Amsterdam Marathon

Ok, it has been a while since my last blog post. So what have I been up to in the past 6 months. Well, running and running. I hate running. No really. It is boring but you do feel good.

6 months ago my sister completed a half marathon, whether I have been inactive for the last 3 years, reaching a weight of 100kg. Shocking. I have always been the sporty individual in the family and uet here I am eating badly and not exercising whilst my sinling is swalloing the miles…wake up call.

First thing I did was to download the NRC app. I absolutely love it. Not promoting Nike as a brand over orhers but there app is well made. Of course I ended up buying the Nike Vaporfly knit 4%. The bounce I got from the shoes were out of this world. I started running a 5k and within 3 weeks I pushed myself to run a half marathon. It was hard work but I was highly motivated. But as a key competitor individual I need to know that I will be running with a goal in mind. This is when I thought of a marathon. Looked for a flat course and gave myself 5 months to be ready. Amsterdam was selected (can’t get any flatter!)

Ran 3 times a week and followed to the letter my NRC coach schedule. Within 3 months I had lost 16kg and I managed to run up to 30k. I have kids so long run had to be eary sunday morning 6am. Not plain sailing but enjoyable to run in Summer. Then a month ago I decided to run from Waterloo back home, which is bang on marathon distance. It was awsome. London at 5am is so peaceful and pretty. Managed to do it in 4h29 and it gave me a real boost of confidence. By now my mind is already thinking about ultra marathon (next challenge). So I refocus and prepare my Amsterdam marathon. One long run (22km) a week before and an 8km trail run 3 days before.

Arrived in Amsterdam with the family the Friday night and got my wife to run the city run on Saturday. On that day, I picked up my kids and mine running packs (your bib number and a nice running shirt). I actually walked 15km that day which was stupid as I could feel it in my legs at the end of the day. Sunday, awaken at 3am with the adrenaline pumping through my body. 8am took a taxi to go to the Olympic stadium (many roads are closed and a lot of demand for taxis so try and get a hotel as close as possible to the stadium). Great looking stadium and cracking atmosphere when I went inside. I am in the last group of racers as I imagined I would do it in 4h50 when I registered 5 month ago. Big mistake. The first 5km are horrible. You are walking and slaloming between people. The rest of the race is a perfect harmony between body and mind. Really enjoyed some of the scenary but disappointed that the race doesn’t go more into the city centre and over the bridges. I finished it in 4h05. Delighted with thrashing my training record. Also my kids got to do a 1km race themselves and dis really well.

Really good day, well organised and great volunteers. If you look for a first experience, this is a great one to do.

Marathon overall score: 7/10

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Fulham FC Stadium Tour

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It has been a while since Mateo and I went to visit a stadium. Today was the perfect day. Sunny and windy. Too cold to go outside but too nice to stay inside. So nothing better than go and visit our 12th Premier League ground and 15th ground all together by visiting one of the best stadium in the League, Craven cottage home of the Fulham Football Club. I have fond memories of this stadium as I won the FxPro Cup back in 2012 scoring a goal from an assist of World Cup winner Robert Pires. I lived to tell the tale, priceless! As much as I could sense some pride in my son’s voice, after 5 min of recounting the tale…he was, how do you say, bored!

Craven cottage

Craven Cottage is a football stadium located in Fulham, London. It has been the home ground of Fulham F.C. since 1896. The ground’s current capacity is 25,700, all-seated, though the record attendance is 49,335, for a game against Millwall, 8 October 1938. Located next to Bishop’s Park on the banks of the River Thames, ‘Craven Cottage’ was originally a royal hunting lodge and has history dating back over 300 years. As we parked Finlay St, we could see the well recognised cottage, with its black paint and its words ‘The Fulham Football Club. A beauty!

The original ‘Cottage’ was built in 1780, by William Craven, the sixth Baron Craven and was located on the centre circle of the pitch. At the time, the surrounding areas were woods which made up part of Anne Boleyn’s hunting grounds.

The Cottage was lived in by Edward Bulwer-Lytton and other somewhat notable (and moneyed) persons until it was destroyed by fire in May 1888. Many rumours persist among Fulham fans of past tenants of Craven Cottage. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jeremy Bentham, Florence Nightingale and even Queen Victoria are reputed to have stayed there, although there is no real evidence for this. Following the fire, the site was abandoned. Fulham had had 8 previous grounds before settling in at Craven Cottage for good. Therefore, The Cottagers have had 12 grounds overall (including a temporary stay at Loftus Road), meaning that only their former ‘landlords’ and rivals QPR have had more home grounds (14) in British football. Of particular note, was Ranelagh House, Fulham’s palatial home from 1886–1888.

When representatives of Fulham first came across the land, in 1894, it was so overgrown that it took two years to be made suitable for football to be played on it. A deal was struck for the owners of the ground to carry out the work, in return for which they would receive a proportion of the gate receipts.

The first football match at which there were any gate receipts was when Fulham played against Minerva in the Middlesex Senior Cup, on 10 October 1896. The ground’s first stand was built shortly after. Described as looking like an “orange box”, it consisted of four wooden structures each holding some 250 seats, and later was affectionately nicknamed the “rabbit hutch”.

In 1904 London County Council became concerned with the level of safety at the ground, and tried to get it closed. A court case followed in January 1905, as a result of which Archibald Leitch, a Scottish architect who had risen to prominence after his building of the Ibrox Stadium, a few years earlier, was hired to work on the stadium. In a scheme costing £15,000 (a record for the time), he built a pavilion (the present-day ‘Cottage’ itself) and the Stevenage Road Stand, in his characteristic red brick style.

The stand on Stevenage Road celebrated its centenary in the 2005–2006 season and, following the death of Fulham FC’s favourite son, former England captain Johnny Haynes, in a car accident in October 2005 the Stevenage Road Stand was renamed the Johnny Haynes Stand after the club sought the opinions of Fulham supporters.

Both the Johnny Haynes Stand and Cottage remain among the finest examples of Archibald Leitch football architecture to remain in existence and both have been designated as Grade II listed buildings.

An England v Wales match was played at the ground in 1907, followed by a rugby league international between England and Australia in 1911.

One of the club’s directors Henry Norris, and his friend William Hall, took over Arsenal in the early 1910s, the plan being to merge Fulham with Arsenal (I am glad it did not happen, to form a “London superclub” at Craven Cottage. This move was largely motivated by Fulham’s failure thus far to gain promotion to the top division of English football. There were also plans for Henry Norris to build a larger stadium on the other side of Stevenage Road but there was little need after the merger idea failed. During this era, the Cottage was used for choir singing and marching bands along with other performances, and Mass.

In 1933 there were plans to demolish the ground and start again from scratch with a new 80,000 capacity stadium. These plans never materialised mainly due to the Great Depression.

On 8 October 1938, 49,335 spectators watched Fulham play Millwall. The reason for this exceptionally large crowd was that the game at Stamford Bridge had suddenly been cancelled and so a lot of people made their way west to the Cottage that afternoon instead. It was the largest attendance ever at Craven Cottage and the record remains today, unlikely to be bettered as it is now an all-seater stadium with currently no room for more than 25,700. During the 1930-60’s era, Fulham often averaged over 25,000. However, the official attendances can be considered somewhat dubious in this era as many fans would get in by climbing over the fence from Bishops Park into the Putney End. As at many other grounds, fans would sometimes pay at the turnstiles but not be counted. This boot money would be given to the players (stuffed in their boots) and would not be counted in the gate money. The ground hosted several football games for the 1948 Summer Olympics, and is one of the last extant that did.

Architect

Born in Glasgow, Leitch’s early work was on designing tea factories in Deltota in the former Kandyan Kingdom of Ceylon, as well as factories in his home city and in Lanarkshire, the sole surviving example of which being the category A listed Sentinel Works at Jessie Street, Polmadie, just south of Glasgow city centre. In 1896 he became a member of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, and later of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.[3] He moved into stadium design when he was commissioned to build Ibrox Park, the new home ground of his boyhood heroes Rangers, in 1899.

At the centre of football’s architecture, he built or was involved with the following grounds:

  • Anfield, Liverpool
  • Arsenal Stadium, Highbury, London
  • Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough
  • Bramall Lane, Sheffield
  • Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff
  • Craven Cottage, Fulham, London
  • Dalymount Park, Dublin
  • Deepdale, Preston
  • The Old Den, New Cross, London
  • Dens Park, Dundee
  • The Dell, Southampton
  • Ewood Park, Blackburn
  • The Double Decker stand (The Kop), Filbert Street, Leicester
  • Fratton Park, Portsmouth
  • Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Hampden Park, Glasgow
  • Home Park, Plymouth
  • Hyde Road Football Stadium, Manchester (General ground improvements 1911-1914 and was planning a complete rebuild of the ground to accommodate 100,000 but war broke out, bringing a halt to those plans)
  • Ibrox Park, Glasgow
  • Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield
  • Lansdowne Road, Dublin
  • Leeds Road, Huddersfield
  • Molineux, Wolverhampton
  • Old Trafford, Trafford, Greater Manchester
  • Park Avenue, Bradford
  • Roker Park, Sunderland
  • Rugby Park, Kilmarnock
  • Saltergate, Chesterfield
  • Selhurst Park, South Norwood, London
  • Somerset Park, Ayr
  • Stamford Bridge, Walham Green, London fulham
  • Starks Park, Kirkcaldy
  • Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London
  • Tynecastle Park, Edinburgh
  • Valley Parade, Bradford (Midland Road stand and other extensions)
  • Villa Park, Birmingham
  • West Ham Stadium, Custom House, London
  • White Hart Lane, Tottenham, London
  • Windsor Park, Belfast

Stadium Tour

We bought our tickets online. £15 per adult and free under 5. Once you have purchased be 15min before your tour is due in front of the Johnny Haynes statue, Stevenage Road.

Our guide today was Ian, very polite and welcoming. He started by telling us all about Johnny Hayes, and his £20 a week wage, and then about the Cottage. The Hayes stand is protected by English Heritage and cannot be touched apart for security features upgrades. It is a beautiful architecture, a bit like the Aston Villa stand. It is made of distinctive red bricks and harbour some of the smallest turnstile entrances I have ever seen. I tell you now, if you have eaten few pies do not attempt! The wall of the stand outside harbours the creation date of Fulham, which is 1880. But in reality, it was created in 1879. The builder got it wrong and they didn’t have the heart to tell him once he had finished his piece of art.

We then make our way through a quick security check and Ian tells us that actually it is the only stand in the league whereby once you have scanned your ticket it still requires a steward to press a button with his foot to let the fan go through the turnstile! Incredible, in this modern area, whereby everything is activated by technology, this is quite amazing. The reason is simple, it is protected by English Heritage laws. I love it!

Fulham are building a new stadium that will see the corners being filled and advancing 10m into the Thames. Pedestrians will be able to stay on the Thames path, rather than go around as it is nowadays.

As Ian is talking, I ask about how much the pitch cost. Most Premier League pitches are in and around £2m to £3m. Well this is thwarted by the £5m it cost Fulham on a yearly basis. One hell of a dent into your budget! He explains that the grass is a mix of natural and synthetic. Specialist like Grassmaster make it a business. It takes two weeks for a machine to blend the grass! they also use 4 types of seeds as there is always 1 type of seed that the pigeons do not like. Crazy but true. Who says football is not a science.

As we visit the executive suite, which by the way needs redone and chairs changed (some of the leather is gone!), we then make our way to the balcony, which is in the cottage. By the way, the cottage was designed by mistake when the architect realised that he had not created dressing rooms. I think somewhere deep he meant it! Inside the cottage is a room for players’ families. They have a bar, toys for kids and all necessary amenities. It is small and therefore cosy. We then make our way onto the balcony, great view but…wooden seats! Wow. This is true for most of the Haynes stand. The story, not yet verified, is that the seats were bought from a theatre in Yorkshire. Every penny counts. Not the most comfortable but they have lived through centuries. I personally do not mind.

Onto the final stage of the tour, which by the way is now well into the hour and a half. The dressing rooms. First the away dressing room, which is rather large and what you would expect from a dressing room. But the home one is tiny. Really cosy. I had to count the amount of seats to make sure everyone could be accommodated. I found on the wall an intriguing poster, which was the Pitch Protection Act from the Premier League. Have a read, really interesting and apologies if the photo is a bit blurry (someone was pulling my arm!!)

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There is an adjacent room, which is where the players have lunch together, 4 massage tables and an indoor bicycle. This is also the place where they do drug tests. Ian tells us that Sessegnon once had to wait until late evening before doing is urine sample, which by the time only the groundsman was left. Kitman and all staff gone. He took his kit to his mum who washed it and presented back to the kitman the next day in a perfect state. Apparently not a common thing done nowadays. in contrast with the old days, where young players used to wash the boots of senior players. We then went into the refs dressing room and got to trigger the buzz informing both teams to get out onto the pitch. Finally, we went to the PR room and got to do the interviews today. Mateo had much to say!

As any good stadium tour we ended our journey into the megastore, time for us to say thank you to Ian and for me to recount one last time how I came to score on this famous and wonderful ground.

http://www.fulhamfc.com/meetings-and-events/stadium-tours

Cost: £15 adult, £12 juniors and free under 5
Stadium architecture: 10/10
Stadium history: 7/10
Stadium tour: 8/10
Overall mark: 8/10

Interesting fact: when Khan bought the football club from Al Fayed, he removed that  hidious Michael Jackson’s statue. He asked Al Fayed if he wanted it and he said no. But he did state, if you remove it, it will bring bad luck and send Fulham to the championship. Surely enough, the statue was removed and …Fulham went down!

Benoit Mercier

The future relationship between the UK and EU – what to make of it?

EUUKAbout a week ago, Theresa May has hailed the draft agreement on post-Brexit relations as “right for the whole of the UK” and insisted a deal “is within our grasp”. The political declaration – outlining how UK-EU trade, security and other issues will work – has been “agreed in principle”, the European Council says. London and Brussels have already agreed the draft terms of the UK’s exit from the EU on 29 March 2019. The withdrawal agreement is legally-binding – the political declaration is not. The prime minister told MPs it would deliver the Brexit people voted for…but at the risk of sounding repetitive who knew what they voted for two years ago?

What do I make of this proposal? Well, let me be clear on three counts:

  1. Every single British citizen should be made to read this proposal through a legal obligation. Here is the link to it. There is a legal requirement to fill in the UK census, which brings little benefit in comparison to understanding what people are about to experience with BREXIT. There should be NO EXCUSES to anyone for not knowing the outline.
  2. It sets out broad aspirations for the kind of relationship the UK and the EU will have after Brexit. Most of the wording of it is non-committal and allows both sides to keep their options open. Not much of an agreement that people can vote on.
  3. The UK becomes, and excuse my French, the ‘bitch’ of Europe. I can only quote May: ‘This proposal would ensure that we leave the EU, without leaving Europe‘. Please thank your friends, colleagues, neighbours that have voted leave! Don’t believe me? Chapter 4, section 3.4 paragraph 22, and I quote ‘In areas where the UK commits to a common rulebook (which is pretty much everywhere), where the UK makes a choice to commit to ongoing harmonisation with the relevant EU rules and requirements, it will be important for the UK to be able to share its views with the EU as those EU rules are developed. While the UK would not have a vote on relevant rule changes, its experts should be consulted…’. If you know the RACI methodology you will understand that consulted is not accountable and responsible. Basically, the EU will listen but do whatever they see fit for purpose and for the greater of goods for the EU.

Some of my key highlights, reflexions below. I will keep the structure of the document to make it easy.

Chapter 1 – Economic partnership

Section 1.2 – Goods

  • The EU is the UK’s biggest market, therefore there is a need to establish a free trade areas for goods. Clearly EU has the upper hand in negotiations with just that statement. As stated, the ‘UK CANNOT have all the benefits of membership of the Single Market without its obligations‘. Solution: establish a new free trade area and maintain a common rule book for goods and the introduction of a new Facilitated Customs Arrangements (FCA). Remember my common rulebook statement above

But you would be within your rights to ask what is the FCA. The FCA tries to mirror the EU’s customs approach at its external border. The idea is that goods entering the EU via the UK have complied with EU customs processes and the applicable EU tariffs have been paid. This would be done by the UK customs authorities (which would be the same as currently with UK being an EU member). The thought is, that this would remove the need for customs processes between the UK and the EU, including customs declarations, routine requirements for rules of origin, and entry and exit summary declarations. This means that where a good reaches the UK border, and the destination is clear, the UK tariff will apply if it is destined for the UK and the EU tariff will apply if it is destined for the EU. In case the destination is not clear at the point of import, the higher of the UK or EU tariff will apply. Where the good’s destination is later identified to be a lower tariff jurisdiction, it would be eligible for a repayment from the UK Government equal to the difference between the two tariffs

So what? The conclusion from all of this is, that the UK can only agree FTA’s with third countries which have an FTA with the EU as well. One important Brexit deliverable for the UK is for the UK to conclude its own FTA’s. That objective cannot be reached since the UK’s bottom line choice will effectively be limited to those countries which have an FTA with the EU already. That is the same result as under the alternative of the UK entering into a customs union agreement with the EU. And this is an option that the UK has always refused.

  • The good new is that there is an elimination of tariffs between the UK and the EU in principle.
  • In terms of manufactured goods, the adoption of a common rulebook means that the BSI could not put forward any competing national standards.

What should you ask yourself: who is going to pay for that FCA? and how much it will cost not just the tax payer but also businesses?

What should you think? Well the EU clearly has the upper hand and the UK won’t have much of a say. If it did break away, it would impact seriously its ability to trade with the EU.

Section 1.3.4 – Financial services

Once the UK leaves the EU and Single Market, the UK can no longer operate under the EU passporting regime.

What is a EU passport? It enables financial firms in the UK to sell their services right across the EU. So, for instance, a UK-bank based in London can sell financial services to a company based in Prague as easily as if that company was based in Preston. There are no regulatory barriers. The EU is a huge market of 500 million people and some 22 million firms, so it’s clearly problematic if UK-based financial firms find it more difficult to offer them services. The Financial Conduct Authority regulator says that around 5,500 financial firms in the UK currently have EU passporting rights and the British Bankers Association says UK financial firms exported over £20bn of services in 2014. The Financial Times has reported that some in the City estimate that as much as 20 per cent of UK-based firms’ investment and capital markets revenue (around £9bn) could be disrupted if the UK loses the EU passport. Yet there is no doubting the importance of the overall financial services sector for the UK economy. It accounts for around 7 per cent of total UK economic output and supports around 1 million jobs. Finance is also a critical UK exporter and a major recipient of foreign direct investment. Anything that damages this sector (and losing the EU financial services passport will unquestionably damage it) can be reasonably expected to have serious negative effects on the overall UK economy.

The proposal is to create a new economic and regulatory arrangement with a bilateral framework of treaty based commitments.

What should you ask yourself: how much more administrative burden will this add and will these financial institutions be happy to deal with them? Or will they leave

What should you think? When the UK leaves the European Single Market, financial firms domiciled within the City of London will lose their ‘passporting rights’. This means that many UK-based banks and other financial institutions will need to relocate a significant portion of their operations, capital and staff to alternative financial centres which remain inside the EU. Frankfurt has consistently been identified as one of the potential beneficiaries of this process, alongside Dublin, Paris and Luxembourg.

Section 1.4 – Framework for mobility

It is clear that this proposal ends free movement of people but Irish citizens will continue to enjoy a special status in the UK.

It proposes visa-free travel for EU state members but paragraph 87 states ‘UK  wants to minimise admin burden for those seeking permission to travel, enter and reside in each other’s territories. I am confused, what is it!

the UK wants to continue to be able to use the European Health Insurance Card to receive healthcare.

The UK proposes a UK-EU youth mobility scheme, which I am pleased to see.

What should you ask yourself: is this going to impact my business, especially if I employ low skilled migrants? will the tourism industry suffer from the above, and therefore impact many jobs directly and indirectly?

What should you think? this should satisfy Brexiteers in the main. However, using the EHIC will come at a cost and not knowing exactly the travel visa process remains a key sticky point.

Section 1.7.5 – Electricity and gas

Trade in electricity takes place through interconnectors. There are currently 3 between the UK and EU. The proposal gives 2 options, which have not been thought through yet. One is to leave the Internal Energy Market and the other…not to.

The free flow of energy across interconnectors is necessary to keep “a level playing field that keeps costs down for consumers and ensures decarbonisation and security of supply. Any imposition of tariff or non-tariff barriers to the flows of energy across interconnectors would increase the cost of the low-carbon transition and set back action on climate change. In the event of option 1, then clearly it will drive up your energy bills

What should you ask yourself: do you want your bills to keep going up?

What should you think? Hell no. Why shall I pay more

Chapter 2 – Security partnership

Section 2.3 – Law enforcement and criminal justice cooperation

T. May make a raft of proposals and in the main do make sense to me. However, a statement does alarm me. Paragraph 14. The UK recognises that leaving the EU will have consequences for the nature of the security relationship between the UK and the EU.

There is a lot of common sense about sharing critical and vital information but this comes at a price. Surely no saving here, the bill will have to be paid to the EU

Also, the proposal stipulates that where the UK participates in an EU agency, the UK will respect the remit of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Well let me be clear by telling you that under this proposal, the UK will seek to access many EU agencies!

Finally, there is no clear decision made regarding Galileo. Billed as the EU’s answer to the USA’s GPS system, and aimed at giving Europe some degree of autonomy from its American cousins. In the event of no deal being struck with the alliance of European states, the government has admitted the UK would lose access to the encrypted Public Regulated Service (PRS), which will upset the military. UK businesses, academics and researchers will also get a kicking, since they will be unable to bid on any future Galileo contracts

What should you ask yourself: I don’t know about you, but in this day and age I would rather that there is a great relationship and not jeopardise my safety. Also what incremental costs for the UK budget?

What should you think? Overall I am satisfied with the document but things like the above makes me nervous, especially if you have a family! The UK cannot operate effectively alone in terms of security and therefore will need to be part of EU agencies. Therefore surrendering any decision making to the EU.

Chapter 4 – Institutional arrangements

Section 4.2 – A practical and flexible partnership

The new relationship would rely on a new framework, which sees the creation of a Joint Committee. This committee would:

  • Steer the development of the future relationship
  • Manage and monitor the implementation of the future relationship
  • Resolve disputes
  • Provide additional administrative functions

If there is a change in legislation going forward, it will be dealt by the Joint Committee and the UK Parliament will have the opportunity to provide the Government with its opinion. It will only be consulted. If the UK DOES NOT passes the legislation there would be consequences from breaking the UK’s international obligations

What should you ask yourself: Who is going to pay for this? We already have this setup and it is called the EU council.

What should you think? As a European and British, we should be 100% against this framework. All we will end up doing is paying useless politicians to take decisions. It clearly is a mini EU council.

Conclusion

Theresa May did her best. I genuinely believe this. But in my mind, this deal will still not get what 51% of British people that vote Leave want. The deal they want is not possible without suffering huge economic and social consequences.

I will not pretend that I am an expert, but there is a lot of uncertainty in this document. If this was created to re-assure me, well it hasn’t. Saying that, is this deal better than NO deal? Without a doubt YES. Is this deal better than remaining in the EU…certainly not!!!

On a personal level, I would rather it gets rejected but only if a new vote is to be put forward with the ability to kill Brexit once and for all. It is for all to see that there is no good deal possible. People need to wake up and realise that the UK is not that strong nation it once was and that the best deal is to stay in the EU. Don’t be upset, only by being unified will we be able to fight against the US and China.

In any case, you now need to read the full proposal and understand what you are voting for. No one should tell you what to think, you should make up your own mind like I did.

Benoit Mercier

Is a Second Brexit referendum legitimate?

We are now nearing the 2 year deadline, 29th March 2019 at 11pm, and we are in full political and economical turmoil.

EU leaders have approved an agreement on the UK’s withdrawal and future relations – insisting it is the “best and only deal possible”. After 20 months of negotiations, the 27 leaders gave the deal their blessing after less than an hour’s discussion. They said the deal – which needs to be approved by the UK Parliament – paved the way for an “orderly withdrawal”. Theresa May said the deal “delivered for the British people” and set the UK “on course for a prosperous future”. The reaction back in Britain was as anticipated…painful for the PM. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded to Sunday’s summit by calling the deal “the worst of all worlds”. He said his party would oppose it, but would work with others “to block a no deal outcome” and ensure “a sensible deal” was on the table. Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said he would find it “very, very difficult” to support the agreement as it stood. “I don’t believe that, so far, this deal delivers on what the British people really voted for,” he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge show. “I think it has ceded too much control.” SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon – who wanted to stay in the EU – said it was a “bad deal” and Parliament should consider “better alternatives”, such as remaining in the single market and customs union permanently. And Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster – who wants to leave the EU – said her party’s parliamentary pact with the Conservatives would be reviewed if MPs approved the deal.

So in a nutshell, unless a surprise pops up, this proposal should be defeated in parliament. But in the event, it went through what should happen next? Well for me it is clear, there should be a second referendum to ask whether:

  1. Yes I want to leave the EU and accept the deal (based on the fact that it would have been approved by parliament)
  2. Yes I want to leave the EU but reject the deal and agree to a no deal
  3. No I don’t want to leave the EU

Why is a second referendum a necessity and stop feeding me rubbish about being anti-democratic?

Do people understand what they were voting for 2 years ago? The answer is simple NO. Nobody knew, whether you are a remain or leave supporter. Do they now appreciate the consequences? Most likely.  However, have we got a better understanding 2 years on? Again I would argue NOT. Yes we have a bit more specifics but quite frankly nowhere enough to make an educated decision.

So why do I push for a second referendum? More than anything, in order to put the whole thing to bed, kill it once and for all. The whole debacle has come to a high price already. Look at the economic factors, doom and gloom:

  • Since the EU referendum, strong growth relative to other G7 economies has tailed off (NEGATIVE)
  • Remarkable strength of unemployment (POSITIVE)
  • Wage growth has been hit by higher inflation (NEGATIVE)
  • Household have thrown caution to the wind – people are saving not spending (NEGATIVE)
  • Companies are reluctant to invest (NEGATIVE)
  • Investors still mark down UK assets (NEGATIVE)

You do not believe me? Check it out for yourself https://www.ft.com/content/cf51e840-7147-11e7-93ff-99f383b09ff9. A country divided that will not heal its differences.

Because it has been done before, Ireland and Denmark

In the first rounds in both countries, as expected, the No campaign’s arguments tapped into the sensitive subjects relevant to society. In Denmark, the No side argued that the Maastricht Treaty would lead to loss of Danish sovereignty in a new United States of Europe, which would undermine or abolish the Danish currency and Danish citizenship. In Ireland during both the Nice and Lisbon referendums, the No campaigners repeatedly argued that the treaties would change Irish laws on abortion, lead to a loss of sovereignty, undermine Ireland’s military neutrality, and remove its permanent EU Commissioner.

In the second round, however, the arguments changed. The Yes side argued that Europe had listened to the Danish/Irish people and responded with legal guarantees, which were specifically on the themes raised by the No side. With the Edinburgh Agreement, Denmark would have four opt-outs in the fields of European citizenship, economic and monetary union, defence policy, and justice and home affairs. Ireland, on the other hand, gained guarantees concerning its military neutrality with the Seville Declaration after the Nice referendum, and on the Irish commissioner, competency over tax rates, abortion, neutrality, and workers’ rights after the Lisbon referendum.

Because this referendum was not legally binding and is being challenged at the ECJ

Let me remind you that the referendum was only advisory. Its result did not place a legally binding obligation on MPs to get Britain out of the EU. The safeguards that allow for legally binding elections to be re-run in the event of rule breaches did not, therefore, apply to the EU referendum.

The supreme court has dismissed an attempt by the Brexit secretary to derail a European court hearing into whether article 50 – which triggered the UK’s departure from the EU – could be reversed. In a decision released on Tuesday, the justices refused the government permission to challenge a ruling by Scotland’s highest court that the issue should be referred to the European court of justice in Luxembourg. The supreme court’s conclusion came after three justices, including the president of the court, Lady Hale, had considered the written request from the Department for Exiting the European Union. The way now appears clear for the European court of justice to proceed with its emergency hearing, scheduled for 27 November. So watch the space.

Conclusion

In my opinion, this referendum has been a shamble from start to…most likely finish. No one knew what they voted for and we are not better 2 years on. Knowing that this referendum was not legally binding, all it now needs is for the proposal to be rejected and pave the way for a second referendum to put it to bed. It is clear that a second referendum would be democratic through new general elections.

PS: In order to avoid bad behaviour from both camps, their should be a joint paper sent to all households clearly articulating the points for and against. If this gets done and Brits decide to exit, then and only then, will I accept it

Benoit Mercier

Derby della Madonnina: AC Milan vs. Inter

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Exactly a month after the AC Milan vs. Inter derby was postponed, here we were with my 3 years old son, back on our journey to Milan to kick off properly our football derbies challenge. This was going to be an amazing 36 hours round trip, full of excitement, adrenaline and challenges. But before, I take you on a damp Wednesday evening at the San Siro, let me tell you about our journey to get there.

The journey

Arriverdverci London

5.30 am – Only had couple of hours sleep that I must wake up my son to dress him up. No easy feat I can tell you. 30min later, all dressed up and with our backpacks (he insisted in taking few toys in his own backpack!), we make our way to Gatwick Airport to take the

8.55 am – on board our flight to Milan Malpenza. We know well this airport from last month and it is really easy access to Milan. My son is fluey and I check the weather forecast, which is not looking good, heavy rain with thunderstorms. I curse my bad luck. I am worried that the game gets cancelled because of the thunderstorms (it has happened to me before) and I need my son to be on top form. Wisely I had taken my secret weapon…Calpol. Our flight leaves on time and 2 hours later we land in Milan with my son having slept all way through.

Buongiorno Milan

1.30 pm – we take the Malpenza Express at the airport train station that will take us straight to Cadorna Stazione. Commute: 40 min, 13 €. We then take a taxi to the hotel, another 40min and by 2.30pm we are finally lying on our hotel bed. Time to order some room service to get some ham and cheese toast. My son is not looking great I must say, a bit lethargic. Ok time to act. A wee bit of Calpol and a power nap I hope will do the trick. While he sleeps, I am checking how long it takes to get to the San Siro, 30min Google tells me. The game is at 6.30pm and I want to be at least an hour before kick off time. Therefore, I settle on leaving at 4.30pm.

On route to the San Siro

‘Madonna’ it rains like crazy. No umbrella, no rain jackets and the little one coughing like crazy, I can picture my wife complaining about taking him to a football game in his state. Sod it, I have not come all this way to give up. Another injection of Calpol will do the trick and give him enough energy to last the game! I order a Uber from the hotel and an immaculate Mercedes e Class comes to collect us. I am loving the comfort. And boy did we need it. Traffic jam after traffic jam. Our driver re-assures me that we will be on time but I can see the clock ticking along and us not moving. I check Google map and we are still 40 min walk away from San Siro. Normally I would have got us walking, but in my son’s state no way and it is absolutely pouring outside. Now I am getting a little bit stressed. 1h30 min later I can see the San Siro, phew I can breathe but by now it is 6pm. i decide to do the last few 100 meters walking.

Soaking the atmosphere

6 pm – Well the only thing soaking here is us. Soaking wet that is. Every fans are running to the gates and as we are about to do the same, my son tells me he wants to eat. S****! By the time I get him a hot dog I will have missed the warm up. Never mind, you need to have your priorities right (up to now you may doubt my ability to do so, I don’t blame you). We got to the food stand in front of the gate and order a nice hot dog. Eat in or take away he asks me. I am thinking, do I look to be wanting to eat it outside? I rush to Gate 7 and lucky for us, the rain has calmed down and very little queue.

Entering the San Siro

6.15pm – The security guy asks to see both my tickets and IDs. ‘Come again’ is my response. I have not taken any passports, why would I. Well it turns out that you have to at the San Siro. Now I panick. 2 trips to Milan, few quids out of my pocket, a tired son, you have got to be kidding me. Lucky for me, I have my driving licence but my son…by then the queue started to get longer and the game being minutes away, few home fans put him under pressure to let us pass. I just heared ‘bambini’, which I assume was, ‘he is a small kid what damage can he do!’ He gives me a smile and says ‘next time…’. Yeah right, no time to listen I am now rushing to the stairs. Another security check. This time, no issues.

This is what it is all about

We make the long journey to the top in about 5min (10 stair cases to go up). We arrive and both look at each others and wow, the magic happens. 80,000 fans shouting and getting ready for a gladiators fight. The noise is from a different planet, with over 100 decibels. This is the equivalent of a Boeing 707 taking off. Each end suddenly explodes ten minutes before kick off into huge, perfectly choreographed displays of banners. The whole vibrant spectacle is down to the dedicated work of hundreds of members of the much-aligned ultras. I get straight onto the camera and starts recording both ‘curvas’. Curva Sur for the AC Milan kop and Curva Norte for the Inter kop. We are seating next to curva norte. AC Milan kop deployed an amazing tifo and Franco Baresi comes and lay flowers in memory of the late Ray Wilkins. Nice touch.

The game and the fans

The first interesting fact is that the fans mix themselves, in the same way they would do in the Merseyside derby. It is all in good spirit, no fights, no intimidation. Even close to the away fans nothing gets thrown. I was surprised as it was coined as one of the most violent derbies in world football. Other interesting fact is that people smoke, and not just cigarettes. Some cultural habits cannot go away that easy. Also, if you are relatively tall like me (1.80m), your knees will be in the person in front of you. This arena was clearly made to be standing up.

The game itself is not great. Italian football has never been my cup of tea but they are easily the 5th best league in European football nation right now. We get to experience two goals but both ruled out after VAR. The noise when the goals are scored is indescribable. You get goose pumps. I know now why my cousin told me he could not hear his team mates when he played at the San Siro vs. AC Milan. I could not hear my son talk to me! The sound reverberation is phenomenal.

The first 45min flew by. At half time my son tells me he is cold. I am in trouble now. I tell him 15min more min, then 5 and then promise him some treats at the hotel. This works until the 70th minute but then we make our way out. This is the longest he has been able to stay at a game and I am pleased with what we experienced.

I bought him a friendship scarf on our way out so that we can start decorating his room…well try to before his mother notices it!

VAR

I was not planning on discussing it but then it occurred twice during the game, and as a fan I feel compelled to give my opinion on the subject.

I love the fact that we can give a fairer outcome to our game. I really do. I embrace goal line technology for example and I hate Platini’s idea of 5 referees, which is pointless. But I must agree with Pochettino. VAR kills the atmosphere and the essence of what a football game is all about. When Inter score the first goal, there were amazing celebrations at their end for few seconds and a barrage of abuse at the other end. But rapidly, the speaker and score board annouced VAR and the whole stadium quieten down. 5min later (truly 5min) he cancelled the goal, which was the right decision. At this point AC Milan fans erupted. But in between, the away fans did not know whether to celebrate and the away fans did not know whether to shout and vent their anger. We were in limbos. I agree with Pochettino that VAR is a bad idea. Unlike goal line technology, which is instant, VAR delays the output and by default kills the adrenaline of the moment. Until they can decide on the validity of a goal in a split of a second, I would rather the referee give a bad decision and be the talking point the next day but at least it would keep the emotions high within the stadium.

Our way back to the city centre

In one word, nightmare! I am looking for a taxi as it is raining a lot and get straight onto my Uber app. It tells me 5min. Fantastic. Issue, the taxi is not coming to the right location and after 15min of making me go up and down various avenues, cancel my trip. Ouch, the stadium is starting to empty itself and I make my way to the metro M5 (easiest way to San Siro and back to Milan). I can’t be bothered being jam packed so I keep asking Uber for a taxi. It is always the same one that comes back. Luckily, this time he comes to the right place. 30min later we are at the hotel, ordering room service and reflecting on what has been an extraordinary day.

Journey back home

9am – we go and get our breakfast and order a taxi to take us to the train station. We arrive at the airport just before noon and then fly back to London and arrive at home at 4pm. My son is delighted to see all is toys again and I am delighted with our trip. Before going to sleep it tells me ‘I enjoyed travelling with you dad and going to the game’. I did not need anymore to know that the next journey, will be another amazing adventure.

Costs

Flights: £150
Hotel: £100/night (for four)
Trains: £25
Taxi: £150 (for four days). To go to San Siro (£30 each way)
Food: £10/pers per meal
Match ticket: £130 viagogo

The overall experience

City accommodation: 10/10
Transport: 10/10
City history: 10/10 (a lot of history, museums)
Football atmosphere in the city: 2/10 (you don’t feel it is a derby day)
Football atmosphere in the stadium: 10/10
Insecurity: 10/10 (never felt in danger)
Quality of football: 4/10
Costs: 6/10

Overall: 7.75/10

Conclusion

The whole purpose of this challenge was to educate my son and myself on discovering a new city, new culture, new history with an amazing football experience. For a first I must say that we go both and I can’t wait for the second adventure when the new football season starts. And please, remember that you can support our challenge by giving what you can and want to our selected charity, which is Football Beyond Borders.

Ciao.

Benoit Mercier

San Siro Stadium Tour

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We start our football derbies challenge with a bang, AC Milan vs. Inter. My son is really excited and we arrive in Milan under the snow. We are not that well prepared and we could have done with some wellies. On the day of the game we learn that it has been postponed because the Fiorentina captain has died in the team hotel of a heart attack. Consequences for us is that we will not be watching the game this month, but there are more important things in life than football! Instead we get to visit Milan and what a beautiful city. The architecture is amazing (full report on our adventure will be written once we get to see the game). On the Monday we are heading towards the San Siro to visit one of the most iconic stadium in the world, where battles have been fierce.

San Siro stadium

The Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, commonly known as San Siro, is a football stadium in the San Siro district of Milan, Italy, which is the home of A.C. Milan and Inter. It has a seating capacity of 80,018, making it one of the largest stadiums in Europe, and the largest in Italy.

Construction of the stadium commenced in 1925 in the district of Milan named San Siro, with the new stadium originally named Nuovo Stadio Calcistico San Siro (San Siro New Football Stadium). The idea to build a stadium in the same district as the horse racing track belonging to the man who at that time was the president of A.C. Milan, Piero Pirelli. The architects designed a private stadium only for football, without the athletics tracks which characterized Italian stadiums built with public funds. The inauguration was on 19 September 1926, when 35,000 spectators saw Inter defeat Milan 6–3. Originally, the ground was home and property of A.C. Milan. Finally, in 1947, Inter, who used to play in the Arena Civica downtown, became tenants and the two have shared the ground ever since.

From 1948 to 1955, engineers Armando Ronca and Ferruccio Calzolari developed the project for the second extension of the stadium, which capacity was meant to increase from 50,000 to 150,000 visitors. Calzolari and Ronca proposed three additional, vertically arranged, rings of spectator rows. Nineteen spiralling ramps – each 200-meter-long – allow to access the upper ranks. In the course of the execution, the realisation of the highest of the three rings was abandoned and the number of visitors limited to 100,000.On 2 March 1980 the stadium was named for Giuseppe Meazza (1910–1979), one of the most famous Milanese footballers.

The stadium underwent further renovations for the 1990 World Cup with $60 million being spent, bringing the stadium up to UEFA category four standard. As part of the renovations, the stadium became all seated, with an extra tier being added to three sides of the stadium. This entailed the building of 11 concrete towers around the outside of the stadium. Four of these concrete towers were located at the corners to support a new roof, which has distinctive protruding red girders.

Architect

Armando Ronca (13 September 1901 – 19 March 1970) was an Italian architect who has executed numerous buildings and interior designs, mainly in South Tyrol, Trentino and Milan

Stadium Tour

No need to pay online, it is only in Italian, and you can pay at the gate. We took a taxi from Duomo, in the city centre where our hotel was, to the San Siro. The fare was approx. 15€ for approx. 30min drive.

Arrived at the San Siro and the least I can say is that it is an imposing structure but full of concrete like Santiago Bernabeu (not pretty and lack of colours).

Make your way to Ingresso 8 (gate 8) and their we got to stand in the queue for 30min. They only had two people issuing tickets with only one credit card machine (really annoying).

The price of the ticket is 17€ and free for kids under 5. You go through metal detector and make your way to the museum. Did I say museum? It is basically a room with players shirts, one trophy and few other memorabilia. The best thing about it, is the fusball table where I got to play with my son.

After 15min, we then made our way to the stadium. We pass what I assumed was the press area where players stop for interviews after they got changed, but not confirmed. It is a self guided tour…with no information! There is some really friendly staff that do give us some info and mention that the AC Milan and Inter dressing rooms are of the same size but different configuration. Players shorts are hung and you get to take pictures. You can’t see other amenities disappointingly.

You then take a long tunnel towards the pitch and it is the perfect time for the little one to stretch his legs. You emerge on the other side and then wow. What an impressive sight. You are in the arena and feel like a gladiator. But then after the wow factor comes in the reality. You start to realise that it is dilapidated. Also, because the ground is shared, you don’t feel a sense of belonging. You usually have fans banners but this is after all a neutral ground. It originally was AC Milan and there are talk of Inter moving away. It would make sense. As a neutral fan, I associate the San Siro with AC Milan rather than Inter. The seats are worn out and it would need some renovation. We make our way to the terraces (not a good idea to bring a pram!) and my son gets to shout. Well his shout goes all around the stadium and I can only imaging how deafening it must be when full capacity with flares and crackers.

We then make our way out of the stadium and the visit is concluded. Overall, disappointing. Such and iconic and amazing stadium and yet an over prices tour. They could do so much more with it! You can view my video below:

http://www.sansiro.net/?page_id=1757&lang=en

Cost: 17€ adult, 12€ juniors and free under 5
Stadium architecture: 10/10
Stadium history: 10/10
Stadium tour: 1/10
Overall mark: 7/10

Benoit Mercier

First derby for the challenge is…AC Milan v Inter Milan

Ok, I have now reviewed my options and I have decided to start our challenge in Milan for what should be a cracking of an opening for us. The game is on the 4th March at 3pm local time.

The Derby della Madonnina is one of the most sought after. Looking forward to visiting Milan and its rich history, as well as, the famous San Siro.

Remember, you can help me: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/football-beyond-borders-derbies?tk=e1462d1e565825ec5eb17bfa158daac3485aa036

And don’t forget that it is also for the FBB charity: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ben-mercier1

Look out in a month’s time for the first report!

Benoit Mercier