Category Archives: Europe

Unpitted olives make eating with gusto difficult

By Calvin Palmer

I dined out this evening at Gusto! on Lord Street, Southport. I wanted to repay the kindness of the Polish waitress who served me a cup of coffee last night just as the restaurant was closing.

Earlier in the day, I checked out the menu and the fare on offer at this restaurant – pizza and pasta dishes – and discovered it was not exorbitantly priced and so set out to repay my debt.

I ordered the Margherita pizza. Yes I know it is the cheapest one on the menu but frugality is my watchword. Yesterday, I visited Boots The Chemist around 5:00 pm and picked up a packet of Tuna and Cucumber sandwiches marked down to £1. I added a portion of olives to make my pizza order seem less frugal.

The pizza was duly served and I had quite a surprise when I discovered the olives were not pitted. I also counted my blessings that I had not bitten down hard on it and broken a tooth. I think it was incumbent on the waitress to have pointed out that the olives still contained the stones. I am certain that would have occurred in the litigious United States.

I have also noticed that staff in English restaurants do not return to the table a few moments after serving the order to inquire whether everything is to the customer’s satisfaction.

There was another reason for my parsimony with regard to the choice of my main dish. I flicked through to the desserts section in the menu and caught sight of cassata/ pistachio ice-cream. Cassata is one of my all-time favourite desserts and the only time I ever got to eat it in the United States was at The Venetian Casino in Las Vegas. My last visit was several years ago and so I reckoned I was due a serving of  cassata.

The dessert was served by the Polish waitress but there was no flicker of recognition from the previous night. I thought perhaps not everyone has the memory for faces that I do and it was certainly true in America that people rarely forgot me after one meeting. I used to describe myself jokingly as “Once seen, never forgotten”.

It was only when the Polish girl suggested coffee that I asked her if she remembered me. “Of course,” she replied. I was relieved to hear that I had not sunk into anonymity. The coffee, taken outside with a couple of cigarettes, rounded off an excellent meal.

I used to detest eating out by myself but necessity, and being truly by myself these days, have forced me to put such idiosyncrasies to one side.

If any of you are ever in the Southport area, I strongly recommend checking out Gusto! You will not be disappointed by the food, the ambience or the service. But watch out for the olives!

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Divorce sends me back to the UK and waiting for my Peppy Miller

By Calvin Palmer

Regular readers of this blog, the three of you know who you are, will have noticed the change in the header photograph. The cityscape of Jacksonville is gone and has been replaced with a photograph of the Cromarty Firth in Scotland.

I am back in the UK for a while and facing an uncertain future after my wife – aged 56 going on 23 – decided to divorce me after 13 years of marriage. Her timing was impeccable. The announcement came on the eve of our wedding anniversary.

The news was not unexpected but it still came as something of a shock. Given that my income last year amounted to $90.40 from amazon.com advertising on another blog site, I had little option but to head back to the UK and take stock of the situation.

I am staying in the Highlands and Islands region of Scotland, courtesy of a friend from my university days who kindly offered me accommodation while I find my feet and rebuild my self-confidence before heading back to the United States to start my life there all over again . I will forever be in his debt.

After living in the Riverside area of Jacksonville, and on a busy road, the first thing I noticed was the peace and quiet. I have yet to hear a vehicle pass by the house at night; mind you, the house in Scotland is situated 150 yards from the road, which is a dead-end.

So the sound of trains blowing their horns at every level crossing has disappeared from my life – I kind of miss that – but I am certainly glad to be free of those inconsiderate bastards who used to drive through Riverside with their drums and bass tracks pounding from the subwoofers in their cars and shattering the stillness of the early hours.

I don’t know whether it is just me but the older I get I find my tolerance of noise is lower than when I was younger, so being surrounded by the Scottish countryside is perfect for me.

But there are drawbacks. My location is a little remote; the nearest village is a 15-minute drive away. I have had little chance to socialize. I am not sure the people in these parts will respond to conversation from strangers in the same way that Americans do. We shall see.

I made my debut back on British roads yesterday and did all right, given that most of the route was along single-track roads. They appear extremely narrow after driving on roads in America.

I have also rediscovered the noble art of pegging washing out on a washing line. In both Texas and Florida, despite the hot climes, washing was always dried in the tumble drier. I know, it was scandalous behaviour, right up there with driving a car powered by 3.5 litre V6 engine.

The highlight of the week was watching The Artist; my hosts had recorded the film on their Skybox. I knew the film had been well received by the critics and won a raft of awards but, hitherto, I had not been drawn towards it – a great failing on my part.

It turned out to be one of the best films I have seen in a long time. The lack of dialogue hardly seemed to matter, mainly because of the superb acting of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, the masterful direction of Michel Hazanivicius and the wonderful score by Ludovic Bource.

The film got a bit too close for comfort in the final scenes after George Valentin was told to get out of the house by his wife. I readily identified with the character’s slide into reduced circumstances and could feel his growing sense of desperation. Unlike George, I have not sought refuge in a bottle; perhaps that will come later, although I sincerely hope not.

George was eventually saved from the abyss by the charming Peppy Miller, who helped him to bury his pride and resurrect his career.

Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) in a scene from The Artist. Picture courtesy of The Daily Telegraph.

Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) in a scene from The Artist. Picture courtesy of The Daily Telegraph.

When the film ended, I was left to ponder, where is my Peppy Miller? I hope she turns up soon.

So if any of you delightful women out there can come to the rescue of a writer/sub-editor/proof-reader/photographer and generally nice guy, just get in touch.

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Pirlo’s performances turn back the clock

By Calvin Palmer

One of the highlights of Euro 2012 has been the vintage and sublime performances of Italy’s Andrea Pirlo. I use the term “vintage” for good reason because Pirlo is a throwback to how football was played in the 1970s.

Italy’s midfield genius Andrea Pirlo. Picture courtesy of theoriginalwinger.com.

As a Stoke City fan, I can’t help but see the similarity between how Pirlo plays the game and one of the most skillful and creative players ever to wear the red and white stripes of the Potters. I am of course referring to that wayward footballing genius, Alan Hudson.

Pirlo like Hudson has the skill and talent that is granted to only a few players in any given generation. He is not the kind of player who covers every blade of grass but he is always available to take a pass from a teammate. On occasions when he is put under pressure in the middle of the park, his skill is such that an attempt to dispossess him usually results in a free-kick. Hudson’s playing style was exactly the same.

The consummate skill of Pirlo is combined with an amazing footballing vision. He may be involved in a couple of interchanges with a colleague and then will suddenly unleash a 30-yard pass that splits the defence and puts a teammate clean through on goal. Hudson’s footballing vision was similar.

Pirlo also has the appearance of a player from the 1970s, with his shoulder-length hair rather than sporting a haircut straight out of the pages of The Beano or a hairstyle that is kept in place with a bottle or two of hair gel.

Where the similarity between Pirlo and Hudson ends is their respective international careers. Pirlo has been a regular for Italy since 2002 and has 88 caps. Hudson’s appearances for England were restricted to just two games – the memorable 2-0 defeat of West Germany in 1972 and the 5-0 drubbing of Cyprus in the same year.

At the peak of Hudson’s playing career, England were coached by Don Revie, the former manager of Leeds United. Revie’s old style management and preference for players who never stopped running immediately put him at odds with Hudson and Hudson was not the kind of person to keep his opinions to himself. Consequently, Hudson’s international career ended almost as soon as it started.

What was lost to the international stage was enjoyed by Stoke City fans for two glorious seasons, from 1974 to 1976, during which Hudson played the best football of his career.

Hudson returned to Stoke City for the 1984-85 season and helped the club avoid relegation from the First Division. The legs may not have been as strong but the skill and vision were still there.

If I had to choose between Pirlo and Hudson, I would go for the Italian. Earlier I referred to Hudson as a wayward genius. Pirlo seems more psychologically together to cope with the pressures of the game. Pirlo also has a better goal-scoring record than Hudson.

For me, and a great many others, Pirlo is already the player of the Euro 2012 tournament. In tomorrow’s final against Spain he has the opportunity to consolidate that accolade.

When Italy held Spain to a 1-1 draw in the Group C match, I saw them as the dark horse of the tournament. They have continued to impress me with every game and I see no reason why they cannot go on to beat the reigning champions and emerge as Euro 2012 winners. All it will take is Pirlo’s artistry, hard work and a little luck.

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Time for the euro to meet the same fate as the Bismarck

By Calvin Palmer

I didn’t fancy watching the Tom Brady show on Monday Night Football last night. I said to my wife that it would probably end with a 45-6 victory for the New England Patriots against the Kansas City Chiefs. My prediction was pretty good, the Patriots won 35-3.

The Turner Classic Movie Channel was showing a 1950s movie with an instantly forgettable title. Five seconds were enough to know that it wasn’t my cup of tea.

I ended up shoving Sink The Bismarck! into the DVD player.

Kenneth More gives an impeccable performance of how the British used to conduct themselves. When news of the sinking of the German pocket battleship came through to the Admiralty ops room, there were no whoops and hollers. A pat on the back was sufficient reward for a job well done.

In a rare moment of emotion, when More’s character learned that his son, a gunner on a Fairey Swordfish aeroplane, had been rescued after being reported missing in action, there were no gushing hugs or Disney-type sentimentality. More’s character shed a few momentary tears. He then got back to the business in hand.

When the film ended, it struck me that the rallying cry these days should be “Sink the euro!”

I have no argument with a European common market that allows the free movement of goods and people between member states but the alarm bells began to ring for me when a single currency was first mooted. Thanks goodness the British had the good sense not to join.

It now appears, through the ongoing euro crisis — a situation that was blatantly obvious right from the beginning – the goal is the creation of a German-dominated United States of Europe, in effect a Fourth Reich, however benign it may turn out to be.

I have nothing against the Germans. I like them. Berlin is my favourite city in the world. But I would object to German politicians and bureaucrats having the final say on what is in the best interests of the United Kingdom.

Such a situation seems a likely outcome with the Chamberlain-like appeasers at the helm of British politics at the moment. And should this European superstate come about, it would be an insult to not only the sacrifice made by the crew of HMS Hood but also all British and Commonwealth servicemen who lost their lives to liberate Europe from German occupation. It would also make a mockery of Britain’s finest hour.

If we are so enamoured with German dominance of Europe, we should have appointed Lord Halifax as Prime Minister in 1940 instead of Winston Churchill. Halifax was keen to sue for peace with Hitler, although it is doubtful that a peace treaty would have been honoured for very long.

I realize the dire impact that would occur on the global economy with the implosion of the euro but maybe it is better to take the stiff medicine now and make a fresh start.

It is pretty clear that the world needs a major rethink on how economies are run. The fall of the euro could well herald a new age where the global economy is run for the benefit of the many and not just the privileged few.

And if it is deemed that the euro cannot and must not fail, how long can Britain continue be a part of the EU but remain outside of the euro? Even now civil servants in Whitehall are probably busy working on a way to sell the end of the pound to the British people.

It will be a dark day in British history if Britain relinquishes its currency. So I say again, “Sink the euro!”

Time to set off on another sortie in the old Fairey Swordfish.

“Chocks away, Ginger!”

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Stoke City cut power of Dynamo Kiev

By Calvin Palmer

Stoke City came within two minutes of grabbing the sporting headlines by becoming the only British team to win in the Europa League yesterday. In the end they had to settle for a 1-1 draw against the renowned Dynamo Kiev.

Playing five men across the back, Stoke manager Tony Pulis thwarted Dynamo Kiev’s attacking intentions, forcing the Ukrainian side into long-range goal attempts for most of the game.

Soaking up Kiev’s pressure took its inevitable toll and a momentary lapse of concentration left Vukojevic completely unmarked in the six-yard box. He rifled the ball in and so denied Stoke their glory.

Stoke took the lead early in the second half after good work by Ryan Shotton on the right. He got round his man and took the ball into the Kiev penalty area, drilling the ball low across the face of the goal. Cameron Jerome was perfectly placed to pick his spot and fire into the roof of the net.

For those who deride Stoke for only being able to score from set-pieces, Jerome’s goal was proof to the contrary. It was neatly worked and well taken.

That goal did provoke one question: Where was Kenwyne Jones? Shotton should have had both Jones and Jerome to aim for in the box. Having laid the ball off to Shotton, Jones should have been going hell for leather to get into the Kiev penalty area. Isn’t that what strikers are supposed to do?

New signing Wilson Palacios showed that he is going to be a tremendous asset to Stoke’s midfield. He is strong in the tackle and uses the ball sensibly. He found his man with every pass and showed great vision to set up Jones for an assault on the Kiev goal with a 30-yard pass. When he was withdrawn after 87 minutes, I would like to have seen Diego Arismendi come on as his replacement but Pulis had other ideas and opted for Jonathan Walters.

While there was much to admire about Stoke’s performance, one tactic needs to be eradicated – goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen’s punts upfield when the ball is passed back to him. These long kicks invariably result in the opposition regaining possession.

A case in point occurred during the last five minutes as Stoke, leading 1-0, were intent on running down the clock. There was a nice interchange between several Stoke players around the halfway line before the ball was eventually passed back to Sorensen who did what he always does, launching the ball upfield. It reached the halfway line where it was won in the air by a Kiev player. Kiev launched a new attack and the Stoke defence was again put under pressure.

Watching two Champions League games earlier this week – Barcelona v AC Milan and Benfica v Manchester United – I noticed that in similar circumstances, the full-backs track back, allowing the goalkeeper to pass the ball out some 15 yards and possession is retained.

If Stoke still want to punt the ball forward, and they will, at least from the full-backs it will penetrate deeper into their opponent’s half. Even if the opponents win the ball, in that area of the pitch Stoke’s midfield has the chance to win the ball back.

Sorensen’s long kicks from back passes too often result in Stoke’s defence immediately being put back under pressure.

Passing the ball out to one of the full-backs is not rocket science or a daring new concept in football tactics It is just simple common sense. Opponents cannot pose a threat if they do not have possession of the ball.

If Stoke City are to progress the next level — and it is a big if, despite the newspaper talk of them becoming a top six side in the Premier League — then retaining more of the possession has to be a priority and something they need to work on.

None of these criticisms detracts from a fantastic team performance. Stoke City proved in Kiev they are a force to be reckoned with in the European arena.

Now it is back to the everyday business of the Premier League and securing a result on Sunday against Sunderland to maintain their unbeaten start to the season.

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Filed under Europa League, Europe, Premier League, Sport, Stoke City F.C., United Kingdom

Deadline day signings show Stoke City’s desire to move to the next level

By Calvin Palmer

The summer transfer window has closed. For the past two days I have been glued to The Oatcake, watching and waiting for Stoke City’s moves in the transfer market. I know; it’s sad.

What is even sadder is my devotion to the fortunes of Stoke City and the amount of time my thoughts are preoccupied by the club. I am in my late fifties and thought I would have outgrown the hold a football team can have.

As a teenager, when Stoke City lost a game I was inconsolable and went into a sulky purdah for two or three days. By Wednesday, my thoughts slowly started to turn to the next game on Saturday and my enthusiasm would steadily grow, reaching a peak at 3:15 pm if Stoke City were at home or 3:00pm if they were playing away.

Going into a sulk if Stoke City lose a game still happens but it tends to last for a couple of hours rather than days.

Someone once said that supporting a football club is like marriage, except there is no prospect of divorce. My devotion to Stoke City really is a case of for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer… till death do us part.

That mindset goes some way to explaining why I sat in front of the computer yesterday for eight hours, watching transfer developments on deadline day.

Stoke City concluded deals that brought in three new players at a cost of some £20 million, maybe even as much as £22 million. The reporting of transfer fees paid is not an exact science.

Stoke brought in Wilson Palacios and Peter Crouch from Tottenham Hotspur; Cameron Jerome from Birmingham City. Football pundits reckon the club did good business. Those three acquisitions have certainly take the club to a higher level.

I had hoped that Stoke would sign Nickolas Bendtner from Arsenal, not only for his footballing abilities but the Danish international’s ego would have meant Stoke would not have had to fill the corners at the Britannia Stadium. Bendtner’s ego would have done that.

Bendtner ended up going to Sunderland on a season-long loan. That deal suggests to me that Arsenal were having second thoughts about letting Bendtner go for good and I think Stoke City lost interest when the player was only available as a loanee.

Nine months in Sunderland, a grim place and a bit like Stoke-on-Trent by the sea, could well rid Bendtner of his delusions of grandeur and make him a more desirable option as a team player by the time of next summer’s transfer window. Stoke City could perhaps go back for him then.

In Peter Crouch, Stoke have gained a high-profile player entering the Indian summer of his career. His international and European experience will prove invaluable during Stoke’s campaign in the Europa League.

I watched Crouch play his last game for Spurs against Manchester City. He missed one header that should have been a goal. All strikers miss clear–cut chances from time to time so I will not hold that against him. I was impressed by his first touch and the way he can hold the ball up before laying it off to a midfield player.

Like I said, I would have preferred Bendtner but I think Crouch will bring a lot to Stoke City and may become the catalyst that attracts other quality players to the club in future transfer windows. I am not holding my breath on Stoke City landing Lionel Messi.

The video clips I have seen of Wilson Palacios in action have left me impressed. His tackling ability is immense and Stoke City have needed a midfield destroyer for a long time.

Before yesterday’s signings, I was a little apprehensive about Stoke’s next league game at home to Liverpool. With Palacios at the heart of Stoke’s midfield, I think Liverpool will have to work extremely hard to gain the upper hand. In fact, it occurred to me that Stoke could have Palacios man-mark Luis Suárez to nullify the Uruguayan’s goal threat.

But teams don’t seem to go in for man marking these days. Older Stoke fans will recall Eric Skeels was often given the task of sticking to a certain opposition star player to reduce their effectiveness and it worked more often than not.

Stoke City’s manager Tony Pulis will obviously have his own game plan. And that is where I start to worry. For all his merits as a manager, strategy and tactics are not his strong points.

Cameron Jerome, the third signing, is one of those players all mid-table sides seem to have. He is never going to set the world on fire but will put in a useful shift. I will retain an open mind on him as a player until I have seen him in action.

Of all the players on the sinking ship that is Birmingham City, I would have liked to see Stoke sign the Blues’ Chilean international winger Jean Beausejour.

Stoke City’s attacking threat comes in the shape of wingers Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant. When they are operating to their maximum potential, Stoke are an attacking force to be reckoned with – just ask Bolton Wanderers and Arsenal.

Etherington seems to be more injury prone these days. Beausejour would have been the perfect back-up signing. Maybe he will become a target for Stoke in the January transfer window.

All in all I am pleased with yesterday’s transfer dealings. Stoke needed to strengthen the squad, particularly in the face of the Europa League campaign. How Pulis employs his new signings remains to be seen. Sometimes I feel he is overwhelmed when he is spoiled for choice regarding the team selection and does better when his options are limited by injury and suspension.

The match against Liverpool on September 10 will give the first indication of what lies ahead for Stoke City. A victory against Liverpool will not automatically mean Stoke will be contesting one of the top four spots in the Premier League but it will give an indication that we could be heading for our highest finish. Seventh or eighth position would further cement the club’s status as an established Premier League outfit. That will do for me. Anything else will be a bonus.

William Hill bookmakers are giving the following odds for Stoke City:

Premier League Outright    5000/1

Top Four Finish    66/1

Relegation    12/1

To Stay Up    1/50

FA Cup    40/1

Carling Cup    33/1

Europa League Outright    40/1

Europa League Group E    15/8

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Stoke City’s window on transfer market remains shut

By Calvin Palmer

With the new season in the Premier League two weeks old, it is a time when I am constantly seeking information as to whether or not my club, Stoke City, has signed any new players and not just any old players but players of real class and quality.

To date, Stoke City’s manager Tony Pulis has brought in Jonathan Woodgate and Matthew Upson, both on free transfers. So far he has not delved into the club’s coffers and paid hard cash.

Pulis keeps talking about the need to bring quality players in but I seriously question his definition of quality. Pulis had targeted Carlton Cole and a deal was agreed with recently relegated West Ham. Cole decided that Stoke was not good enough for him. Huge sighs of relief were exhaled throughout the Potteries.

Since then, Stoke have been linked with Joey Barton, Nickolas Bendtner, Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios. Of those four, Barton and Bendtner are the pick of the bunch. I don’t particularly admire either of them of as people but they do have the kind of footballing quality that I appreciate.

With Barton’s astute football brain and passing skill, I could see Bendtner scoring a lot of goals from open play and not just set pieces, which are Stoke’s favourite modus operandi in terms of finding the back of the net.

With seven days to go before the transfer window closes, it seems all quiet on the transfer front as far as Stoke City is concerned. I have a feeling a flurry of activity will take place in the final 24 hours.

Online betting company SkyBet offers odds on transfer deals being completed within the summer 2011 transfer window. The adage that it is possible to place a bet on almost anything you care to name appears to be true along with “fools and their money are easily parted”.

SkyBet has these following odds for Stoke City signings:

1/3 to sign Peter Crouch from Tottenham Hotspur;

Evens to sign Nicklas Bendtner from Arsenal;

7/1 to sign Joey Barton from Newcastle United;

12/1 to sign Nicolas Anelka from Chelsea;

12/1 to sign Scott Dann from Birmingham City;

16/1 to sign Roman Pavlyuchenko from Tottenham Hotspur;

20/1 to sign Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea;

25/1 to sign Rob Green from West Ham;

33/1 to sign Scott Parker from West Ham;

40/1 to sign Adel Taarabt from Queens Park Rangers.

Slightly disconcerting for all Stoke City fans is SkyBet showing odds of 4/1 for Arsenal to sign defender Robert Huth and Bayern Munich are quoted at 12/1. If Pulis continues to play Huth at right back instead of his preferred position of central defender, I could see Huth being tempted. And a move to Bayern could well resurrect the German’s international career.

Not surprising, Stoke City does not appear among the odds for players such as Real Madrid’s Kaka or Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez. There is quality and there is quality.

By September 1 all speculation will end. The transfer window will close. Deals completed will be firm deals and not just newspaper talk.

Fingers crossed Stoke land at least Barton and Bendtner. Nicolas Anelka would also do nicely.

Stoke City are also reported to be tracking Uruguayan youth international Untidi who is said to be the new Messi.

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