#dadblogz

I mentioned at the start of my most recent post that I would become a dad shortly after my visit to Dortmund. My daddom arrived about at quarter to eleven at night on Friday 6 July this year when James, all 8lb 11 oz of him, bounced into the world.

Dat pram doe

Since then, the learning curve has been very steep and the emotions have been a bit all over the place. Mostly, I have to say, at the ridiculously happy/loving the challenge end of the spectrum. The first three weeks (I took the traditional fortnight of paternity leave plus a week of annual leave) of James’s life I was there with my wife, seeing every moment of his ridiculously quick development, other than when I went to Aldi for more food and nappies.

Week 4 was then pretty weird as I returned to work but I have slowly got used to that too. Now I see James pretty much all day at the weekend, but only from 5ish pm onwards on weekdays. I do feel a tiny bit jealous of the fact my wife gets to spend so much more time with him, but then at the same time work has almost become respite, or at least a change of scenery from nappies, shushing, singing songs, trying my absolute hardest to get a smile or a laugh out of James, or to comfort him when he’s a bit fussy/gurny/sleepy.

I also appreciate how ridiculously lucky I am to have him. Now at nearly 4 months old, he is a beautiful, smiley treasure of a young fellow, who while he can be challenging can also make our day/week with a smile or some other new development, or trying on a new outfit. We’ve also enrolled him in baby swimming classes – to watch his progress with him in the pool, particularly over the last couple of weeks, has been an absolute joy.

His birth has also, I think, given his grandparents on both sides a new lease of life. I’ve seen a lot of my folks even though they live a 3 hour car journey away – similarly we’ve seen a lot of Clare’s folks and her sister on their travels from Glasgow. I’m also in the even more lucky position of having 3 of 4 grandparents still here – all in their 80s but all still looking well and handling what life has to throw at them. It’s been wonderful to see too what effect James has on them – whether it’s my granny reusing skills she last used in the late 1960s, or either grandad and the lift in mood I can visibly see in them when James is nearby. I say again – he is hard work, but then I always hear people say that nothing good in life is ever gained easily.

For all the aspiring or expecting parents out there, I thought it might be useful to draw together a random list of thoughts and observations on early fatherhood, in the hope that these prove helpful for at least one person. I’ll probably add to these as they come to me, and will maybe post further updates on the parental adventure as it develops.

Assorted Thoughts on Fatherhood

1. The ante natal classes prepare you for about 2% of what’s to actually come.

Clare and I did NCT ante natal classes, over a weekend in Edinburgh. I did pick up a couple of tips – for example it was nice to practise putting on babygros and the like, though the doll didn’t stick its knees in the air the entire time. But quite a lot of it was fairly meaningless – the “birth prep” of practising massage and pushing techniques went out of the window at 4:30 on the morning of James’s birth, when it became clear that Clare would have a far more complicated and unpleasant labour experience than had been envisaged in the utopian ante natal class world. One great thing that has come out of the classes though is a network of people all in the same position as us – that mutual reassurance has been invaluable to me and particularly to Clare. But that’s about all it was good for.

2. Reactivate your Amazon Prime account

If like me you felt three streaming services was one too many, and there weren’t enough deliveries to justify paying £80 a year for free next day ones, you may have in the past chosen to cancel your Amazon Prime subscription, and instead spend the money on an extra few coffees a month, or maybe a record player.

When young Mr Donaldson came along, and we realised we needed to buy a lot more clothes, muslins, wipes and nappy cream very quickly, the Prime account was back in force quicker than you could say “Bezos loss leader”. Since his birth we’ve had nigh on daily deliveries of various things, all of them vital, and that £79 has paid for itself with quick, free delivery. And Jack Ryan.

3. Lifecake Lifecake Lifecake

Finally, a brief mention for Lifecake, an app one of my colleagues suggested. It’s great as it creates a wee private network you can upload pics to, without sending them to 17 different WhatsApp groups. And it keeps people who are perhaps slightly more remote from one’s child up to date with progress very easily. At some point the space will fill up with photos and I’ll have to start giving them (it’s run by Canon) money – but for now it’s a great and easy way for my folks to keep up with James’s antics.

I’ll maybe put down some more assorted thoughts in a week or three.

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On the (Yellow) Wall

This past weekend saw me take in an alternative side in black and gold to the usual East Fife variety. With a baby on the way in June, ticking off “go and see a Borussia Dortmund game and if you can, get tickets in the Yellow Wall (the Südtribune)” from the invisible football bucket list suddenly became a bit more of a priority. When would I next have the opportunity to watch a game in the largest stadium in Germany, amongst the most loyal fans in Europe?

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Just a few Dortmund fans hanging about

So it was that my dad and I decided to plump for Dortmund’s home game with Bayer Leverkusen on 21 April as an intriguing match to take in. The choice of opponent was also a weirdly nostalgic one for me in that Leverkusen were once my Championship Manager team of choice (to the point where I overtook Bayern’s number of league wins in the 01-02 version…). However standing in the home end to end all home ends, it was clear where my loyalties should lie.

Like every other vaguely significant bit of infrastructure in Germany, Dortmund’s stadium has its own railway station (and 4 local Metro stations too). My dad and I bought a McDonalds from the slightly shady surrounds of Dortmund Hauptbahnhof (main station) and hopped on the packed train to the stadium. The 6-minute journey over, we wolfed our MaccyDs down and went to find our place in the Yellow Wall.

I was a bit worried about my dad being in the Wall when I’d first booked the tickets – then I remembered that 4 years previously he’d gone to a Hajduk Split v Dinamo Zagreb game and thoroughly enjoyed himself among the craziness. Nonetheless, the initial queue to get in to the stadium was the worst and most unnerving bit of the experience – standing in a thousands-strong throng of half-cut football fans while you wait to get frisked isn’t the best of fun. In retrospect however, totally worth it.

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The Westfalenstadion, in the gorgeous late April sunshine

We made our way into the stadium and up to section 80, which I had booked in the hope and expectation that it might be a wee bit less uncomfortable than standing at the front. I was right, though we did have to go about three rows from the back to get a bit of space. The definition of “safe” standing is maybe a wee bit loose too – there were people standing on the stairs or half in the row and half out; that said, nothing remotely unsafe happened, other than a few minor rail seat-related injuries when people in the row behind slammed them down in their excitement.

Anyway, the whole place looked amazing as the team warmed up – though our view of the ground was somewhat blocked by the roof of the Südtribune, the view of the pitch was fantastic and one got the impression of being in a massive modern stadium. I was then (second unfounded one of the day) worried that we’d be too far from the atmosphere standing where we were. The crowd then started to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, which I understand became a Dortmund anthem after Euro 96 in England. What a sight and sound that was. They didn’t use the Gerry and the Pacemakers version either – whichever German artist had covered the song had put in their own grace notes, particularly on the “alones”. Singing along and feeling the passion and the noise moving up the back of the terracing and round the stadium was incredible. I don’t think the sound of 81,000 Germans singing that song in English will ever get old with me.

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Not a bad old view from section 80

Once the pre-match repertoire of German songs were completed, which we did at least clap along to, it was time for the football to start. And with that came more noise, relentless singing and just the general friendly boisterousness that came from standing watching a football match with thousands of other people. Like my previous experience in Portugal, there were a few folk with megaphones standing in front of the main bank leading the chanting, but they didn’t need to work too hard. One bit I particularly enjoyed was joining in with the tannoy guy says the first name of the goalscorer, crowd shout the surname game, as well as picking out when the fans were chanting “BVB” (or “bay fow bay” as it sounds auf Deutsch) or Dortmund and attempting to join in.

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A little bit of action from Saturday evening

There were a couple of other notable things that really stuck with me. Firstly, when Marco Reus was subbed off late on so he could take the crowd’s acclaim for his two goals, the sound was something else. Organised cacophony is probably the best (probably contradictory) description for what was created – it was like the fans were trying to make the whole place take off. Again, that’s a memory that will stick with me for life.

Secondly was how friendly the BVB fans were, with each other, with my dad and me and with the opposition. After every goal there were folk walking along the row to high-five some of their fellow supporters, and once my dad got talking to someone on our way out there was the obligatory photo with some BVB fans who were delighted we’d made the trip to watch their team.

It was also striking that after the match, the Leverkusen and Dortmund fans freely mingled on their big walk back into town or on public transport with no trouble or threat whatsoever. I imagine a match with Schalke or Bayern might be a little different, but certainly the friendly atmosphere extended to the opposing fans as well, which was great to see.

In all, we had a brilliant day out and the Westfalenstadion/Signal Iduna Park is a predictably fantastic place to watch a game of football. Dortmund running out 4-0 winners in what was a vital game should they wish to guarantee Champions League qualification definitely helped.

As a brief aside, I seem to be a bit of a good luck charm for the foreign football sides I go and watch – my record is now P3 W3 F12 A1. I’ll take that, and look forward to my next football-watching trip to the Ruhr, whenever that might be.

New York Knicks v Houston Rockets, 2 November 2016

It’s been a while since I did a blog post. Football hasn’t quite been the TV priority it’s always been – the BT Sport subscription hasn’t seen much use in particular. However, a recent trip to New York brought another of those opportunities that I really enjoy – a bit of sports tourism.

In this case it was the New York Knicks against the Houston Rockets – 48 minutes of basketball that, in the great tradition of American sport, took at least 2 hours. Madison Square Garden, or “The World’s Greatest Arena” was the venue, the not-that-long-ago renovated 19,000-seater about 2 blocks from our hotel.

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A little pre-game view of “the Garden”

My pre-match knowledge of either side extended to one point – that Carmelo Anthony played for the Knicks, and that as far as basketball players went, he was pretty good. After the fantastic pre-show razzmatazz, which featured the star of “School of Rock” on Broadway singing the national anthem and the Knicks City Dancers’ spectacular lighty-up suits dance number, it was time for the tip.

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Knicks win the tip…about the only thing they did all night.

The Knicks won it, duly made their way up the court and found 2 points. On their return in the other direction, the Rockets’ James Harden was left wide open for 3. In response to that three, New York failed to register after some over-intricate passing and a pretty relentless defensive press on Mr Anthony.

To say that that brief passage set the tone for the entire game might be oversimplifying things a little bit. But then, being a chap who knows very little about basketball, that seemed to be the constant error on the part of the Knicks for the remainder of the evening. The home side were over-elaborate going forward and prone to fairly glaring lapses in defence, where Houston players were constantly being left open for 3-pointers. Indeed, the crowd’s chants of “de-fense” when the Rockets were going forward almost seemed like a reminder to their team at times.

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Joakim Noah having a bash from the free throw line. And just for good measure, the chap sitting immediately to the right of the big KIA sign is Chris Rock; the lady in the white blouse and blue jacket a few along from him is Cate Blanchett. Courtside living up to its reputation.

Harden for the Rockets was the most impressive man on court all evening – his 30 points and 15 assists were by far the evening’s biggest contribution. Every time he got the ball, I was convinced he was going to shoot and score – he also had an excellent line in big beard. I was more impressed by Courtney Lee for the Knicks than I was with Anthony, though the latter did pick up 21 points to Lee’s 16.

From a playing point of view, for we amateur enthusiasts (Clare was, as ever, in attendance) at least, the most notable, though certainly not the most impressively skilful, point in the game came about midway through the first quarter. In quelling yet another over-elaborate Knicks attack, a Rockets fast break found Sam Dekker all alone at the New York end. Just as he made to shoot and seal an inevitable two points he dropped the ball, fell over and to cap it all, the ball hit him in the face on his way down.

Unfortunately for the home fans, that didn’t really set the tone for their opponents’ overall performance. The Knicks were behind from that opening 3-pointer from Harden, eventually losing 118-99. The fact that the Rockets hit 100 points by the end of the third quarter before easing off a little in the fourth perhaps demonstrates how dominant the Texans really were.

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Houston on the move in the second half

American sport, of course, is never just about the sport. The frippery that goes alongside – whether that’s some bloke shooting from halfway to win a new Kia (he missed) during a timeout, or a chap managing to paint a 10-foot picture of a former Knicks star player in about 4 minutes at half time, or the various t-shirt shootings – makes it worth the admission fee almost on its own. Not forgetting the bloody organ which seems compulsory at most American sports venues – if it was meant to be putting the Rockets players off, it didn’t really work.

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The Garden, resplendent in Knicks blue and orange.

And then Madison Square Garden itself is pretty special. I’d imagine there are a number of venues worldwide which might have something to say about the “World’s Greatest Arena” claim, but it is a rather impressive beast. The Chase Bridge, though high up, gave us an amazing birds-eye view of the action, as well as the Knicks City Dunkers (guys doing ridiculous slam dunks off trampolines) and the rest of the extra-curricular stuff. It’s quite a sight from the outside too – dominating Penn Plaza with only the Empire State Building in the background vying for your attention.

In all, another great evening of sports tourism, and a pretty memorable way to spend part of our last night in New York. It would be great to go back some day.

New York Knicks 99-118 Houston Rockets

 

Premier League Preview 2016-17

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There will be some football here (Sunderland) in the Premier League this season

Given I’ve done one of these for each season since I started writing the blog, I thought I’d best keep that tradition up. As ever, I’m indebted to the good people of FourFourTwo magazine for their in-depth pre-season analysis – any wrongly formed opinions in this post are mine alone however.

Come 4:45ish on Sunday 21 May 2017, I think the Premier League table will look something like this:

1. Manchester City

2. Manchester United

3. Chelsea

4. Liverpool

5. Arsenal

6. Tottenham Hotspur

7. Leicester City

8. Everton

9. West Ham United

10. Stoke City

11. Middlesbrough

12. Southampton

13. Sunderland

14. Bournemouth

15. West Bromwich Albion

16. Crystal Palace

17. Swansea City

18. Watford

19. Burnley

20. Hull City

Attempting to briefly justify my choices, Manchester City have Pep Guardiola. And Pep doesn’t tend to not win things. They have also made a few lovely signings although £47m for John Stones is madness. I think Manchester United with Mourinho in charge will improve, though I’m still not convinced the Portuguese is a long-term solution for United. Pogba, Zlatan and Mkhitaryan are all fantastic buys. I enjoyed the cut of Antonio Conte’s tactical jib at Euro 2016 and he should do something similar with Chelsea, while having Jurgen Klopp at the helm for an entire season, and no European distractions, should help Liverpool back into the top 4.

Given the improvement of the sides around them, I think this might be the season Arsenal do the relatively unthinkable and finish fifth. Yet again they have failed to add players in the positions they need. Spurs had a fantastic season in 2015-16 even with the terrible ending, and they should be in the hunt for the top four again though finishing a touch short. Leicester will have a decent bash at defending their title but they can’t have the same luck with injuries and form as they did last season, and Kante is a huge miss. Everton, with new money and a new manager, should round out the top 8.

In ninth I fancy West Ham United, with their excellent manager and lovely (if terribly named) new stadium. Stoke meanwhile I reckon will make the top half – their addition of Joe Allen is a good one. Of the three promoted sides, Middlesbrough appear most capable of hanging around in the Premier League – Negredo and Valdes are fantastic acquisitions for a club that size. Southampton meanwhile will have the cliched “transitional” season, with a new manager and a new squad to attempt to knit together.

I think David Moyes will (and would like him to) recapture some of his credibility with a solid and not overly relegation-threatened season for Sunderland. Bournemouth’s capture of Jordan Ibe is particularly interesting and I fancy Eddie Howe to enhance his reputation that little bit more. West Bromwich Albion will be every inch the Tony Pulis side yet again – reliably dull and doing just about enough to stay up. I imagine Alan Pardew will continue, meanwhile, his record of oddly inconsistent seasons with Crystal Palace.

Just about staying up will be Swansea City – Francesco Guidolin’s first full season will not be easy. Going down I expect Watford to find the transition to yet another new manager a transition too much, with Burnley and Hull City not having the squad strength or depth to cope with life in the top division.

 

Hearts v Birkirkara, 21 July 2016

I’ve only been to one European match before. My dad and I went on a whim one night to see Dundee United v Trabzonspor in the second leg of a UEFA Cup qualifying round game in 1997. So, 19 years after my first, I was rather looking forward to my second ever European match.

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The obligatory UEFA “Respect” flags

 

Tonight was also my first visit to Tynecastle, despite the fact I’ve lived in Edinburgh for 12 of the last 14 years, and at the right end of town for the last two. And what a great wee stadium it is too. The atmosphere it can generate, even for a Europa League qualifier against a Maltese side, is rather impressive. My long suffering wife Clare and I were in the Wheatfield Stand, opposite the lovely Archibald Leitch-designed Main Stand, which is to shortly be demolished and replaced with a more modern structure.

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Tynecastle looking lovely in some July evening sunshine

To the game, and Hearts had taken a 0-0 draw from their away leg back to Tynie. Manager (and ex-East Fife player) Robbie Neilson had sent out a reasonably attacking side and it was Hearts who made much of the early running. Birkirkara’s plan was clearly to sit reasonably deep but to press the ball at every opportunity and hope to catch their Edinburgh opponents out.

Hearts’ first opportunity came about halfway through the first half, a lovely cross from the right producing an overhead-ish kick from Jamie Walker who was rather unlucky to see his shot come back off the crossbar. Sam Nicholson, meanwhile, was having some joy cutting in from the left hand side and he won Hearts a penalty with ten minutes to go to half-time. Prince Buaben’s effort was weak with the away keeper, who was pretty dodgy otherwise, easily getting down to his left. It was telling listening to the Jambos on the way home stewing over their recent lack of success from the spot which appeared to be a hangover from the previous season.

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A wee bit of first half action

Half time arrived with no score for either side, and the home crowd somewhat frustrated, particularly with the missed penalty. Hearts hadn’t created too many openings and they were a little sluggish in moving the ball forward. Their opponents were playing a fairly canny game and I must admit I thought Birkirkara’s pressing game would peter out in the second half. It didn’t.

A mere 10 minutes into the second half, Hearts were a goal down and staring at a European exit before the end of July. A set piece from near the halfway line was punted into the home penalty box. Three or four failed attempts by Hearts to clear their lines came and went before the ball fell to Christian Bubalovic, who finished well past Jack Hamilton.

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A second-half set piece for Hearts

Urgency but also anxiety then came from Hearts. Firstly Sam Nicholson cut in beautifully (again) from the left and was very unlucky to see his shot come off the crossbar. A few minutes later, Arnaud Djoum spooned his effort over when he should have scored, as the Maltese side’s defence foundered following a home set piece.

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The away support

Minutes after home boss Robbie Neilson brought on Juanma to chase the game, the cliched sucker punch was struck by Birkirkara. A swift counter attack found right back Edward Herrera, whose calm finish was greeted with (understandably) sheer joy from the away side and their 56 travelling supporters.

Following the second goal, Hearts finally upped the tempo and one of their most fluent attack moves of the night ended with Djoum’s cross being beautifully met by Connor “leapt like a” Sammon’s head – there were 17 minutes for Hearts to find two goals to take them through.

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A sliver of sunshine causes some sight issues for a few fans in the main stand.

Unfortunately, nothing more came for the home side. There was no lack of effort but a lack of quality and cutting edge, with too many passes being either required before the ball made it to near the away penalty area, or simply going astray. The home support will no doubt look back on that penalty miss in the first half as the turning point in the game and indeed the tie – the Maltese side were jumping for joy at full time which showed the scalp they believed they had taken. An ignominious early European exit for yet another Scottish club side, sadly.

What I will say though, is that Tynecastle is a great place to watch a game of football. As a curious observer with a bit of a leaning to the home team, I’ll definitely be back.

Heart of Midlothian 1-2 Birkirkara (Sammon; Bubalovic, Herrera)

Birkirkara win 2-1 on aggregate

Euro 2016 – The Final

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The Stade de France, venue for the final of Euro 2016 (among other games) – photo by Liondartois

Well, from the semi final predictions anyway, I was almost bang on. France v Portugal will tonight contest the final of the 2016 European Championships. For now I’ll give some brief thoughts on the match ahead, with perhaps a longer post about the tournament itself later. Although, as I think I’ve mentioned before, the Scottish football season restarts next Saturday (16th) with a lovely heap of Scottish League Cup matches.

Firstly to the all-important prediction – I’m going to go for:

France 2-1 Portugal

I’ve thought since the start of the tournament (maybe other than the first 45.5 minutes of the semi against Germany) that France would win it, so I’ll stick to my guns. Portugal, having been Greeced in 2004, appear to be trying to Greece the tournament itself with their largely unadventurous football and (understandable) over-reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo.

I am kind of hoping the football gods have some say in the outcome too. Last time France were in a final on home soil, they were the neutral’s favourite in a match at the Stade France against a Portuguese-speaking nation with a Ronaldo in their side. And of course they won that 3-0. Plus ça change, as our cousins over the Channel might say. I’m hoping for a similar outcome tonight.

The one caveat I would have on my thoughts for tonight is the French defence. While they managed to just about prevent the Germans from scoring in the semi-finals, they have conceded goals to Iceland (2), Ireland and Romania (1 each) so far in this tournament. If Portugal can provide Nani and Mr Ronaldo with the supply they need, that might be the point where France concede goals. What I’m almost certain of is that Portugal’s plan will be to try instead to frustrate the French attack and then hit the hosts on the break.

This is likely to make for a relatively boring final. I’m hopeful for something more entertaining, but not necessarily expecting it. The fact that this coincides with the Wimbledon Mens’ Singles Final and the British Grand Prix (if you like that sort of thing) makes for a Sunday of tidying, throwing stuff out and then sitting in front of the telly for hours. Lovely stuff.

Euro 2016 – Semi Finals

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The Torre de Belem in Lisbon. Which I’ve mostly put here because (a) it is nice and (b) it’s in Portugal

After another reasonably dismal showing in my latest round of predictions (well, 50/50), it’s time for another mercifully brief Euro 2016 post.

Before I begin, I must leap unashamedly on to the bandwagon and say (a) how delighted I am that Wales are in the Euro 2016 semi finals and (b) how wonderful their performance was against Belgium on Friday night. Hal Robson-Kanu’s turn for goal number two was, patently, a piece of genius, while Chris Coleman has to be given enormous credit for the work he has done with his team.

Anyway, on to the predictions, and this time I’ll even go for scores just for the hell of it:

Portugal 1-0 Wales (AET) – as with last time I hope I’m very wrong but I think this might be one (probably quite boring) game too far for the Welsh. Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies’ suspensions will be particularly telling in contributing to the end of the Welsh adventure. And I really hope it isn’t Cristiano Ronaldo who gets the winner, as then that win will, as ever, be all about him (and his various abs).

France 2-1 Germany – neither side has particularly convinced me, particularly at the back, but I think France’s attacking prowess should just about see them through. Antoine Griezmann in particular seems to be improving as the tournament goes on – that and the home backing for the French might (if I’m right) see a repeat of that gloriously ill-tempered Euro 2000 semi-final, but this time in the final.

I’ll be back again for the final, and then perhaps a wee round-up of the tournament. Brilliantly, East Fife’s season starts again a week on Saturday (!) at home to Dundee in the League Cup group stage. Lovely.