Friday, April 30, 2010

Fulham's win is why being a sports fan is worthwhile

"What a team; what heart; what character; what spirit; what an attitude they've got." That was ITV's Jim Beglin last night after Fulham FC beat Hamburg to secure a place in the Europa League Final.

It was one of those moments when being a sports fan seems so worthwhile, when a fairy tale does come true. And, it's just my good fortune that back in January 2009 I decided I'd become a Fulham fan after a match I'd bought tickets for was postponed on account of the weather. The club couldn't have been more helpful to me when I explained that I couldn't just turn up for the make-up game because I lived in Dublin.

I got tickets to another game in April '09 and we - my daughter, my son and I - had a great time in Fulham's ancient ground, Craven Cottage. Fulham won that day and finished last season in seventh place, which is, I believe, the best ever finish in the club's 131 year history.

That seventh place earned Fulham a place in the Europa League, which is a competition for those clubs that are just outside qualifying for the Champions League. Not the best of the best, but pretty far up there.

And last night, in front of 22,000 delirious fans, Fulham's remarkable run continued as they beat German club Hamburg for a place in the Final. This is their best ever accomplishment. The club's Clint Dempsey {photo} will, I think, be the first American to play in a European cup final when he takes to the field and joins the action (as a starter or sub) on May 12.

I'm not a fan of long-standing. I haven't endured the way Fulham's life-long fans have endured. Last night was those fans' greatest ever night in their little stadium's greatest ever night. I really enjoyed it, even though I felt and feel something of a fraud compared with those legitimate fans.

Years from now someone will ask a Fulham fan what was his greatest ever experience. Depending on the audience he may well say his wedding day or the day his son/daughter was born, but in his head he'll be recalling the feeling of that moment when the final whistle sounded and Fulham had beaten the longest odds and won the right to play in their first European cup final.

"Disbelieving joy" ITV's Peter Drury said, and that's exactly what it was for Fulham fans felt last night.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ireland needs this "foreigner" to fix the banks

A few weeks back one of our elected representatives stood up in the parliament (the Dáil) and essentially declared that we don't need foreigners here telling us what to do. Now before you get too upset, Deputy Ned O'Keefe was not referring to me nor was it a reference to any American for that matter nor to any of the so-called 'new Irish' who mostly come from Africa or Asia.

No, Deputy O'Keefe was speaking of one particular "foreigner", the new Financial Regulator, Matthew Elderfield, who is originally from England. Now you can see where Deputy O'Keefe was coming from when he said §, "Michael Collins, Liam Lynch, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, would not have those foreigners running our business. It is about time we looked after our Irish people who are well educated."

The funny thing is, O'Keefe is wrong, totally wrong and I'm not talking about political correctness or revisionist history. I refuse to believe that Collins, Lynch, Pearse or Connolly would have objected to an independent Ireland choosing to appoint an Englishman if that was what was best for Ireland, if the Englishman was the best person for the job. After all Elderfield is still going to be subordinate to his employers, who ultimately are the Irish people.

As far as I can tell O'Keefe is not just wrong, but alone (among non-bankers, anyway)*. Elderfield seems to be mostly winning friends among the Irish people, who don't seem to mind one bit watching an Englishman slap the Irish bankers around. He is like (and has been called) the sheriff in a western coming to clean up the town and drive all the riffraff out or into jail.

Elderfield is, as Irish people say, putting manners on the bankers. He's changing the culture of financial regulation in Ireland, beefing up his staff and basically taking all sorts of stands that would have the bankers howling, if the evidence of their greed and stupidity weren't so well known.

Yesterday, for example, Elderfield declared that the day where a closed clique of a few people could dominate the Boards of Directors of the financial services companies or where ex-CEO's could semi-retire into the Chairman role are OVER. Better oversight of our banks from their Boards of Directors is crucial and Elderfield is going to see that we get it.

It's all great stuff and long may it continue. But I worry. I worry that Elderfield's time laying down the law won't last long enough. Why? Because Ireland is a very small country and Dublin is a small city and Elderfield will quickly find that the people he's busy cracking down on tend to dine out where he dines out, play golf where he plays golf, etc.

Same goes for his wife - she'll find her social outlets also contain quite a few bankers' spouses - and children (I don't know if has children), who will almost certainly be in school with some of the leading bankers' children.

It will take a mighty effort on Elderfield's part not to be sucked into the bankers' milieu and, eventually, their way of thinking. It would be better if he didn't actually live here, but that's asking a lot. I'm confident he'll remain independent long enough for us to get out of the hole we're in. Yet, how long can he remain an outsider, a "foreigner?" Will it be long enough to stop the bankers repeating the same dumb mistakes? Ireland needs the answer to be yes.

§ Can't link directly to the page, but it's page 4 of the banking motion debate.

* If you read the minutes from the Dáil debate where deputy O'Keefe made his comments, you'll see a member of the opposition implies that O'Keefe's main concern is his own bank shares.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Commemorating the Titanic's sinking at the right hour

The parish of Addergoole in County Mayo annually commemorates the sinking of the Titanic and the 11 members of the parish who were lost when the ship sank. Three other people from the parish survived.

The "Addergoole Fourteen" were en route to America when the Titanic struck an iceberg just before midnight on April 14, 1912. It sank a few hours later at approximately 2:20am on the 15th.

The 14 were following the millions of others who'd left Ireland for the New World during the 19th and early 20th century. Actually, two were returning to America and, so, not technically emigrating at the time, but in reality they were all emigrants, all hoping for better things in America than they had in Ireland.

I'm sure the Titanic tragedy affected the whole of the parish at the time and for many, many years afterwards. In 2001 the Addergoole Titanic Society was founded with the aim of preserving the local history of the area's connection to the Titanic. Since 2002, the Society has annually rung the local church bell in the early hours of April 15 – starting at the time the ship was lost, 2:20am.

Or is it?

Actually, the good people of Addergoole are off by a few hours. You see, the Titanic did sink at 2:20am, but that was the ship's time, not the time in Ireland. A ship's time was (is? - don't know if they still do this) determined by the ship's location, specifically it's line of longitude. This concept seems odd to us today, but in the 19th century every town in America (& Britain and probably everywhere) had its own time based on the sun until trains and telegraphs demanded less complexity in time. This is where time zones come from

Getting back to the Titanic, it was 2:20am ship's time and 5:47am GMT (that is, Britain) when the ship went below the waves.

And in Ireland? What time was it in Ireland when the Titanic sank? Well, I'm not 100% sure, but I think the whole of Ireland was 25 minutes behind Britain at the time, which would mean that it was 5:22am in Addergoole when the Titanic went down.

Of course, they didn't have Daylight Savings Time in 1912, which would mean that to mark the exact moment the ship sank on April 15 the Titanic Society should begin ringing the bell at 6:22am. And wouldn't that be a lot better than dragging everyone in the parish out of bed at 2 in the morning?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I doubt MTV will preserve charm of popular Irish TV program

The makers of the Irish television show 'Paisean Faisean' have sold the idea to MTV and good for them. I'll be curious to see if it's a success.

First time I saw 'Paisean Faisean' in the listings on the Irish language station TG4 I had no idea how to pronounce it. I looked at the first word for a bit and then out of my mouth came the word 'paisan', using exactly the same intonation as when I was in college and wanted to get a smile out of one of my Italian friends. However, 'Paisean Faisean' is not pronounced 'paisan fye-zan', but more like 'passion fashion.'

The program is 'The Dating Game', but with a twist. Rather than the girl asking the three guys a series of questions, she has to choose her date for the evening based on his sense of fashion - for her. Each man is given €400 ($536) to buy an outfit for the woman to wear on the date and the outfit she chooses determines who her date will be.

I've seen 'Paisean Faisean' quite a few times and it's not without its appeal, but I doubt very much that I'd ever want to see MTV's version of the show, which will be called 'Style Date.' There are some things about 'Paisean Faisean' that just won't be part of 'Style Date.'

First of all, the program's all in Irish (with subtitles), which is the reason why I watched it initially. Generally with shows like this – where many contestants are required – the Irish is pretty basic. I can learn a word or two this way. Also, it annoys the life out of my children when I put on a television show in a language they know I can't speak. Sometimes, however, they get to like these shows in Irish and 'Paisean Faisean' is one of those.

The other impact that the language has on 'Paisean Faisean' is that there just aren't that many young people confident enough in their ability to speak Irish that they'd take part in such a program. This means that there is a lot of reality in the show. The physical appearance and behavior of the women and the men who feature on the show varies quite a bit.

Vacuous, shrieking women with sculpted bodies and conceited, boisterous men with sculpted bodies are rarities on 'Paisean Faisean.' In other words, there's a lot of normalness amongst those who take part.

I doubt MTV will go that route. Maybe I'm wrong, but in my head I see many Paris Hilton wannabes choosing from three Kevin Federline wannabes on a weekly basis.

{You can see a clip from 'Paisean Faisean' here.}

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

No planes on a beautiful day in Wicklow

With every passing day I feel more guilty about taking the ash cloud so lightly last week. I never expected it would go on and on and on and ...

I don't see anything beneficial about people being unable to get home or get away on vacation or to sporting events or whatever. I'm not at all like those environmentalists who are openly thrilled that the ash cloud has caused a fall in carbon dioxide emissions across Europe.

Still, I did find myself in a very quiet Sally Gap, Co. Wicklow {photo} last week and I took this short video of the silence.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Kids don't learn American history in Ireland

Sometimes I forget that my children don't learn American history in school. Makes sense, of course, that in Ireland the schools focus on Ireland's history and not America's. It's just that I forget at times.

I tend to realize this most when we visit places that are important in American history. I find myself answering questions on the basics, the types of things Americans learn and absorb from a young age.

I try to compensate for this short-coming in their learning by talking to them about American history whenever the opportunity presents itself, such as the trip to West Point. And I like to seek out places of American historical interest to visit.

I grew up near Saratoga and Lake George (French & Indian War) so we've been to those places. We've also gone to Philadelphia, Boston, Fall River, MA (Battleship Cove - my son loved it) and a few other places. Also, we have been to a couple of places that most Americans never get to - Bastogne in Belgium (Battle of the Bulge, WWII) and the area around Chateau Thierry in France, where the American army was involved in WWI.

However, I don't remember ever buying them any books that might help spark the interest in American history and I'm learning that this might have been a big mistake.

While we were in America last week my brother gave my son a gift of a book called 'Chasing Lincoln's Killer' by James L. Swanson. It must be a tremendous book because my son can't stop talking and asking about Lincoln and his assassination. The questions are coming at me morning, noon and night.

"Is Ford's Theater still there? I understand why they wanted to kill the Vice President, but why did they want to kill the Secretary of State? Is Secretary of State Seward's home still there? Booth had to fool the army guards on the Navy Yard Bridge to get out of Washington. Is the Navy Yard Bridge still there?" Unfortunately, my answer to all of the questions has been "I don't know." {Google has since answered them for me, other than the one about Secretary Seward's house.}

And boy does he ever want to visit Washington (and any place connected to Booth's escape route and Richmond, Appomattox, Fredericksburg, Antietam, Gettysburg, etc.). I haven't been to Washington since I was there in '95 for a wedding. My last proper visit - seeing the sights and so on - was in 1990.

Now I'm feeling guilty that my teenage daughters haven't been, almost as if I've neglected my duty as an American parent. I'll have to figure out how to get them to Washington (and a one or two other places in the area) for a few days. In the meantime I will definitely keep my eyes and ears open for more books that might interest my children in the story of America. All suggestions are welcome.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Eruption makes Ireland more peaceful

It's quieter here today. I noticed it a little bit earlier. There are no planes in the sky today.

I usually hear planes flying overhead, although I don't really pay much attention to them. The only airplane I really notice is Aer Lingus' early flight from New York when it approaches Dublin Airport via the skies over north Wicklow around 5am. This isn't a daily occurrence nor does it always wake me, but there are times - on a Sunday morning, say - when I'd like to shoot the person who routed the huge plane low over my house.

For the most part airplane noises are just part the mix of sounds from cars and trucks and the occasional train that seems unimportant during the day. I'm surprised I even noticed the lack of planes, but I did. I also realized there were no jet engine trails in the sky either. The sun is shining and all the clouds above are natural.

I had thought that the quiet here was a result of the closure of all British airspace thanks to the ash from a volcano in Iceland, but I just read on RTE's web site that all flights in and out of Dublin Airport (& Shannon & Belfast) have also now been grounded.

In fact, the airspace over all of Ireland, Britain and the Scandinavian countries is now closed. Another example of nature's power.

I'm sure if I was traveling today I'd be at least somewhat annoyed, but I'm not. The lack of airplanes is simply a curiosity to me today and the source of a bit of peace and quiet.

UPDATE 1:50pm: Now it looks like this disruption could go on through tomorrow and possibly even into next week. I wouldn't have been so flippant about it if I'd known it would shut the airports down for more than a few hours.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Electric cars will be rolling down Ireland's highways by year's end

Have you heard of the Nissan Leaf? I hadn't until a day or two ago, but I'm not what you'd call 'an environmentalist', so maybe those of you who are 'environmentalists' are already familiar with the Leaf.

The Leaf is Nissan's electric car, which is powered by a large battery. Nissan expects to have them on the road in America and Europe sometime around the end of this year.

The Irish government is very keen that people here buy and use electric cars. So keen, in fact, that they are going to give buyers a grant of €5,000 ($6,800) to purchase one AND they will waive the Vehicle Registration Tax (up to 30% extra) on a new car.

Ireland is - according to the enthusiasts anyway - ideally suited to lead the way on electric cars. Obviously the country's pretty small, so there are no 1,000 mile journeys. In fact, while people spend a lot of time in their cars, they don't cover the distances Americans do. By the end of 2011 Ireland will be leading the world in the electric car use and infrastructure. That's the plan, anyway.

The cars themselves are pretty small by American standards and even towards the smaller end of the scale by Irish norms. They can get up to a decent speed - over 80 MPH according to Nissan - so that's not an issue and according to Green Party member and Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan {photo} these cars will be much cheaper to run than those that run on gasoline.

I'm willing to believe the Minister on this score because the price of gas around here is now around $6.90 per gallon. Even if your car gets 40 mpg, that means the cost in gas alone is about 17¢ per mile. The Minister says the cost of running the Leaf {photo} will be about 2-3¢ per mile.

All of that sounds pretty good. Will it take off? Will Irish people buy electric cars instead of the usual gasoline-powered cars?

Well, maybe. There are still some serious issues with the electric cars. First of all, the cost of the car - even with the incentives noted above - will be comparable to the costs of a bigger, more comfortable car. Also, you don't buy the battery, but – for reasons that escape me – you rent it at an annual rate of €1,200 ($1,640) per year. {Not sure if that's all electric cars or only Renault, who hope to have their electric car on Ireland's roads by the end of 2011.}

The biggest issue however, is the battery's charge. It lasts for about 100 miles. Then you have to recharge. The government-owned Electricity Supply Board is going to roll out a series of charge stations - gas stations for electric cars - around the country to meet the, as yet non-existent, demand for charge. I think there are a few already around, but I haven't seen one yet.

When the Minister was asked about the 100 miles maximum the other day he indicated that if someone was going on a long journey - to Kerry was the question - he said that it was his experience that people generally stopped on long journeys for a cup of coffee or a sandwich or whatever. He said that while the driver was having his coffee the car could be recharging and ready to go again in half-an-hour. Half-an-hour to 'fill up'? Hmm.

ESB is going to set up 30 'fast charge' points around the country that will charge a battery to 80% in 30 minutes, which means you can't go another 100 miles before you have to stop again. A full charge at one of their normal stations will take 90 minutes.

First of all, I don't need either a sandwich or coffee every 100 miles. I can sometimes go three whole hours without food. I'd definitely like my car to do the same. I just can't see using such a car for journeys of any length at all.

But, it might be good for most of the short journeys I make. I would guess that around 90% of the trips I make are less than 50 miles. I could charge the car at home, which will take 8 hours. The Irish Independent says that the government will even pay to have a home charging point installed, although they seem unsure if that's true. Also, I assume that rules out cars that park on the street, unless that on-street space is very near the house.

It's easy to be skeptical, but there's a part of me that says, well, maybe. We have two cars, but we only need one for trips of any length. If the other car can be used for short journeys, can save me money and can be charged up safely - I don't want to be electrocuted hooking up the car in the rain - I could see it. Kind of shocking to me that I even think that.

Monday, April 12, 2010

West Point offers a welcome alternative to Woodbury Common

Woodbury Common, Woodbury Common, Woodbury Common. I've come across that name so many times here in Ireland. Read it in the papers, heard it on the radio, even heard it from my children who heard it from friends of theirs. Woodbury Common is so well known that it often seems as if a visit there is the primary motivation for most Irish people's trips to America.

If you don't know, Woodbury Common is a huge discount retail park, full of brand name outlets, near New York City. Over the past few years the combination of the Celtic Tiger's inflated prices and the favorable euro-dollar exchange rate has turned an American vacation into a shopping bonanza for Irish people. The prices are too good to pass up.

At first Irish shoppers were happy with the prices in Manhattan at Macy's and Bloomingdale's, but gradually the more canny among them learned that a trip to New Jersey or further afield could net even greater benefits. Woodbury Common was one of the 'outside the city' locations that Irish people discovered.

Woodbury Common became so well known that it seemed like people talked about it as if it was just on the outskirts of Dublin. Everybody here seemed to know about it. Everybody but me.

I didn't know where it was, although gradually I came to understand it was somewhere near Newburgh, NY. A few times I've met people here and when the inevitable "Where do you come from?" question elicited my answer "upstate New York" there was an instant follow up of "Near Woodbury Common?" Sometimes they seem deflated when I responded, "No, and in fact, I've never been there and I'm not really that sure where it is."

Well no more. I was over in America with the family last week and we stopped off at Woodbury Common (exit 16 on the Thruway if you're interested). Now I know where it is and what it looks like. Sort of.

I drove to Woodbury Common, but I never got out of the car. Everything I now know about Woodbury Common I know thanks to my wife and daughters. It's very crowded; there are loads of British & Irish people there (some wearing pajamas – Uggh!); the stores have chip & pin devices; it's really nothing special; it's really way too crowded.

That's right. I didn't go to Woodbury Common. Thanks to some excellent planning and a few wise words in my 9-year-old son's ear - he's never a happy shopper - I found somewhere else we could go to spend some time while the women folk shopped. West Point.

It takes about 25 minutes to drive to West Point from Woodbury Common. That's 25 minutes each way to avoid the fate of walking around crowded stores, waiting for people to try on clothes, etc. I'd have driven 3 hours if I had to.

And West Point's worth seeing. I'd been there back in 1990 and things have changed. You can no longer just drive onto the campus, park the car, hop out and walk around as you could then. September 11 put paid to that. Security today requires you to park and buy tickets for a bus tour.

The two tickets cost me $21 and truthfully I felt a bit rushed on the tour. I really wanted to walk around more. On the up-side, the woman who was our tour guide was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about West Point. My son really enjoyed it. He wants to go there when he finishes school.

Would I recommend it? In a heartbeat. Anything beats shopping. I even mentioned to our tour guide that they should offer a longer tour starting at Woodbury Common.

I bet there are many Irish men (and British and others) who would like nothing better than to escape the hellish shopping experience for a bit of military history and beautiful scenery. West Point is your refuge.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

How much would you pay for a bowl of Lucky Charms?

There's a relatively new store in a near-by town here in north Wicklow where you can find all sorts of specialty and high quality foods – with prices to match. The store is in Greystones, a very nice town somewhat overstretched by Celtic Tiger excess. Generally speaking the people of Greystones are fairly well-heeled, which explains why the owners of the food specialty store chose to locate in Greystones.

They deal in great-tasting cakes, fine wines, exotic fowl and fish, imported Italian ingredients, etc. You get the picture. Only, there's one shelf devoted to American 'delicacies' that might not strike the average American shopper as worthy of such an establishment. I'm talking about Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, Jif peanut butter, Betty Crocker cake mix, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Marshmallow Fluff and other 'fine foods'.

All of these 'exotic' American foods come with the same mark-up as the rest of the food in the store. I actually like peanut butter and would love a jar of Jif, but I balk at paying an exorbitant amount for a $4 jar. You can get an Irish peanut butter that isn't too bad for about a third of what the Jif costs. As for the Fluff the very idea repulses me, which makes it all the more inexplicable that someone would spend top dollar for a jar of the stuff.

Of all the items, however, the ones that I was really surprised by were the cereals. You can get a box of Fruit Loops for €9 ($12) or a box of Lucky Charms for €10 ($13.30). Just how desperate for Lucky Charms do you have to be that you'd lay out that kind of money for a small box?

It's not like it's a case of porridge or nothing here. Your average supermarket stocks most of the cereals available in America, including many of the junky, sugary ones. Cocoa Puffs, Frosted Flakes and others are available for a fraction of the cost of that box of Lucky Charms. No, you'd have to be especially keen on Lucky Charms to want to spend 13 bucks on a box. I can't imagine it.

I'd really like to know how many boxes of Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms they've sold. More exciting, however, would be to see someone actually buying a box. I'd love to get a look at the type of person who makes such judgments of value. I doubt I could resist asking them, "How much would be too much to pay for a bowl of Lucky Charms?"

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Irish home no issue for fantasy baseball enthusiast

April 4 has been marked on my calendar for a couple of months now. It's the day our fantasy baseball league chooses our teams for the coming season.

Being able to take part in fantasy baseball from Ireland is one of the great joys of the internet age. I can watch baseball on my t.v., listen to any game I want via internet radio, get the low down on stats and communicate with the other guys in the league via e-mail and Skype.

It's a far cry from the situation that prevailed when I first moved to Ireland. At the time of my move I was instantly plunged into an abyss with regards to baseball news. My primary source of baseball news was the International Herald Tribune, which had two day old box-scores and brief game reports. The early to mid 1990s were, as I often tell my children, the 'dark ages'.

Gradually things improved. By 1996 I had the internet in the house, although it was very slow and prohibitively expensive to use. By 2000 things were sufficiently advanced that my high school friends asked me to join their rotisserie league.

Nowadays, what with broadband and digital cable television I have access to all the games and news I need to compete in the league. Skype lets me take part in the draft almost as if I was in the living room in Albany where today's draft takes place.

In the old days baseball season started with Opening Day, but now it starts for many with the fantasy baseball league. I probably should get used to it, but it still amazes me that I can take part so fully in fantasy baseball from Ireland.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

No fear of bookies among sports leagues

Any sports fan raised in America is well used to the fear that gambling seems to spark in those who run the major sports leagues. The league presidents seem to shake in terror if there is even a hint of gambling. Violations of the league rules are generally dealt with ruthlessly.

Gambling, not performance enhancing drugs, is considered the most serious threat to a sport's integrity. You only have to look at how Major League Baseball has dealt with Pete Rose and Mark McGwire and their respective scandals to be sure of that. McGwire has been forgiven. Rose hasn't.

In Ireland (& Britain too) gambling is much less feared. Bookies are legal businesses and sports teams and leagues are happy to take bookmakers' sponsorship money. I've grown used to this over the years, but recently I remembered how strange I used to find this when I read that a member of the Dublin-based soccer team Bohemians is waiting to find out if he will be punished for betting on games in his league.

According to the Belfast Telegraph the amounts bet by Gareth McGlynn were "minuscule", but I was instantly reminded of how Major League Baseball suspended retired players Mickey Mantle & Willie Mays for becoming promotional spokesmen for Atlantic City casinos back in the early 1980s. I don't think MLB would tolerate any betting on MLB games, no matter how "minuscule" the amounts.

If you know your baseball history you'll know about the 1919 'Black Sox' scandal and you might figure that experience explains MLB's paranoia about gambling. And there have been some infamous gambling scandals involving football, hockey, the NBA and college basketball. Maybe it's just an American thing.

Yet, such scandals are not unknown over here.

A few years ago Irish rugby star Ronan O'Gara admitted that early in his career he might have gambled "a bit too much" after all sorts of stories about O'Gara's gambling were making the rounds. There was no hint that O'Gara bet on games he played in or any rugby games, but still he was betting and the rumor was it had led O'Gara into financial difficulties.

I'm pretty sure Major League Baseball would have had something to say about that, but nothing much happened here. You might say that O'Gara's situation compares with Michael Jordan's, but O'Gara didn't endure anything like the scrutiny Jordan had to endure. And he was never making Jordan' money either.

The rumors might have caused O'Gara some discomfort, but not too much. He's still regularly seen going in and out of the bookies near my daughter's school.

More worrying are the regular rumors of 'match-fixing.' They seem to crop up regularly and some even involve big names in international soccer. Soccer is regularly associated with match-fixing and gambling syndicates - often in less popular leagues - yet still nothing is done to break the links between gambling and soccer.

Sporting bodies are just much more relaxed about gambling here. I mean, some teams where their bookmaking sponsors' names on their shirts! I doubt even a big conspiracy like the Black Sox would end the cosy relationship between legal bookmaking firms and sports teams and leagues over here.

Actually, I'm more inclined to think that American sports leagues would love to tap into some of that money, but unfortunately for them there are no chains of legal bookmakers' offices around the country.