects of the sport which I am interested in, and has also opened up avenues for me to purchase videos of fights from the US, which I would otherwise not get to see im this country, due to the close relationships I have built up with other users of the site. Getting back to my original reasons for visiting the site, the n ews, I can honestly say that Secondsout.com comes up with some of the most up-to-date news on boxing that there is (thanks to the site, I was able to tell a friend of mine, who's a big Joe Calzaghe fan that Calzaghe would face Charles Brewer on February 9th 2002 in advance of Sky TV or the BBC teletext). The news is in-depth, and is presented in an easy to read fashion, and the layout of the site means that you can choose whether or not you want to read all of the headlines, or just UK based headlines, US based headlines or headlines for the sport around the rest of the world. There are also a number of interesting, insightful articles regularly appearing on the site from ex-boxers, as well as from respected authors, journalists, and commentators on the sport (Thomas Hauser, author of 'Muhammad Ali- His Life and Times', among other boxing books and Sky Sports' Ian Darke are regular contributors that spring to mind), as well as regularly published rankings from the top sanctioning bodies in the sport. Overall, I would say that secondsout.com is the best boxing site that I have visited on the internet, and is great not only for providing news, but also for allowing you to talk and interact with other fans, in a section where you can have your say. In fact, the only downside to this site would probably be that it's depth could be seen as being only for the real die-hard boxing enthusiast, but then again, I suppose they are the type of people that the site hopes to attract most. So to conclude, I would like to say that if you are a fan of boxing, give secondsout.com a look and it won't disappoint.
I have watched the WWF for a great many years now, it has been on UK television for many years now, and in that time it has evolved greatly. The organisation started out many decades ago as the World-Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), under the stewardship of Vincent K McMahon, who created a successful show, but one that was largely restricted to small halls and local sports arenas. However, when the business passed to his son, Vincent Jnr many years later, the ambitious son ran all other small competition out of business, before using his gift for promotion to bring wrestling to the masses by securing TV contracts for his company. In the 1980's, the company really started to go places- fans were excited by the brand of sport being dished up by McMahon, and soon had designated their heroes and villains. By far the most popular star at this time was Terry Bollea, more commonly known to WWF fans as Hulk Hogan, a man with a gift for overcoming all odds in the ring, and triumphing time and again against the bad guys of wrestling, and whose ethos included 'saying your prayers' and 'eating your vitamins', something that attracted many young fans to both him and the company he worked for. It first caught my eye when I saw a programme about it in 1989 on Channel 4, and shortly after that once we had our satellite TV installed, it became a regular fixture in what I watched. At an age when I had to be in bed somewhat earlier than I am now was glad that Sky One chose two show the two major weekly WWF programmes, 'Wrestling Challenge' and 'WWF Superstars' on a Friday and a Saturday at 10pm, when I had no school and so was allowed to sit up and watch them. In those days, there was no real need for parental guidance when watching wrestling, as the language was kept clean, and it was very much a family oriented show, with the WWF roster basically split into good guys who were usually ultra-goo d and squeaky clean, or nasty bad guys, and so the shows were basically split into a number of feuds between different good guys and bad guys. The wrestlers (as they were known in those days) were mostly large 300+ pound athletes that were over six foot and the matches were very much strength based, with competitors like Andre The Giant, The Barbarian and The Warlord dominating opponents with size and strength. However, there were some exceptions to this rule, and talented technical and high-flying wrestlers such as Bret Hart, Marty Jannetty and Shawn Michaels could be found, though these men were at the time all part of the tag teams at the time, and had little time to display their excellent ring skills when being limited to very few of the more high-profile singles matches, and there were other much loved and hated superstars, who were simply solid mat wrestlers, but whom none-the-less were much loved or hated (depending on whether they were playing the role of face- good guy or heel- bad guy, though these terms were seldom used on television in those days). However, as mentioned earlier, back then Hogan was the dominant good guy and long-reigning WWF Champion, although by the start of 1990, that position was seemingly being threatened by a younger man known as the Ultimate Warrior, who at that time held the title of secondary importance, the Intercontinental title. At this time, I myself was a fan of both men, and so it intrigued me when the two were set to face off in the main event at the federation's sixth Wrestlemania, which is their biggest 'pay-per-view' event of the year (there were only three others back then- Royal Rumble, Summerslam and Survivor Series). The event itself was shown on Sky Movies at the time for us in the UK (Sky Sports wasn't in existence then), and despite Sky having some audio problems, I found myself enthralled by the whole spectacle, from the matches lower down the card, featuring the likes of ‘Macho King’ Randy Savage, ‘The Model’, Rick Martel, Mr Perfect, and whole other assortment of characters. In the main attraction, which was a much hyped event, and great for the excitement involved, whilst not being particularly great in a technical wrestling sense, the fans of the WWF saw the Ultimate Warrior triumph, and in a move that sealed his status as number one good guy, Hulk Hogan, the loser, presented him with the title belt. This event kept my interest in the sport high, and I followed it through the next few years, as Hogan eventually won the title again and again, eventually racking up an impressive five title reigns. Throughout all this, the ‘storylines’, that were plotted for the WWF wrestlers, became more thorough and drawn out, leading to the coining of the phrase sports entertainment (which I first heard said by Hulk Hogan, while he was appearing on Des O’Connor’s show on ITV, around 1992, I think). As the years moved on, older wrestlers left, and new ones, such as The Undertaker appeared (debuting in November 1990 at another pay-per-view- The Survivor Series). The Undertaker was a seemingly invincible force from the dark side who, in a sense was a catalyst for many of the deeper-style storylines. Rather than have a basic scenario of a bad guy like him attacking a good guy like Hogan or Warrior, and then being beaten at the next event as a form of revenge, the storylines played out a lot longer, and focused on the mind games he played with them (caskets bearing their name would be wheeled to ringside during matches, and at times he would try and succeed to lock them in). However, the product was still known as wrestling, and fans were, to an extent kept in the dark to what really happened in the world of wrestling or sports entertainment as some were now calling it. The detractors would say that it was simply a fraud, men pretending to do serious damage to each other and duping the ‘dumb’ fans that follow it. They would point out that few of the wrestlers use their real name (like you’d actually believe someone would go around claiming to be called The Warlord). At this point in time, the WWF only added to what these detractors were saying, by saying and doing things that in a way could be said to mis-lead and even ‘dupe’ the fans. They would have a ‘president’, Jack Tunney in place, who was presented to the fans as the head of the WWF, when really that man was McMahon. However, the WWF didn’t acknowledge this on screen, and for a while, that was ok as it was part of the story. However, something else they did, which made it look as though they were treating fans as idiots, was the failure to acknowledge when wrestlers were no longer a part of the federation (either through being fired or simply choosing to leave at the end of their contracts). One week you would have someone mid-way through a feud with another wrestler, and then suddenly, you wouldn’t see them again (examples of this that I can think of in the early 1990’s were the departures of ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude, Bad News Brown and the tag team Demolition). This was a particularly poor move by the WWF, as it’s rival NWA had been taken over by WCW and was eventually purchased by billionaire media magnate Ted Turner, and which was now also getting TV time. WWF fans would hear no mention of what had happened to their favourite stars, only to see them a week or so later on WCW television. Although their was sense behind the move, as the WWF wouldn’t want viewers to watch rival organisations, so they could see their former favourites once more, the fact their was hardly ever any explanation to these departures was irritating, particularly in the UK, where WCW coverage at the time was scarce (early morning on ITV, and even then only occasionally). Ther e was also the lack of acknowledgement about the storylines, and the WWF commentators (one of whom at the time was Vince McMahon Jnr) gave the impression that these wrestlers really did have these problems with each other and that the feuds and matches were real. However, as far as I was concerned, the WWF was still great to watch. It had excitement, unpredictability, and intrigue, and even though by then, it was very apparent that the majority of wrestling is choreographed and practiced, it would still draw you in because the talent the WWF had on their books was top-notch, leading to exciting matches and you’d be drawn in to find out who exactly will win, and what will happen next (for although the events are scripted, you still want to follow the story through to the end to see the outcome, as the fans don’t know the scripts). It had also introduced a new show, Monday Night RAW, which was even more action-packed than other programmes, and brought more fans to the sport. Then, in mid 1993 there were a couple of events that handed the WWF a big blow. The first of these was a court case against the WWF, alleging that it’s competitors were regular steroid users, and that this was to the knowledge of it’s chief, Vince McMahon. The case itself was high-profile, wrestling was at a very popular point, though for many of the sports young fans and observers, this was the first time they’d heard of McMahon owning the company, so part of the WWF’s little world that it existed in was exposed. It also cast doubt on just how clean-cut the wrestlers were, particularly when it’s top fan-favourite Hogan admitted to having used steroids in the past, though he denied McMahon playing any part in it. Eventually McMahon was cleared of any wrong-doing, and in the aftermath of the case, the WWF took a much harder line on drug-use, which it still keeps to this day. However, in this time Hogan, the bigge st draw in the Federation, and a world-wide star decided to quit the WWF and head to the improving WCW, which promised much money with Turner at the helm. The repercussions of this move were enormous, as many of the WWF’s established mid and lower-card followed Hogan (who was still the sports’ biggest draw, and so essentially they followed the money). The following two years were somewhat of a slump for the WWF, which while it could claim to have emerging talent such as Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels (now out of the tag division and into the singles ranks), with impressive newcomers such as the 500+ Yokozuna and former high-profile WCW star Lex Luger, the matches weren’t coming across as being all that exciting and although there was an ever-growing emphasis on wrestlers having gimmicks to ‘get over’ with the fans, many of those were just not working (names such as The Berzerker, Bastion Booger, The Goon and Ludvig Borga all spring to mind- they had some talent, but the fans failed to care for them in the way they did for their departed idols). Also, the tag team division had been considerably weakened, with the new No.1 tag team the Legion of Doom finding very little teams of similar quality around them, with teams such as the Beverley Brothers and Doug Furnas and Phil LaFon exiting the federation almost as quickly as the entered (although other relatively short-lived teams, such as Money Incorporated, The Natural Disasters and the Steiners, who weren’t short-lived, but weren’t in the WWF for too long did prove a success) However, in the all-important US ratings war, WWF still led WCW, although the gap was becoming more narrow. As this period in wrestling’s history drew to a close there were some bright spots emerging for the WWF, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were becoming more and more accomplished as top-tier performers, along with The Undertaker, who was now highly respected in th e industry. A couple of other stars were emerging in the WWF in the guise of Scott Hall and Kevin Nash (known as Razor Ramon and Diesel respectively, soon to follow was the debut of a young wrestler named Paul Levesque, whose gimmick was a blue-blood ‘Hunter’ Hurst Helmsley. Though he would prove successful in the future, he was one star that suffered from having a poor quality level of opponent in his early WWF career, and so went along largely un-noticed for a while. Meanwhile in 1996, WCW, which was going from strength to strength, debuted it’s Monday Night Show, ‘Nitro’. ‘Nitro’ was not only a direct form of US competition to Monday Night RAW from the WWF, but it also gave the UK public with satellite access (and most who watched wrestling had to have satellite access) a chance to see regular WCW programming, by airing on Ted Turner’s ‘TNT’ channel. The WWF though, seemed to be growing in strength itself, with athletes such as Michaels, Hart, Ramon and Diesel really livening things up, but suddenly, as the WWF seemed t be getting back on track, Diesel and Razor Ramon left, refusing to renew their contracts, and choosing instead to sign big-money deals with WCW. Entering WCW under their real names, and with a ‘gimmick’ that made it look as though they were still WWF employees, it forced Vince McMahon to change his policy on how it dealt with the departure of wrestlers, by making on-air announcements that the two were no longer with the company to try to dissuade fans that had been attracted to the rival promotion by the suggestion of inter-promotional action. The WCW product at this time was very strong, and as well as the acquisition of two of the WWF’s top names (Kevin Nash had been WWF champion as Diesel), it introduced a Cruiserweight division that largely focused on Mexican wrestlers, and the high-flying and exciting luche-libre style of wrestling, that many fans felt made the WWF look decidedly old-school. A few weeks later, and Nash and Hall were joined on WCW programming by Hulk Hogan, when wrestling’s top ‘babyface’ performer stunned many by turning ‘heel’ and the trio were the backbone of the ‘New World Order’ (N.W.O.) a group that according to storylines, were literally taking over WCW, while implying that they and not the WWF were now the number one organisation in wrestling. Slowly, WCW nudged ahead in the war for wrestling ratings, more top stars were joining them, their wrestling style was fresh and new and their creative writing team were coming up with exciting stories and angles. The art of wrestling was now giving way to ‘sports entertainment’ and at this moment in time, the WWF was losing the battle with WCW, as it would continue to do for roughly a year. For fans of the business, whether you choose to call it wrestling or sports entertainment, it was a very exciting time. It was as interesting to watch the real life promotional war that was unfolding between WWF and WCW, as to watch the storylines and matches of either company, though even the staunchest WWF fans would have to say that for the bulk of that period, WCW was proving a more exciting option. In the United States, Monday Nitro was a live broadcast, while the WWF’s RAW (which had now lost the ‘Monday Night’ tag to avoid sounding similar to it’s rival) was recorded, and Ted Turner’s appointed head of WCW, Eric Bischoff upped the ante some more, by announcing during the broadcast the results from WWF’s RAW, that was pre-recorded. However, at around this time, the WWF began to fight back. It had a new logo, in a graffiti style, a new motto- ‘WWF Attitude’, and most importantly, a new wrestling faction, and one to rival the N.W.O. The name of this group was ‘D-Generation X (DX) and comprised Sh awn Michaels, ‘Hunter’ Hearst Helmsley (now known more as Triple H, and stripped of the blue-blood gimmick) and Chyna, who was an incredibly muscular female, with the size, strength and wrestling ability to compete with the male athletes. By this time, McMahon, realising that most fans knew he was the WWF’s owner, played the role of WWF boss on-screen as well, and DX played off of this, becoming very much anti-authority, and appealing to more of a young adult/teenage audience, with the way they conducted themselves. They would encourage females in the audience to lift their tops and ‘flash’ them, and led to a different style of WWF programming. The athletes now started to spend more time talking on the ring, or backstage, littering their promotional pieces with more colourful language, which gave the WWF a reputation as being slightly more ‘on the edge’ than WCW. It followed the WCW lead in having a pay-per-view every month, keeping it’s traditional events, and adding events on other months, known as ‘In Your House’, though this tag was later dropped. Slowly, the WWF started edging ahead of WCW in the ratings, and with the emergence of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, who began life in WCW before leaving for the WWF when his successful tag-team ‘The Hollywood Blondes’ was dissolved by management. The WWF originally called him ‘The Ringmaster’, whose gimmick was as a cold, calculating technical wrestler, but after losing that tag, he started hearing chants from the fans, particularly after launching his own Biblical-style edict- Austin 3:16, he was forever ‘Stone Cold’- a brawling, hard-drinking, not-to-be-trusted man, who, like ‘DX’ defied authority, and actually began a somewhat legendary feud with McMahon himself. While DX became more popular, and Austin began his ascension into Hogan’s esteemed position in the WWF, WCW began to struggle in its war with McMahon. However, 1997 was a year that ended with controversy, as WWF champion Bret Hart, who had announced to McMahon his impending departure to WCW lost his WWF title (which he like Hogan had held on five occasions, highlighting him as one of the Federation’s all-time legends) at the Survivor Series in his home country of Canada in an ending to the match that wasn’t planned. According to Hart, he was to have won his title match that night and surrendered is title to McMahon the following day, when he would be a WCW employee. However, at a stage in the match where Michaels applied Hart’s own finisher to him, McMahon called for the bell and declared Michaels the winner, by submission. An irate Hart, then showed real signs of anger towards McMahon, spitting in his face in front of the live audience, and making it clear that the match didn’t end as it was planned to, before punching him (actually punching him, no ‘wrestling-style’ punch here) in the face, backstage. To this day, Hart has never forgiven McMahon for apparently going back on his word, for the fear that Hart would embarrass him by showing up in WCW as the WWF champion. However, this event, while negative for Hart, was a positive for McMahon, as it generated huge interest in the real goings-on in the wrestling business, something which the WWF now regularly hints at in broadcasts, and it in itself brought back the intrigue that some felt the WWF lacked for the past few years. In 1998, the WWF was again the biggest draw in the world, though it was now firmly established as more of a sports entertainment product, with many storylines played out in interviews or spoken promos’ outside of the ring, rather than simply in it. To have a catchy phrase was as important as good wrestling skills, and many wrestlers have and do go by the wayside, because they’re personality doesn’t shine through or catch on as mu ch as some less-skilled wrestlers with better skills on the mic. WCW tried to hit back, with the acquisition of WWF chief-writer, Vince Russo as Eric Bischoff both left the company and returned in the coming years, but the move was a failure, as such and many competitors switched to the McMahon-led organisation. The decision to offer a more risqué format as the years pushed on, particularly into 2000, made the WCW management look hypocritical after famously saying they aimed for the family market and dismissed the ‘WWF Attitude’ as a tacky and cheap way of pulling in viewers. WCW also suffered as the WWF became adept in offering an even higher quality of high-risk, high, flying wrestling than that which they offered, including a more ‘extreme’ style, something the WWF had embraced after the emergence of the low-budget Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), as a serious competitor to the ‘big two’. The WWF also benefited greatly from some classic matches in the years 1997-2001, featuring the likes of ‘Hardcore’ legend Mick Foley, renowned for the real damage he’s sustained in wrestling rings the world over, Triple H, Steve Austin and ‘The Rock’, who after a slow start in the WWF, caught the imagination of the public with his phrases and sayings that really helped audience participation in wrestling grow, as fans chanted with each of his well-known quips. So popular was McMahon’s product that he launched another show, ‘Smackdown’ that airs a few days after ‘RAW’ with more matches and non-wrestling goings-on to increase the anticipation going into the monthly pay-per-view Again, this was just one more string to the WWF’s bow, and eventually, earlier this year, it’s power proved too much as the ailing WCW was brought by McMahon’s company, which has now become known as WWFE, the ‘E’ standing for entertai nment- a lasting reminder that wrestling no longer takes itself do seriously as to be classified as just a sport. ECW has also become a part of the WWF empire, which is now the truly dominant wrestling/sports entertainment entity on the planet. For a fan of wrestling who has watched since 1989, the change in the style of the WWF product was both a slow and gradual, whilst also being very noticeable. Does it detract from the enjoyment? I would say no, because unless you truly only watched it for wrestling matches (and not for the intrigue, the battle between good and evil, etc), then the addition of storyline that are thought out and prepared in much the same way as a drama series only makes the whole product as a spectacle feel more complete. You have a solid reason now for why the people competing against each other for doing so, and feuds often escalate for many months, sometimes even a whole year. Modern-day WWF also gives more respect to viewer intelligence, acknowledging storylines, and the facts that wrestlers come and go. It is also true to say that much of the WWF’s televised product now revolves around the vocal skill of the athletes, but that is not to say that they are doing any less physically. The WWF athletes are highly trained, and regularly work out at gyms around the USA, but have very little do so, due to the number of times and places at which they have to perform. The skill involved in many of the matches is also a lot higher, with fans demanding more, and recognising that certain wrestlers are more/less skilled than others, and knowing which ones are performing poorly. WWF fans are now educated to the point that they know a lot about how wrestlers cut themselves to draw authentic blood, how they ‘sell’ a look of pain/anger/joy to the audience and how a whole lot more of the backstage politics works, and much of this is shown in how the modern WWF treats it’s fans (particularly noticeable on the ir web-site and commentaries, which sometimes talk about such things in detail). This of course can also be argued to have a downside, as the more the fans know, the more they seem to demand, pushing the superstars ever harder to entertain them. A tragic reminder of the fact that certain limits must be kept occurred on 23rd May 1999, when wrestler Owen Hart (brother of Bret) was killed at a live WWF pay-per-view after attempting a spectacular ring entrance from high in the arena, only for him to fall a great distance before hitting his head hard on the turnbuckle, a blow which proved to be fatal. So to give a final verdict on the WWF- it continues to excel in giving high quality matches that each tell self-contained stories in the ring, while improving greatly in the field of telling stories outside and around the actual wrestling itself, and involves the fans a lot more than it had done previously. Although it’s now a product aimed at a teenage/young adult audience, it does provide edited versions of it’s programming, to appeal to it’s more traditional family audience. It is for this reason that I would say the WWF is still one of the most enjoyable spectacles around today. It involves high quality athletic skill and training, while providing better drama than most soap operas of today, it can take you on a roller-coaster of emotions, from humour to sadness, but in the end all that matters is that it entertains, and isn’t that the whole point of it all. Whether the WWF can continue to improve and maintain the high standards it has set now that it has bought up all of the competition that pushed it to these levels is something that we will only know in time, but for now I’d say that thw WWF more than achieves it’s goal.