Author Archives: Andrew Pearce

About Andrew Pearce

Husband to Charlotte, dad to two teenagers, university manager, football referee, apprentice sailor

Only Fools and Football Fans

Our Bank Holiday football ground-hopping ‘tradition’ has been observed more in the exception recently, so we were determined to get back on track on Boxing Day. Our original plan had been to take in the Welsh Premier League local derby between Cardiff Met FC and Barry Town United, at Jenner Park, Barry. An electrical fault at the ground and a shift in the kick-off time from 3pm to 12.30pm put paid to that ambition, and so we made the short journey to ‘Dave’ Parade, Newport, to watch seventh place in League 2 Forest Green Rovers against eighth placed Newport County. The actual name of the ground is Rodney Parade; the misnaming as ‘Dave’ Parade is a reference to Trigger in Only Fools and Horses and his constant references to Rodney as ‘Dave’ throughout the programme. It’s a silly joke, admittedly, but harmless!

This Boxing Day, Dan and I were joined by my dad for the 12 mile ride east along the M4 from Cardiff to Newport. One of the great advantages of visiting lower league football stadia is the relative ease of finding free parking close to the ground, and so – having set off at 1.40pm, we were safely through the turnstyles and enjoying a cup of coffee (me and dad) and a Cwtch (Dan) by 2.10pm.

One of the interesting things about our Bank Holiday ground-hops are the coincidences that get thrown up. Named in the Forest Green starting XI for this match was one George Williams. The diminutive attacking midfielder was on the fringes of the Welsh national squad until fairly recently, and indeed, the last time I’d seen him ‘in the flesh’ was as a substitute warming up for Wales’ opening European Championships game against Slovakia in Bordeaux in 2016. Williams’ career has been blighted by injury, and having initially been signed by Fulham as a youngster from MK Dons, he has struggled to establish a long run at any of the clubs that he has spent time on loan with since. Dan’s observation (before this game had even started) that Williams was too good for League 2 was borne out in spades.

Spytty the dog (geddit?) and a mascot literally loving life!

On paper, this should have been a relatively closely-fought affair, with both sides pushing for a play-off place near the top of the table. Any thoughts that the first twenty minutes might be a bit cagey were dispelled almost immediately though as Rovers were awarded a free-kick 25 metres out and that man Williams lined up to take it.

It was a well-struck free kick that took a wicked deflection off the top of the Newport wall, causing the ball to loop perfectly into the top corner of the net, evading the full stretch dive of County ‘keeper, Day. Dan managed to capture the moment perfectly on his iPhone camera, and the action shot is captured in all its glory below. Three minutes on the clock, and Rovers were one-up.

Much of the next forty minutes of play followed a relatively standard pattern. Rovers looked the better footballing team, attempting to get the ball down and play on the floor as much as possible; County looking to get the ball forward much more directly (and often aerially), relying on the size and athleticism of Matt and Bakinson to cause problems for the visitors’ defence. Whilst there were half-chances for both sides during this period, neither side really troubled the opposition goalkeeper. Indeed, the main incident of note was a flare-up between County fullback Piper and Rovers’ Brown that remarkably led to a caution for the former but no sanction at all for the latter. This was one of a number decisions from referee Mr Busby that did little to endear him to Newport supporters.

If Forest Green’s opener was down to the wizardry of Williams, then their second goal on 43 minutes was down to speed, accuracy and teamwork. A Newport attack on their right hand side broke down and Rovers counter-attacked in numbers down their left hand side. They were assisted by a couple of rash attempted challenges by County covering defenders, but quick footwork and accurate passing got the ball to Campbell, who waltzed into the penalty area before calmly side-footing the ball past the advancing (and hopelessly exposed) Day.

Any fears that home supporters might have had that the second goal would kill off the game were quickly extinguished. The goal seemed to galvanise the Ambers and they laid siege to the Rovers goal straight from the re-start. Their ambition was rewarded in the second minute of first half stoppage time when Forest Green keeper Montgomery had a rush of blood to the head. Charging from his goal in an attempt to punch the ball away, he succeeded only in clattering into the back of Newport’s Amond. The most stonewall of penalties and one that Mr Busby was right on the spot to call (garnering some ironic cheers from the south Wales faithful in the process). Amond picked himself up to send the hapless Montgomery the wrong way and reduce the deficit to a single goal at half time.

The half time chat amongst the Pearce ground-hopping crew was whether Newport could continue their comeback in the second half. We were all confident that there would be more goals, and one of us was even rash enough to predict a 4-3 victory for the County. Dan, though, being both less rash and more fatalistic, cautioned that (as a Cardiff Blues rugby supporter) he was only used to seeing away teams win in Newport. I should have been more in tune with the omens.

The game was effectively all over as a contest within seven minutes of the restart. Newport’s Butler saw red for Denying a Goalscoring Opportunity in the 51st minute, and Williams stepped up to drill the resulting free kick into the top corner of the net without the aid of any deflections this time. You could sense the energy draining from the Newport players as a result.

Williams (also behind that bloody stanchion!) fires in his second beyond Day’s despairing dive – no deflections needed for this one

Within five minutes, Williams had completed his hat-trick, finding space in the Newport penalty area following an intricate passing movements down Forest Green’s left, and curling a shot into the far corner of the net to make it 4-1 to the visitors. The final half an hour of the game was a master-class by Forest Green in how to play against ten men. They kept the ball, moving it across the full width of the pitch and forcing Newport to chase shadows. That their possession and movement did not lead to more goals was down to over-elaboration in the box, and some fine saves from Day in the Newport goal. It was all too much for a significant number of home fans who were pouring out of the ground with more than fifteen minutes of the game to play. Normally, I’d be highly critical of this sort of behaviour, but on this occasion, I could see their point. Whether this was on off-day, or whether some players have already begun thinking ahead to the FA Cup tie against Leicester City in January, it was clear that this performance did not live up to the standards that manager Mike Flynn has set for his side.

On the plus side, with so many fans having left before the final whistle, getting out of the ground and on the road back home to Cardiff was even easier than getting there in the first place!

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Made it : 30 posts in 30 days

Well – that’s it then. Thirty posts in the thirty days of November. I’ll be honest, I’ve probably enjoyed this series more than any previous one. We’ve covered a lot of ground over the past month : politics, surgery, book and TV reviews, unbelievably large animals and unbelievably cute kittens, my dad, my kids, and a few other things besides. There’s been some poetry, some satire, some serious comment and lots of less serious stuff. There’s rarely been a day when inspiration has been hard to come by, and there have been a few likes and comments along the way that have been encouraging and reassuring. At the end of every November daily post challenge, I invariably commit to continue regular posting as we move into December. And equally invariably, I fall out of the habit again. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. I have no doubt that some of you will already be fed up of me clogging up your Twitter feed and Facebook timeline. Whichever way it goes in the future, there will definitely be a short break now (at least for a couple of days) as I tackle the backlog of maintenance jobs that need to be sorted and (more importantly) as we put the decorations up around the house ready for Christmas. Thanks for reading this month; and see you again soon! In the meantime, a repeat of last year’s image that signed off the November 2017 blogathon, and that I suspect sums up the feelings of you, dear Reader, on this November 30th!

One of my favourite days of the year

This is one of my favourite days of the year. I get to spend the morning welcoming applicants to study medicine at Bristol to their interviews. It’s a great reminder for me of why I love working in HE, and it’s a massive privilege to be able to meet so many incredible, (mostly) young, highly motivated individuals as they set out on a journey that will hopefully lead to them qualifying as doctors in 6 or 7 years’ time. Getting a place at medical school is an incredibly competitive process – we received 3,700 applications for our 251 places in this round, and we will interview about 900 of those applicants as we decide who to make offers to. And this remains the case in the face of what looks like a concerted campaign to undermine the UK higher education sector.

There has been a slow drip-feed of stories over recent months that has created something akin to a hostile environment for universities. Initially, the focus was on Vice-Chancellors’ pay, and one or two outlier salaries were held up as evidence of a rotten system as a whole. This was closely followed by a succession of almost wholly unsubstantiated claims of a crisis of free speech on our campuses; with rumour and anecdote taking the place of actual evidence, to create a narrative that ‘no-platforming’, safe spaces, and ‘snowflake students’, were preventing the robust discussion of contentious ideas. Next came the double-whammy of concerns about value-for-money and claims that white boys going to new universities would end up worse off than their peers who went straight into the world of work at 18. The Augur review of tuition fees is due to report later in December, and is widely trailed as recommending a reduction in fees for subjects like English, Drama, and History; with fee levels capped for medicine, engineering and sciences. This conflation of ‘value for money’ with graduate earnings is simplistic and unhelpful. The ‘worth’ of a degree is not something that can be calculated in purely financial terms. Most recently, unconditional offers (at entry to University) and so-called grade inflation (at graduation) have come into the sights of those seeking a stick to further beat the sector with. The headlines are again dominated by claims of universities lowering standards to allow students in in the first place, and then allowing those students to leave with an undeservedly high award at the end of the course.

What has been remarkable about all of these issues is the lack of detailed empirical evidence underpinning the challenges that have been made; and the uncritical reporting of them in the mainstream media. To be clear, I’m not saying that everything is perfect in the sector; but nor is it anywhere near as dysfunctional as the current narrative might suggest. UK HE is hugely beneficial to the country, and to those towns and cities which have thriving universities. As we teeter on the edge of a departure from the European Union, and in a world that seems to be becoming less certain and more fragmented, institutions that bring people together from across the Home Nations, and the international community, deserve to be supported and reinforced.

Cor! What a whopper!

There’s story in today’s Guardian newspaper that’s of particular interest to us farmers*. It concerns an unusually large Holstein Friesian steer, a neutered male cow that currently stands at just shy of 2 metres tall and weighs in at 1,400kg (or 220 stone in old money). He goes by the name of Knickers and lives on a farm to the south of Perth in Western Australia. If, like me, your first thought was that’s a lot of good steak to be standing around in a field, Knickers has only survived because he’s now too big to be processed through an abattoir. In this case. size not only matters, but it’s a matter of life and death.

Knickers – standing tall amongst his pals in Western Australia

Knickers’ story got me wondering about other abnormally large animals that have cropped up from time to time. First to catch my eye was Ludo, a very large Maine Coons cat who lives alongside his owners in West Yorkshire. Ludo is a monster moggy. Regular readers will know that we’ve recently welcomed our own kitten into our home. Flo is gorgeous and very petite, but she does have concrete boots when it comes to jumping down off the furniture. I’d be very worried that Ludo would come straight through the ceiling if she were to jump off the bed!

However, neither Knickers nor Ludo are in the same league as Darius when it comes to unusual hugeness. Darius is a Continental rabbit – and he’s enormous, weighing in at around 4 stone and measuring around 1.5 metres in length. Darius and his son Jeff (who’s a bit smaller but still growing) eat their way through 2000 carrots a year, and a bale of hay a WEEK. I can’t begin to imagine the volume of droppings that they produce!

A televised Brexit debate? A guaranteed turn-off

I’ve tried really hard not to devote too much of this blog to the soap opera that has become Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. Hot air, posturing and bare-faced lies have blighted any attempt at a sensible discussion about the UK’s future relationship with the EU since the 2016 referendum was first mooted. Whilst May and Corbyn have not been the worst offenders in this regard, nor have they been blameless. Each has made statements that stretch the truth and have served to confuse and obfuscate rather than clarify and crystallise the choices facing the country through this critically important process. From May’s recent crass description of EU workers coming to the UK as “queue-jumpers”, to Corbyn’s meaningless and wholly unsubstantiated claims for a “jobs-first Brexit”, they have both played the role of small-minded, party-focused, tinpot apparatchiks, when the country was crying out for strategic leadership.

Now, with the EU having signed off on a Withdrawal Agreement and framework for a future relationship with the UK that they have made clear is the final, fixed offer, May faces the seemingly impossible task of persuading enough MPs to support her ‘deal’ in a vote in the House of Commons in mid December. Somewhat bizarrely, she has embarked on a two week tour of the UK to ‘sell’ the deal, presumably in the hope that public opinion will be brought to bear on those MPs who are minded to defeat the proposal either because it’s too Brexity, or because it’s not Brexity enough, or because they never wanted any Brexit in the first place. The irony is that May’s deal seems to have achieved more in uniting the competing factions than any other proposal so far since the referendum result in 2016. Unfortunately for May, all the factions are united in opposition to it.

Which brings us to the proposal that May and Corbyn will be offered a prime time TV slot to debate their respective positions on the Withdrawal Agreement and future framework as it stands. I can’t imagine a greater TV turnoff than a head-to-head between these two political pygmies. The past two and a bit years’ of Prime Minister’s Question Time encounters between the two has generated all the chemistry and dramatic tension of a wet Wednesday afternoon just outside Ousefleet. It’s not as if we don’t already know how the debate will proceed. May will bang on about a deal that ensures strength and stability (despite all the evidence that we will be poorer as a country, less significant in terms of our place on the world stage, and with a widening of the gap between the rich and the ‘just about managing’ that May made such a fuss about in her ill-fated post-Brexit election campaign). Corbyn will spin his own vision of a unicorn-filled future in which the UK will be outside the EU but will retain all the EU market access and employment protections that our current membership affords. They’ll both agree that their vision respects the will of the 37% of the electorate who voted to leave the EU in 2016 (conveniently ignoring the fact that all recent polling suggests that the slim majority in favour of leaving then, has had serious second thoughts having properly understood the implications.

However, these aren’t even my strongest objections to the TV debate proposal. Even more worryingly, it’s being seriously suggested that this charade of popular politics might replace Strictly Come Dancing, Dr Who and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here in the prime time Sunday scheduling. Frankly, nobody voted for that in the referendum.

Introducing Flo

At about this time last year, I wrote about the psychological warfare that was being waged against me by my wife and daughter in pursuit of their goal of securing agreement to us buying a dog. It was a carefully orchestrated campaign, and one that led to a final, grudging acknowledgement that a dog might be a good thing for us to own at some future point.

Fast forward twelve months, and I am delighted to confirm that my resolve has held firm. We still don’t have a dog. We are though, some four months into a house share with a far more manipulative addition to the family.

Introducing Flo.

Flo (or Florence to give her her full name) is a British Blue, a short hair breed that loses very little hair and so meets the dual test for any four legged incomer to this house : maximum cuteness and minimum stimulation of allergic reaction!

It’s fair to say that Flo pretty much now rules our house in a way that I would have thought unthinkable when we first brought her home. She spent the first two hours with us hiding under the sideboard in the living room but she has definitely found her feet since. There is literally nowhere that is now out of bounds to her.

I’ll be honest, I never considered myself to the sort of person who’d end up with part-ownership of a cat. Having been allergic to fur since childhood, even spending time in a house where there’s a cat usually leads to much sneezing and wheezing. I’d looked on cats as being somewhat aloof. However, I’m increasingly coning around to the idea that you don’t really ever own a cat. Rather, the cat becomes the centre of the home, deigning to all you to share her space – but always on her terms. Jean Cocteau describes this co-existence perfectly : “I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”

However, it is H.P. Lovecraft who perhaps best sums up what it is to share your life with a cat : “In its flawless grace and superior self-sufficiency I have seen a symbol of the perfect beauty and bland impersonality of the universe itself, objectively considered, and in its air of silent mystery there resides for me all the wonder and fascination of the unknown.”

In case it’s not already abundantly clear, I’m smitten with our kitten!