Sunday, 27 November 2011

Blog 23 - Gary Speed, depression and how people can help.

I'm writing this having just heard the terrible news about Wales manager Gary Speed committing suicide in the early hours of this morning aged just 42.

If there is one word that dominates the news reports and discussions it is shock. Every friend, colleague, pundit and fan seems dumbfounded by the news.

Gary Speed is a man everyone liked. With his good looks attracting a lot of female attention, as a young Leeds star he could easily have become a "Spice Boy" like so many others and allowed the lifestyle and money of a Premiership Footballer become more important to him than actually playing the game. But he didn't. He gave 100% week in-week out and served every club he played for with honour and commitment, and he was a man that every neutral fan had respect for as a result.

He seemed to have it all, a lovely family, financially untroubled, a successful playing career, and now a promising spell as manager of his country, the highest honour one can be given in football. He had it all. So why would he want to end it?

I don't know, because I'm not Gary Speed, but as someone who has suffered with depression and been to some very low places, I can certainly see how the seemingly perfect life could have become more of a prison than a paradise for someone with depression.

With everything Gary Speed had going for him it's clear that in life he has made some very good decisions. As a manager that's his job, and as a player it was one of his strengths. So when you spend all day every day making good decisions in your professional life and in your personal life, what happens when you find that the right move still leaves you feeling hollow and empty every time?

This is what depression does. It strips the joy away from everyday life. It makes the positive seem bland and uninspiring (at best). So if the right moves make you feel like shit, what's the alternative? Deliberately make the wrong moves? Run away? Quit and start again from scratch so you can do it all again? When you are a father, a husband and someone shouldering the burden of a nations footballing hopes it isn't that simple. If you make the wrong decisions those around you suffer. You can't and won't run away from those you love, no matter how much you may want to be alone. And you can't quit as manager of a national football team because all you want is some peace and you'll be hounded by the press forever and a day. You're trapped. You're on a treadmill that you can't get off of. Logically the best thing you can do is just to carry on as normal but when every fibre of your body is screaming for rest and change, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. Speed's very success could have been his biggest downfall.

Gary Speed, due to his fame and position, has today become a symbol of all that's hidden about depression, but his situation is replicated by normal, everyday people every single day of the year. The challenges are different, but the reasoning will usually be the same. People who feel desperately unhappy, but who feel powerless to change their situation. I feel like this regularly to varying degrees, but have never, even at my lowest point, acted on it. However given how prevelant depression is, it's amazing that statistically more people don't.

So how can we stop this happening to the next Gary Speed? The next person who is backed into a corner with only one way out? The answer, however unhelpful, is that you can't. Depression is an illness and whilst it varies greatly in seriousness and symptom, there is no cure. You may feel better for a while, you may consider yourself "cured" even, but once a person suffers from depression it will always be part of them. Something you always have to remain aware of. And people will always be pain and a lot will kill themselves. There's no magic formula.

The one area that can be addressed is that of changing attitudes towards people with depression. When I was first diagnosed with depression my first reaction was to keep it to myself. I was ashamed by what seemed like a terrible weakness for a bloke in his early twenties to be suffering from. I thought it was only something for people who had been through a massive trauma in their life, and that my feelings were fraudulent. Surely I was just being a wimp? My sunconscious was sulking about something and wanted to hide away from the real world for a while like a child. It took me a long time and a lot of lost sleep and mental strain to acknowledge the validity of my condition.

Imagine how much more difficult it is to accept for someone who has never experienced depression. If your only contact with depression is that someone at work buggers off on full pay for months at a time with it whilst you have to come in every day and pick up their slack, then your opinion of it is not going to be good. The invisible disease that anybody can claim to have.

I think as a society, we do accept that some people suffer from mental illness, but that we have all experienced one or two people who claim to have depression but seem to be fine. Depression is regarded with the same skepticism as ADHD. Some kids may genuinely need meds, but every naughty kid at school these days gets told he has some vague disease because it's easier for parents to blame illness rather than a lack of parenting. Hence, for every 10 people who claim to have depression, we assume 7 or 8 are just making excuses. As someone with depression, you feel this skepticism acutely, often because you still feel this way yourself to a large extent.

If I found coming to terms with depression hard, imagine what Gary Speed had to deal with. Football is an old-school male community, with embedded attitudes when it comes to health. The team is everything. The individual must put the team before himself. He must play through the pain barrier, fight to his last breath, leave everything personal in the dressing room and live for the moment with his teammates. A national football manager who quits because of depression? Unthinkable. A large proportion of the country, and more importantly the footballing community would see it as tantamount to treason. You don't quit a job like that. You're honoured to have been asked in the first place you ungrateful sod. And depression? Well just cheer up a bit, there's nothing wrong with you. I doubt very much that Gary Speed told many people in the game about his illness, which would have added to the pressure he was already feeling.

I can only hope that Gary Speed's tragedy can change this attitude. That people see a model professional and a successful man and now understand that one man's perfect life can be another man's prison cell, and that depression is a potentially lethal illness and not a weak persons laziness. And I hope that the next Gary Speed feels like they can ask for help, or a way out, and that more people will now understand rather than turn on them in ignorance.

I feel for his family and friends, but most of all I feel for him, and the incredible pain he must have been feeling.

RIP Gary Speed.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Blog 22 - What I did on my honeymoon - Houses of Parliament

*As you'll probably know I got married the other day. Part of the reason we got to getting around to getting married after 11 years is that we were going away for our first ever night away from the kids because Kerry was attending a Cybermummy conference in London, and so we combined this event with a wedding. This meant that I had a day in London doing some touristy things before meeting up with Kerry after the conference and then doing some more touristy things the next day with her before coming back to rescue my Mum and Dad from our kids. I've decided to blog about some of the things I/we did in case anyone was thinking of doing them next time they're in London.*

Houses of Parliament Tour

Cost - £15 for a single adult

Time taken - 2hr 15m from arrival at venue to being back on the street afterwards.

I got to Westminster at 9.30 a.m. and as soon as you leave Westminster tube station the HOP are straight in front of you, so it's an easy find. However, when you get to the series of check-in desks which you would assume would be there for you to buy your ticket you are then redirected across the road to the back garden of a house behind Westminster Abbey. You then have the bizarre scenario of an old stone building which has had plexiglass dividers rammed into it's three small windows manned by HOP sales staff. Once you manage to obtain a ticket (they were struggling with complicated computer systems and a lack of English as a first language and managed to take 10 mins to sell me one adult ticket for a tour in English) you then go back to the apparantly redundant check in booths at the HOP. A word of warning, I was able to get through this process relatively quickly because I got there early before the real crowds arrived but later in the day I saw the queues to get tickets stretching for a good 100 yds outside of the normal queueing area. Once inside you are immediately whisked through the most thorough security check I've ever encountered, which is to be expected given the high value of the venue as a terrorist target. You get taken through scanners, have your picture taken, have your baggage x-rayed and your pocket contents examined. However, the security staff are very personable and try and make this experience as painless and swift as possible. Then, you're in. From ticket-buying to security clearance and ready to start the tour took 30 mins only, although as I say, this was helped by my arrival time, so I definitely advise early arrival if possible.

The tour begins in an enormous stone hall which legend says Henry VIII used for tennis, and which, as one of the very few non-specific area to British politics in the building is where foreign speakers such as Nixon and the Pope have addressed Parliament. It was also used in days gone by as a court of law which saw the execution ordered of Anne Boleyn and the place where Churchill was laid in state before his funeral. It is also the only area in the HOP where photos are permitted, again for security reasons. There you meet up with your tour guide. Everyone has to go round with a guide and you are counted at regular intervals to make sure nobody has wandered off with anything ticking to leave as a present around the building.

One thing you are advised immediately is that as you go through the building, you will see a number of things with the "Wow" factor and the tour takes you around everything in time, but because of the number of tour parties going around it's not always possible to stop at the item of interest, but whatever you miss on the first pass, the tour guide will make sure you get to see them on the way back. Unfortunately this doesn't always filter through to the other members of thr group for whom English isn't their first language. Our tour guide, a formidable lady of a certain-age named Elaine, who spoke in beautiful crisp English but with a brusque undertone that made it clear you didn't mess about on her tour, was patient with some of the questions but there were a couple of eye-rolls aimed towards the few Brits in the party when she had to explain yet-again why we weren't stopping at an obvious point of interest because there was already another party there, but that we would stop there eventually. She was fantastic in her knowledge of the building and it's history and protocol and her manner was perfect for a tour of this nature.

Our first stop in the main building was the staircase the Queen uses to enter Parliament and give her annual speech to the House of Lords. You really feel the history all around you, with the busts of Prime Ministers past such as Wellington overlooking the corridor, and the architecture and the splendour are exactly what you would expect from a building with such a past. You then pass through more anti-rooms, each with a history and a tale to tell, from a threadbare throne which has been in the building since it was used by Queen Victoria, to the more modern lounge used by members to entertain visitors.

Then you're into the House of Lords which has the very practical wood and leather seating and modern addition of wall mounted cameras and hanging microphones contrasted to the majesty of the golden throne reserved for the monarch on her rare visits to the House of Lords. It's a place of great solemnity and history, so when an Italian girl of 17 or so passed by the throne with another tour with a skirt so short you could tell what she'd had for breakfast the look of mortification on our tour guide's face was worth the entrance fee alone.

Following this, you then move from the Lords into the House of Commons and you pass by the dented door that Black Rod knocks on every year and then go into one of the corridors that MP's use to vote "Yes" or "No", stopping to see the famous "Gladstone Bag" which was finally retired from budget duty. Then you come to the highlight of the tour, the House of Commons, with the famous benches used by politicians of the day to debate great issues and squabble like children in equal measure. My first thought was that it was much smaller than I expected but you do get drawn into the history when you realise that it's not just todays brand of faceless, tv-friendly Eton clones that use this chamber, but you are looking at the seat that Churchill ran our country from, and the room he made so many of his great wartime speeches in and then you get a real sense of the majesty of the room. The tour then takes you back into the original stone hall where the tour began and allows you to visit the obligatory coffee shop and giftshop before leaving. Ducking those options, I left and was on the street again at 11.45.

Overall, I would highly recommend a visit to the HOP to anyone interested in either politics or history. I definitely felt that I got my moneys worth and it satisfied my curiosity about one of our nations great buildings and what goes on there. I definitely wouldn't recommend it for young children or even elder children who aren't interested in history. Because of the tour nature and the carefully managed security you can't listen to the tourguide and try and entertain a bored child at the same time and simply wandering off or letting them play by themselves for a minute or two is not an option. I wouldn't take my kids in there, and I wouldn't advise any other parents or children under the age of 10 or so to either, because they won't appreciate it and to be honest unless your children are in the 1% of kids that are content to stand quietly and listen on a slow walk around an old building for an hour and a half, they'll spoil the experience for you and everyone else on the tour. For adults though, if you haven't already been, I personally think it's a must see.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Blog 21 - Battle Plans for Norwich next season

I haven't blogged for 4 months. This is mainly due to laziness. However, I've decided to slap down some thoughts regarding the marvellous Norwich City and how I think they should progress with the recruitment process for next seasons tilt at the Premier League.

Norwich City 2011-2012

Goalkeepers: John Ruddy, Declan Rudd, Jed Steer.

Ruddy is one of those players that Lambert has developed in a very short space of time to become greater than the sum of his parts. He now looks like a top level keeper, not just a mediocre shot-stopper with confidence issues. I suspect he could still have the potential to have a wobble given one or two mistakes back-to-back but I'm confident if he starts the season as our number one. I would however look to get a genuine rival for him as competition. The likes of Robert Green have been mooted but I don't think his wages would come anywhere near our budget anymore, and I'm not sure he would fit the "hungry with a point to prove" philosophy that has underpinned so much of our success. Fraser Forster would be ideal for where our club wants to go, and that's not just a sentimental throwback to memories of a year ago but an honest opinion that a young English keeper who has a genuine affection for our club and clearly a great career ahead of him, would be a top signing. With Ruddy and Forster competing for the number one position I'd be extremely happy going into the season. Rudd and Steer are both good prospects but equally they both need more experience before they are ready for the Prem, so a season-long loan for Rudd at least is preferable. Someone like Brighton, Coventry or Barnsley playing Championship football but where he would have a fair bit to do would be the best option.

Right Backs: Russell Martin, George Francomb.

I'm a huge fan of Russell Martin, and like Ruddy, Lambert has built this guy from the ground up, to the extent where a player Peterborough felt was not up to Championship football is clearly going to play games in the Premier League. The only question is whether you add cover here. I like George Francomb and I have high hopes for the future for him, but next season may be a step too soon for him if he has to cover for Martin. Lambert may be comfortable with Korey Smith as the back up and if so, In Lambert We Trust. Personally I'd look to add an experienced body who can fill in elsewhere if needed. Bobby Hassell of Barnsley is someone that always impresses me and can play numerous positions.

Left Backs: Adam Drury, Marc Tierney, Sam Habergham, Stephen Smith.

I wouldn't look to add to this. Tierney and Drury are both quality left backs and I don't have any worries that they are capable of making the step up and providing ample competition between them. With Lappin and Surman also capable of deputising if need be we seem well covered here. Habergham was a highly fancied youth player that hasn't managed to make a breakthrough and it's difficult to see that happening now. I would be surprised if he was retained for next year. Smith is as good as gone and there is no chance he will be here come August.

Centre Backs: Zak Whitbread, Leon Barnett, Elliott Ward, Jens Berthal Askou.

After years of having "big lump" centre halves that can head and kick everything that moves but can't pass over 5 yards it's been a genuine pleasure to have defenders who are comfortable on the ball and able to pass or move forwards against the opposition where possible. Whitbread, Barnett and Ward are all in contention for Premiership starts and I have no problem with any of them going into the new season. Askou is a decent L1/Championship player who would be punching well above his weight in the big leagues and he is very unlikely to be retained this summer. I would look to add one other centre half to the group to ensure adequate cover as all three centre halves have had injury concerns in the past. My first choice would be Swansea and Wales captain Ashley Williams. He fits perfectly into the Canary ethos of being a young, hungry, professional, who looks after himself and takes his own development seriously. Williams has spent a lot of time in the gym in the last year, bulking up to aid his conversion from full back to centre half and the work has paid dividends with Williams now a skilful, pacy behemoth who proves a dominant force in either box. The fact that he has taken on captaincy for club and country at a young age speaks volumes for his character. Perfect addition in my book, and I would make him our number one target this pre-season. His wages would likely fit into the structure and an investment of £3.5 million would likely secure his services IF Swansea fail to go up via the play-offs.

Midfield Anchor/Quarterback: Mathew Gill, David Fox

David Fox has made the position his own in the second-half of the season and has quietly been one of our best players. Another example of Lambert making the most of a player. Fox has the skills, breeding and mentality to be highly successful at the top level and the space and time available in the Premiership should suit him more than most. Crofts can also fill in at the base of the diamond but more as a defensive shield than as a play-starter such as Fox, so I would expect to see another midfielder added who can also play this position to compete with Fox. Lambert is an expert at finding gems from the lower leagues who are comfortable on the ball and have the potential to play higher so I look forward to seeing who he picks up. Dare I suggest that someone like Sammy Clingan might be a good addition? It would take an awful amount of forgiveness but there aren't many players who can play this role well and Clingan has the skills needed. Mathew Gill is a good pro and a popular player in the dressing room but would have struggled in the Championship, let alone the Premier. With the best will in the world I can't see him being here next year.

Midfielders: Andrew Crofts, Stephen Hughes, Andrew Surman, Korey Smith, Simon Lappin, Matt Ball, Owain Tudor-Jones.

The "sides" of the diamond are currently occupied by Surman and Crofts, with Lappin and Korey Smith the back-ups. To play successfully in the system, you need the stamina and strength to get up and down and support full backs in making tackles, the technical ability to link play and find non conventional angles for passing, and a great deal of comfort on the ball. Surman is excellent on the ball and tracks back well. His only weakness is a slight lack of pace which is the only reason he isn't playing at very highest level. He will however, be fine at the next level and I expect him to flourish with a little more time on the ball. Crofts is an exceptional worker and ok on the ball, but against the Arsenal's and Manchester United's who punish every mistake that may not be enough. He certainly deserves his chance but I would expect Lambert to bring in players to challenge Crofts and either raise his game to the next level or replace him. Lappin is someone a lot of supporters see as being a potential casualty of the promotion recruitment process but I don't agree. Technically he is very good and he works hard and always follows the instructions handed to him. You definitely get the impression that Lambert and Culverhouse have great faith in him and trust him to do whatever job is handed to him. I don't see him going anywhere, and I think he'll be competing for a bench place. Korey Smith has massive potential and is another 100% man. Whether his technical ability matches his work rate at this stage is up for debate but he's still very young and he has some great footballers to learn from. I wouldn't be surprised if Lambert lets him out on loan for at least part of the season. He could play comfortably in the Championship which is probably preferable for his development than simply the odd bench appearance. Stephen Hughes, like Askou is a good L1/Championship player but he has come about as far as is possible and will most likely be off. Likewise Owain Tudor-Jones. Matt Ball is a well-thought-of youngster who will benefit from training in a Premier League set-up and if he develops well he may even see some bench time. In terms of players to come in, I would expect Lambert to make at least three aquisitions to really improve the competition for places. I like the look of Wigan's James McCarthy (if they come down). A young player who has overachieved with struggling sides, he always impresses me whenever I see him. Huge motor and technically able. Likewise, Wolves' Dave Jones may be a relegated player who'd like another crack at the Premier League and wouldn't cost the earth in either transfer fee or wages. He has great ability on the ball with a Fox-esque Man United Youth pedigree, and is a hard-worker. A move for Henri Lansbury either on a loan or permanent would obviously be wonderful if Arsenal were agreeable but speculation in North London suggests that Arsene Wenger plans on bringing Henri through next season. With his love for Arsenal and the underwhelming feeling he seems to have at the hotel-based life of a loanee, I'd be surprised if Henri went anywhere this season unless he was given a guarantee of no future with Arsenal.

Wingers: Anthony McNamee, Josh Dawkin.

I have a huge amount of sympathy for McNamee who has barely been able to get a look in based simply on his fit into our system. I think with Lambert's pursuit of Elliott Bennett, it's clear that he wants a Plan B for when the diamond isn't working so well, and the width that McNamee and Bennett could offer in a 4-4-2 would open up even the largest of Premiership pitches. For this reason alone I can see McNamee still being here and challenging around the bench next season, especially as his attitude regarding his lack of starts appears to have been good. Dawkin is one for the future and may well be loaned out next season with L1 a good practice ground for him. I expect Lambert to add one or two players who either play wide or can do so comfortably. Bennett is an obvious target, and I suspect Lambert may be prepared to pay slightly more than he bid in January to secure such a promising player. I don't see any big names coming in though because the realities of our system mean that a wide player will need the patience of McNamee or a great deal of role flexibility to stay involved. Wright-Phillips or Kightly are two names on the rumour circuit but are never going to happen. Likewise Scott Sinclair unfortunately.

The Hole: Wes Hoolahan.

Everyone who says Wes is a one-off and impossible to have cover for was proved wrong when Henri Lansbury and Dani Pacheco both proved it possible. It is a difficult position to play successfully, but it's a dream position for technically able players and we'll find no problem as a Premiership club finding players who have the skills and would give their right arm to play there. If neither Lansbury or Pacheco return then I would expect Lambert to bring in another option as cover for Wes.

The Target Man: Grant Holt, Aaron Wilbraham.

Holt will cause Premiership defences the exact same problems as he has caused defenders in every other league and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he still manages to notch 15-20 goals. He'll still win headers and throw himself at anything in the box, and his technical skills are constantly underrated by the opposition. Most importantly he's a goalscorer, and has the coolness and instincts when through on goal which some better footballers will never have. Wilbraham may have come as far as he can and whilst I expect him to still be here next year, I would be surprised if Lambert didn't add another big striker to the mix to keep Holty on his toes because the gulf between the two in terms of competition is enormous. Ricky Lambert and Steve Morrison are two potential options that would fit the Lambert criteria well. I'm not convinced that Sam Vokes is quite good enough but he may be another consideration.

Striker: Simeon Jackson, Chris Martin, Oli Johnson, Luke Daley, Cody McDonald

3 months ago I'd have laughed at the thought of Simeon Jackson being a Premeirship striker but now he's one to leave out at your peril. He always had speed and keenness but his all-round game was lacking and it looked like Gillingham had been on the better end of the deal that took Cody Macdonald on loan in part-exchange. But then, with a 30 minute cameo against an already beaten Scunthorpe he scored a hat-trick and it was like he suddenly "got it". An entire seasons worth of frustration and missed opportunities was released and we not only got the striker we hoped we were buying from Gillingham, we got a far better player than we thought we had signed. He ended the season looking the best player in the Championship and a threat every time he had the ball. Another example of the Lambert belief coming to fruition. Chris Martin is one who's future seems up in the balance and it will depend on who comes in as to whether Martin stays or moves to pastures new. I think he's developed into a fine footballer and it would be a shame to see him go but he didn't score the goals we know he's capable of in the Championship and the feeling may be that the Premiership is too big an ask. Oli Johnson is likely to move on following a long loan spell at Yeovil where he proved adequate but didn't pull up any trees. He's a good player with quick feet and the ability to create a chance from nothing but may be better suited to League 1 or the Championship than the Premier League. Luke Daley failed to get off the bench for Stevenage during a loan spell and I can't see him being here in August. I would definitely expect Lambert to make another striker a priority. I think Mackail-Smith is an obvious target but Lambert and McNally won't be held to ransom and neither should they be. A return for Dani Pacheco would be hugely welcome but this is unlikely to be decided before late July at the earliest and Lambert may not have the patience to wait for that. Leon Best is a target and would be good as long as his wages fit in. For that reason alone rumours of Michael Owen or Craig Bellamy are ridiculous. Ironically, Cody McDonald could be a great option if you think of him as a prolific L2 striker coming off a great season who would come into the club as a new signing with a point to prove hoping to fight for a place. I can't see it happening however as Cody's indicated he thinks he's leaving and he wants to play for Gillingham and Paul Lambert has moved to play down the more exhuberent cries to recall McDonald from loan with reminders of the level that Cody was playing at.

Overall, I have great faith in Paul Lambert to continue his excellent record in the transfer market. I have no doubt that come August we will be a lot stronger than we are now. Lambert's skill to date is that his team has evolved in a positive manner for both players coming in and players moving out and if that continues Norwich's ongoing forward progress should continue and a few "big teams" may well be dumped on their backsides by "Little Old Norwich".

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Blog 20 - Crossing the line - To accept or not?

As you've probably gathered by now, I'm opinionated, and I'm judgemental. Whilst I believe people can make small changes to their lives I believe that essentially they will remain the same person they always have been. A person who shoplifts a loaf of bread because they have no money and no food is not a hardened criminal for life, but someone who has the money and still does it is a thief and always will be. Not everyone will agree with me but that's my opinion. Fairly subjective to my own morality admittedly but at the same time fairly clear cut. I don't think people who make a choice to act immorally should be trusted to ever act in a moral way again. I don't believe that when they have included "theft", "murder", "rape" or whatever act into their menu of possible actions during life, knowingly and consciously, they always have that potential, and the likelihood is that once you've chosen to cross the line once, it'll be easier to cross the line a second time.

When someone does something knowingly and consciously, which I consider to be abhorrent and wrong then, I am very unforgiving. Generally I regard them with at best, low-level contempt. I have cut such people out of my life before and would do so again without hesitation if circumstances warranted it. Similarly I am equally judgemental of people in the public eye.

I've never been a fan of Michael Jackson. Always found his music to be boring and a lot of glitzy American style over substance. So when it emerged that he was an enthusiastic pedophile (and we all know he was, let's face it) I had no problem condemning him as loudly as the most vitriolic tabloid. But I can appreciate that for someone who loved his music, there must have been a real moral dillemma to be faced. Do you carry on as a fan regardless, clinging onto the "it was never proved in court" argument that only carries water if you buy into the theory that rich people buying their way out of prison never happens? Or do you accept the reality and take a moral stance, not buying his records, even though you enjoy them?

I've experienced a similar ethical query with an entertainment figure recently and it's one I've found difficult to reconcile with my own beliefs. The subject of my dilemma is the American Footballer Michael Vick. In April 2007 Vick was found to be keeping a dog-fighting ring in the grounds of his enormous home in Atlanta, Georgia. Vick hosted the fights for his circle of friends and fellow dog-fighting enthusiasts. But when I say he hosted fights, we're not talking a one-off or even occasional coming toegether of two angry pets. Chez Vick was the Madison Square Garden of Dog Fighting. We're talking seated pit arenas, betting stalls and breeding programs for aggressive pit-bulls complete with "rape-racks" which allow aggressive males to mount aggressive females and produce aggressive puppies without the fear of the mother killing the father in the act. When police raided Vick's home they found the remains of hundreds of dogs that had been killed following the fights, or even weaker small dogs which had been used as warm-up acts to get the featured competitive dogs into a killing frenzy before matches. In August 2007 Vick pled guilty and spent the next 21 months in prison. Personally as an animal-lover and someone who used to work for the RSPCA, I wish they'd given him the death sentence. But that's not everyone's opinion, which I accept.

My problem is that, since release, Vick's life has pretty much returned to normal. The owner of his former team, Arthur Blank of the Atlanta Falcons, bravely refused to have him as part of his organisation and sacked the undoubtedly talented star quarterback. However, someone with Vick's talented was never going to be without a team, and the Philadelphia Eagles took him on. Vick has quickly re-established himself as one of the best players in the game and is one of the names shortlisted for the prodigious NFL Most Valuable Player of the Season Award, such has been his astounding return to the game. Following a period of bankrupcy when in prison due to the loss of his multi-million dollar salary and the astronomical costs of his legal bills, Vick is now back amongst the top-earners again.

Worse still for me is the level of forgiveness he has managed to find. Philadelphia fans cheer his name. Team mates embrace him as not only one of them, but as their leader on the field. Even Barack Obama put his two cents in, congratulating the Eagles management on giving an offender a second chance. Vick has made all the right public noises, stating his regret at his actions, donating money to animal charities and doing voluntary work, talking about hoping to one day own a pet dog again etc, etc, and people seem to be lapping this up. For me it's the product of modern P.R. and notjing more. It means nothing. It's as superficial and transitory as Nick Griffin turning up with a camera crew to film a party-political broadcast segment armed with a can of Lilt and some Reggae Reggae sauce. I'm not buying it, and I doubt in their heart of hearts whether anyone else is. Yet still society seems to be letting him back regardless, I suspect solely because he has something to offer. Vick is in his prime, playing scintillating, dynamic and winning football. If he was 36, slowing and clinging onto the last few months before retirement I doubt he'd be treated the same.

And the most galling thing of all is that I understand it. I love watching Vick play. He's by far the most exciting player in the game today and plays with an inventiveness and athleticism that can't help but drag you onto the edge of your seat when he's on the field. And I can totally understand why the Eagles fans cheer for him. After all once your teams executives have taken the decision to employ him and put him on the field of play, what choice do you have but to cheer him on as part of your team? You're not going to stop cheering your team, whom you've followed all your life just because you have some moral objections to an objective decision on a non-footballing matter taken by the current management are you? Maybe you should. But if it was me and Norwich City were to do similar I honestly don't know what I'd do. Which scares me tremendously. There's an outside chance that my NFL team of choice, the Arizona Cardinals may try and bring in Vick, who is out of contract now, although given the fees involved it would be unlikely. In pure footballing terms it would be an enormous coup and the best thing that could happen to the team. Morally, I think I would have to abandon them as my NFL team if they did however. But then I have no ties to Arizona. I simply picked them out of the 32 teams when I started taking an interest in American Football because I felt the closest allegiance to them and some of their players at the time and since then I've grown a great deal of affection for the Cards. But walking away from them to another NFL team would not be a problem if circumstances warranted it. I'd simply support my second team instead (ironically the Atlanta Falcons who sacked Vick rather than give him a second chance).

Back to the comparison with English football and Norwich City though and the problem would become infinitely more difficult. I'm tied to them through geography, history and 27 years of financial input. Christ I even own a couple of token shares in the club. And if Rooney or Ronaldo were to commit an atrocity tomorrow and ask Norwich to be their chosen club of rehabilitation after prison, how would I feel about that? Knowing that it would inevitably improve us on the field, and possibly get us back into the Premier League wouldn't be a consideration for me because I'd rather not have them and stay as we were. But if the board were to sanction the player coming in and they were there, in the yellow and green could I just walk away and stop supporting the team I love? It's a decision I never want to have to make, because I don't know what I would do. Could I accept and move on? Or would I have the fortitude to leave something that feels a part of me. I sympathise with Philadelphia fans. Maybe I shouldn't but I do. And I'm not proud of myself for saying that.