Damon Hill: Watching the Wheels

Damon Hill: Watching the Wheels

Damon Hill was always a different type of motorsport star. In the flamboyant world of Formula One he came across as reserved. In a sport dominated by money, he struggled to the top. A successful family name, that should have eased the transition, proved to be a burden. Unlike stars today, he never cashed in with a cheap autobiography at the time. Twenty years later, Hill explains why in his book Watching the Wheels.

Damon Hill was unique and also a first. The history books will forever state he and his legendary father Graham were the first father and son to win F1 Driver World Championships. His father’s career and untimely death shaped Hill’s formative years and adult life in ways that took decades for him to understand.

Before Hill begins his story, the foreword explains his absence during the decades between retiring and re-emerging into public life as a broadcaster. In a brave and important move, he discusses his battle with depression. Raising awareness to the issue and explaining its nature will give hope to many sufferers.

After facing up to his demons, and sharing them with the reader, it’s understandable that Hill doesn’t shy away from how they were created. Before diving into the autobiography, it’d be fine to expect little of Graham Hill’s story. His shadow loomed over Damon’s career and it was something he could never find the speed to race away from.

His account of his younger years explains what it was like to live with a larger than life character. How Graham, like Damon would be himself, was a late addition to the sport. The effects of his fame did affect his mother at times and there’s a sense Damon adored, admired, and worshipped his father while feeling he was inaccessible.

The showcase of F1, in days where it was a different type of showbiz and the community was close rather than filled with suspicious rivals, didn’t appeal to the young Hill. He was a shy, under confident child. The attention that came his way he tried to avoid, feeling it wasn’t deserved, and he didn’t want to be defined by the success of others.

Despite the negatives that came with fame, like being singled out in school, he had a happy childhood. Sadly, when he lists the reasons why, labouring the point, it reads like a top ten of superficial positives. It could be a sign that even before his father passed, Damon was destined to have emotional difficulties.

The painful realisation Damon was getting closer to his father before his passing is even more upsetting. He uses the book as a means to exonerate Graham’s role in the plane crashed that took his life and those of his team on board. It rightly lays falsehoods to rest, explains how rumours had played like Chinese whispers over the years. And refers to a crash investigator that offers probable causes for the incident. It enables the legend of Graham Hill to continue untarnished.

After his father’s death, he buried the pain, choosing not to mourn, believing his father would have done the same. He had to assume the role of man of the house before he was a legal adult. The lavish lifestyle started to fade away. Lawsuits against the family and the loss of income meant the Hills went into survival mode.

Fast forward to adulthood and Damon found himself working in the building trade. The graft enabled him to focus, stopping his mind from dwelling on his father. It’s quite telling that during these stories he refers to “that Scottish man” and “the Irish man” he worked with for four weeks. Even after a month the class divide meant they were labels, not named people. Or at least, people not worthy of remembering now.

His passion was racing bikes, and he became a delivery driver around London, claiming the day-to-day hustle in the traffic honed his driving skills. During this period he met his future wife Georgie. Theirs was a stop-start relationship but it’s clear they had a deep connection early on. Sadly, the reader only gets an insight during the early days. Once F1 begins, the chapters are filled with a notable lack of family life.

His journey to Formula One wasn’t through desire. Damon preferred motorcycle racing but realised the chance of career-ending injury was high, the rewards low. So he took the decision to race single-seater cars.

It wasn’t a smooth transition, he lacked funding but it’s hard to fully empathise with his hardships when he explains how a Beatle rang him to offer the £75,000 required to race the following season. Through a good sponsorship deal he finally secured a safer drive and managed to get on the radar.

By his own admission, he was never the standout performer, and people like Johnny Herbert and Martin Brundle were the established names of his generation. But he had an inner grit that people overlooked all his career.

He wasn’t trying to capitalise on his father’s fame, quite the opposite. He wanted to right a wrong, complete the family mission, and discover his true self.

Of course, he achieved that aim. He added a British Grand Prix victory to the family heirloom, a thing that had eluded his father. And repeated the feat of being crowned champion of the world.

The standoffishness and inaccessibility that made him less lovable than people like Nigel Mansell, permeates the pages. But this shows how he has always been genuine, wearing his heart on his sleeve.

A quiet heart doesn’t mean a smaller one.

The brooding intensity was mistaken for not being passionate enough. He explains his treatment at Williams, how he was never a preferred choice, even after keeping the team close-knit following Ayrton Senna’s untimely passing.

The comparisons to rate Hill have always been lopsided. No one would ever claim he was a Senna, he even called upon the spirit of the great Brazilian to help him in Japan, but he wasn’t below the likes of fan-favourite Mansell. Hill never had a number two like Riccardo Patrese.

He partnered the best of all time, a David Coulthard in his peak, Mansell himself, world champion Jacques Villeneuve, and the brother of his chief nemesis Ralf Schumacher.

Those looking for a better insight to the battle with Michael may be disappointed. We get a glimpse into his mindset but a golden opportunity is missed when he mentions driving to see the German laid up in hospital with broken legs. This was after the 1999 British Grand Prix.

Instead we break to hear about more contract woes, it would have been nice to see that interaction. What was their relationship like as Michael was bed ridden? Especially poignant now the seven-time world champion may never communicate with the wider world again.

Early on in the book Hill talks about how motorsport is dangerous and we should never move away from the part of nature that is drawn to it like moths to a flame. Ultimately, the sense of that danger is what made him want to leave.

People will draw their own conclusions as to how successful Hill’s endeavours were. He was a victim of the British media’s classic “build ‘em up, to knock ‘em down” formula. As a wronged loser, they adored him. As a champion, they tore strips from him.

Perhaps this has had Hill on the defensive ever since. Parts of the book read like a list of excuses rather than reasons. He also has a sense of entitlement that can’t be overlooked. There are undertones throughout that Michael Schumacher was the chosen driver, protected by his team and given preferential treatment.

Later he demands special treatment believing he has earned it and paid his dues. Many drivers before and since have sacrificed just as much and never had the gifts that were delivered to Damon.

Hill should be applauded for speaking out about mental health issues and be thanked for taking a trip to the nostalgic years of his racing days and the enduring memory of his father’s. It’s unlikely this self-written book will win over many new fans but its greatest triumph is detailing the recovery of a man lost in the wilderness.

EFL Short-sighted

EFL Short-sighted

The English Football League (EFL) demonstrated ignorance and a lack of understanding with wider issues this week, in doing so it deepens a rift between its member clubs and the administration of the EFL. The much derided EFL Trophy, now renamed Checkatrade Trophy, was always a bone of contention. Now the fears of lower league clubs have been manifested in the form of ridiculous fines.

The concept of the revised EFL Trophy was after the lower tiered Football League clubs spoke out against the proposed League Three option, fearing the inclusion of Premier League B Teams would be a further example of looking after the big clubs at the expense of those without. Also, it would have damaged the accessibility of the current loan system.

The Football Reflective was a fan of the idea (Fair and Three) as it took a holistic view. The current loan system hasn’t proven to be beneficial for the donor clubs. Aside from Manchester City, who appear to frequently send their coaches to assess and assist those loaned out, once a player has left the nest they are under the guidance of lower grade coaches using lesser facilities.

The FA, after years of mounting evidence that suggests the national team has a bleak future, is desperate for a solution. When League Three was written off, they needed a halfway house. A trial to see if there would be the appetite for B Teams to mix in competitive ties with lower league clubs.

They took the essence of a good idea and managed to turn it against itself.

The EFL Trophy in its former guise was a good opportunity for the teams from the bottom two tiers to have a day out at Wembley. Not many cared for the competition until that chance was on the horizon, but when it appeared a play-off final vibe arose.

Adding select upper league clubs’ under-21s to the mix destroyed that slight fantasy. The idea of Stoke U21s v Wolverhampton U21s at Wembley doesn’t have any of the romance. All it would do is confirm to the smaller clubs that football in this country only cares about those higher up the league pyramid.

But the clubs that bemoaned the idea of League Three do need to take some responsibility. Their fears have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy, acted out during the EFL Trophy.

Most blame has to go to the EFL itself. This week they fined twelve clubs, ranging from £3,000 to £15,000 each, for fielding weaker sides(five players must have appeared in the previous game, or contain the five most used players from the season as a whole). A format they didn’t trust has now hit their pockets.

Luton chairman Gary Sweet summed up the disparity best when he remarked he shouldn’t be paying fees to give his youth players experience. To make matters worse, his club’s youth defeated a side from the higher tier. So, is the Checkatrade Trophy only about developing youth players from big clubs?

The fear of the voiceless now realised with the opening of a cheque book.

The EFL Trophy fines come at the same time as talks to restructure the EFL to four leagues of twenty teams collapsed. Here the clubs and league are equally short-sighted. Chief Executive of Shrewsbury, Brian Caldwell, has been one of the most outspoken against. His concern, one mirrored up and down the country, was a reduction in fixtures would mean less money.

The EFL countered this by promising more Saturday fixtures, seen as a way to avoid the lesser attended midweek matches, claiming this would actually increase overall revenues. That plan was supposedly scuppered by the FA’s latest oversees TV deal for the FA Cup. The weekends they’d planned to use are now locked in for FA Cup ties.

By removing themselves from the negotiating table too soon, the EFL has failed to see its strong hand. Without the EFL clubs there is no FA Cup. The football league could have driven the demands for better distribution of wealth and proceeded with the reformation of its structure.

Not compromising for a few FA Cup weekends means its platform stays stuck in the past.

The Championship may be the fifth most watched league in the world but it has the weight of the entire lower tiers on its shoulders. It can’t thrive unabated like the Premier League, there is a glass ceiling imposed due to the EFL’s overall structure. It may carry the load but it is the EFL that should shoulder the burden.

Doing nothing will only see the gap between the haves and the have-nots grow.

By being overly defensive of the FA and Premier League’s intentions, the EFL and its members have only spited themselves. If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, the road to obscurity and obsoletion is paved with paranoia.

FIFA Reveals its True Colours

FIFA Reveals its True Colours

It should come as no surprise that FIFA is back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The scandal hit organisation continues to display a lack of decency and awareness of public sensitivities. But poppies aren’t the peak of the problem.

FIFA’s announcement that wearing the poppy to mark Armistice Day goes against their rules covering the use of political symbols, has attracted much scorn on these shores. Understandably this was always going to be an emotive subject. To be told by a proven corrupt organisation, that it is incorrect to remember those that gave the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the freedoms we all enjoy, is beyond the greatest insult that could be spoken.

To enforce it as law is criminal.

The poppy doesn’t care about the motives behind men’s wars, it only displays respect and remembrance for the people that gave their lives.

While Armistice Day is held on the day and hour marking the end of World War I on the Western front, it has since combined with Remembrance Day to honour the servicemen and women that perished in both World Wars and every conflict since 1945.

Even this doesn’t add a grey area to the matter. The sight of a poppy doesn’t carry undertones of a political system or make wearers support a certain way of life. Unlike the swastika. From innocent beginnings as a Hindu symbol to attract good force and discourage evil, it became synonymous with the Nazi regime. This means the swastika will always have political connections, regardless of intended use; the poppy is a perfect example of an apolitical banner.

But there has to be a measured argument against FIFA, and it’s displayed on numerous occasions how out-of-touch it has become with the real world. From Sepp Blatter’s defiance in the face of irrefutable evidence, the blind eye it turns to human rights’ atrocities, the amassing of wealth when it claims to be non-profit, and the announcement that the world no longer suffers from racism.

It’s hard to judge too harshly when FIFA clearly exists on a planet alien to the rest of us.

The poppy ban has gathered the most media coverage in this country. England and Scotland already declaring they will defy FIFA on this matter. Failure to do so would have further sanitised the human element of the game that is self-proclaimed “beautiful.” But its beauty is being deformed by the distasteful motives of its corrupt keepers.

But the poppy ban shouldn’t be seen as the breaking point and call to action. That should have come a little over a month ago when FIFA announced its anti-racism taskforce had completed its mission.

If we’d been without a racist incident in ten years we’d still need a task force. As it stands, we haven’t even managed ten months. Add to the fact the next World Cup is heading to a country riddled with the problem, and houses teams that have recently served punishments because of fans’ racist behaviour, the announcement is more maddening.

Racism will always exist, it’s a sad symptom of any society. The taskforce should always exist in order to repel it at the first sign of a re-emergence.

Like all self-serving fascist dictatorships, FIFA broadcasts propaganda as fact. The more feel-good spin it can produce, the better. Let’s all pretend FIFA have ended racism. Another great success story for football’s benevolent overlords.

Oh, and the poppy represents suggestive ideas we should oppose, but don’t worry: in FIFA-world the only politics are the ones we take care of; you can trust us, we even managed to end discrimination and disharmony.

In the real world: Another dark episode from a despicable regime.

FIFA should be guardians of the game but are failing. We should be guardians of morals and ethics in their absence. Failure to contest any incoming punishment for the poppy ban, and widespread demand to make FIFA fund an independent Racism Taskforce, would be an equal failure.

If FIFA is so worried about using the game to send political messages, it should stop and consider its own behaviour. At the moment, it’s reminiscent of those that proudly wore Hindu symbols while imposing deceitful legislation on the unassuming masses.

Don’t Brother Me

Don’t Brother Me

The release of Supersonic on Blu-ray allows fans of Oasis to once again marvel at the band’s high points and the tumultuous relationship between brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher. It’s hard not to crave a reunion when served such a nostalgia feast, accentuated by Liam’s own cries. But the film gives away enough in the way of clues as to why it won’t be anytime soon.

The insight provided is a unique peek behind the curtain of the greatest band of their generation, and potentially, the last truly organic super-band. It’s a privilege for the viewer to see Liam, Noel, Bonehead, Guigsy and Tony McCarroll filmed before the fame arrived, then follow them as they ride the wave.

What comes across is how, in essence, the zone they got into when playing sessions at the start of the documentary is the mental state they took on when inside the music at Knebworth. This isn’t a slight – quite the opposite – it’s a nod to the feel they had for the music. And the belief they had in themselves.

It wasn’t even driven by desperation. Noel is heard explaining how when he was a sound technician for the Inspiral Carpets, he thought: This’ll do for me.

Upon his return from that job (he was fired) he heard Liam play in the first version of Oasis. At first the band asked Noel to be their manager. He refused. Then he was offered a role as guitarist, aware he had song writing abilities. He duly accepted and the slow journey began.

By their own admission, they weren’t getting bad reviews, they weren’t getting spoken about at all. There’s flying under the radar before discovery, then there’s the sort of stealth that makes one wonder if they were flying at all.

Then came a chance gig in Glasgow, which they got by sharing a rehearsal room with all-girl band, Sister Lovers. Upon arrival at the King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut club the manager bluntly refused to add them to the night’s performances. It was only when the Sister Lovers said they wouldn’t play if Oasis were refused, and eventually cut the length of their set to accommodate, that Oasis took to the stage.

As if the fates had been in play the whole time, they were noticed by Creation Records’ Alan McGee, there for one of his own bands, and the path to destiny became clearer to see. They didn’t celebrate that night, they just believed it was meant to be.

This sort of feeling, that it’s just life falling into place, goes someway to explain why they appeared to flirt with implosion at every turn. They weren’t chasing a dream: they were living it.

What that meant did start to differ between Liam and Noel, and this is where the Oasis story becomes a tale between two brothers. Other members became collateral damage in the process. Tony McCarroll was removed as drummer after a final argument with Noel. The songwriter unconvinced he had the ability to perform the upcoming second album’s material.

He had a point. The recording sessions of Definitely Maybe were hindered by McCarroll’s struggle to play from one bar to the next. But the drummer had also become the whipping boy for the other members.

Guigsy also had a nervous meltdown, only to be recalled when his replacement seemed to dislike the pace of the band.

And what a pace.

It was there from the beginning. They never made their first overseas gig in Amsterdam because Liam joined the on-board chaos which result in immediate deportation and time in the ferry’s cells.

Noel wasn’t happy with this incident, Liam thrived on it. It attracted music hooligans; people started going to Oasis gigs for the rowdy atmosphere and the potential for a tussle. Liam became the ringleader, equating aggro and good music as the combination to greatness.

Perhaps that was something to do with his musical beginnings. He’d displayed no interest in music, even mocking his guitar playing brother, but after being hit on the head with a hammer a switch was activated. Afterwards he was all about buying records and dreaming of being a rock ‘n’ roll star. This meant never following rules.

As Liam explains himself: “I thought we were a rock band. Anything goes in Oasis. Some people have rules. Fuck the rules.”

Noel jokingly remarks that the lad who hammered the music into Liam has a lot to answer for.

It sets the polar opposites up for the definition of why today they have no relationship. Noel describes himself as the cat. Admitting he can also be another C word and a bastard. But he didn’t crave attention or need it. Liam was the playful dog whose wagging tail didn’t stop until he had gone too far.

Noel assumed the role of leader which created a power struggle that was always going to reduce the life of the band. But even this Liam trivialises with a story about how his brother’s still angry because he pissed on his stereo when they were younger.

Liam is the eternal jokester and master of the natural one-liner, everything about Noel is more calculated.

When recording songs at the rate of one a day for (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, at times Noel would give Liam one run through on acoustic with vocals only just written, yet they’d be nailed first time, as if sharing some deeper telepathic link.

Some might say they should have stopped before the third album. That they’d peaked too early. The evidence provided in Supersonic: a failed American tour when they mistook crystal meth for cocaine, this off the back of an explosive Japanese experience, to still produce two generation defining albums amidst warring siblings, does seem warranted.

But as Liam says about stopping when you’ve reached the top: “Just cos you’ve kissed the sky, give it a love bite.”

That eagerness – the playful dog – will always want that buzz. Noel appears far removed from it nowadays. Post-cinema release of Supersonic it was Liam backing calls for a reunion, claiming in his mind, Oasis had never split-up.

His mantra in interviews was about his bags being packed and ready. But in each cry for reconciliation he reminded Noel why they no longer spoke. Each started with a plea, and ended in a dig.

But in the process, they reminded the fans why Liam was so engaging in the first place. In one to Sky News, he explained: “But there’ll be no cap in the hand and no banjo, you know what I mean? A little fucking skinny, stringy dog outside his house going ‘please sir, I need a fucking band, mate.’”

In another he said, “Our kid’s going around like I’ve stabbed his fucking cat.”

Amusing, and even Noel may raise a smile, but they also raise the unlikelihood of the reunion Liam himself once dismissed when he thought Beady Eye would fill the void. The grounds for angst are with the common perception of Noel.

Liam refers to him as “Man of the people” because Noel seems to have come out smelling of roses while Liam is seen as the bad guy. But many will vouch for the behind the scenes personalities. As disruptive as Liam may be (has been), there’s always been a frank honesty with him.

Noel is more guarded and plotting. It’s understandable the aggro lifestyle became tiresome but it wrangles his brother that the public image is a manufactured one, that the songwriter in Oasis became part of the machine they defied.

The bitterness can be seen in how he trolls Noel on Twitter.

With Beady Eye, he sang, “Don’t Brother Me.” Surely a message to Noel but that past forms a narrative with tweets like this from earlier in the year (before Supersonic was doing the media rounds):

It’s Liam’s contradictions and quick-to-fire attitude that will drive the wedge between the pair even deeper.

Noel explains it best: “Oasis’ greatest strength was me and Liam. It’s also what drove the band into the ground in the end.”

If the final chapter really has been written, what a great story it turned out to be, Supersonic a special snapshot so the band can “Live Forever.”

F1’s Mexican Standoff

F1’s Mexican Standoff

With three races to go on the Formula One calendar, the Drivers’ Championship hangs in the balance. Lewis Hamilton no longer controls his own destiny; Nico Rosberg doesn’t need to win again to clinch his first world title. In the background Mercedes holds its breath, acutely aware the tense relationship between the pair could fracture the team. Each of the three parties has a loaded gun pointed toward the one they deem weakest. Can there be a happy ending?

Toto Wolff has his pistol pointing at the talented British world champion. In any team sport an individual can never become more important than the group they represent. Wolff has been gifted reasons to come down on Lewis should he feel the need.

The Snapchat episode, and then Hamilton’s decision to leave the following press conference without taking a single question, add to moments that could be interpreted as unprofessional. The most telling is Lewis’s comments that a “higher power” was responsible for his continued reliability issues.

In hindsight, he probably regrets airing this concern in public. All it does is pave the way for more (ridiculous) conspiracy theories and is the slap in the face to those that work hard each weekend to give him the best chance of victory.

It does look bizarre only one driver using the Mercedes engine is victim of all the failures, especially when they are unique and do not follow a pattern. Nevertheless, it is still more likely to be coincidence than the team sabotaging results to ensure they have a German champion in a German branded car.

As hard as it will be for Lewis to hear, Toto will – in a roundabout way – remind him the Mercedes is the best car on the grid, that anyone would jump at a chance to be there because it’s the best chance to win a title. Wolff would be sad to see such a talented driver leave but if he did, there’s no reason to believe Mercedes would struggle win the Constructors’ Championship.

But the Austrian points the gun reluctantly. The best teams want the best drivers and Lewis still tops that list for most. A shot fired would be sent with a heavy heart.

Pointed at Wolff’s head is Nico’s pistol. This year he has defied perception. Ever since Lewis joined Mercedes it’s looked like the German has been in his pocket. It’s been said many times that Nico couldn’t compete wheel-to-wheel but the gap between them was more than this. Lewis had better pure speed, he gave the impression he had the ability to find a few more tenths when required while Nico was already at his performance ceiling.

From a psychological point-of-view, this eroded Rosberg’s ability. It was a vicious circle that the German appeared destined to repeat forever.

Then 2016 happened.

Bad luck finding Lewis may have provided impetus to Nico Rosberg, allowing him to amass an early championship lead, but it also allowed him to exorcise some demons. Even when Lewis started his fight back, this new Rosberg didn’t fold. With every passing race, he’s gone from a man in Lewis’s shadow to a man looking like a worthy world champion.

If Lewis does create disharmony within the team, Nico can politely point out he had to suck it up when the Brit was taking titles and that he’d expect nothing less than the same support. The team couldn’t offload their new German world champion who has impeccable conduct, in favour of a guy with a chequered history when it comes to behaviour.

Which leaves Lewis Hamilton: the man with two guns.

The first of those is firmly aimed at his teammate. He can’t fire him from the team but he can break his spirit to such an extent that Mercedes no longer rate him worthy of a drive. When Rosberg outperformed Michael Schumacher, then team boss Ross Brawn commented that Nico could be the fastest man on the grid, implying Schumacher’s performance was still of a high standard.

There is now weight to that remark. Given the best car, Rosberg has held his own with Hamilton. Given some confidence, he stands on the cusp of a world title. It’s the type of belief he displayed after getting results against the old master and legend, Michael Schumacher.

But Hamilton has had the privilege of a better car and scoring the first world title on its behalf. This has given him the upper hand. Their history goes back to childhood and one wonders if there’s some hold Lewis has over Rosberg that the German can’t shake. Every time Nico matches Lewis, the Brit finds another level. A win in Austin and now a pole in Mexico, the doubts must be creeping into Rosberg’s mind.

To be within touching distance of the title and have it snatched would cement the mental edge Hamilton has over Rosberg.

But it’s the gun Lewis holds in his other hand that should be the real concern. It isn’t pointed at the towering Toto Wolff – it’s pressed beneath his own chin.

Despite the impression he can mentally break Rosberg, the person he causes most psychological damage to is himself. He’s a guy that wears his heart on his sleeve but far too often likes to write his own narrative. The early season party lifestyle was moulded into some character transition. That the flying Lewis needed to let his hair down to focus best on the track.

But the truth is, when the going is good it doesn’t matter what Hamilton is doing on or away from the circuit. The problems begin when he starts to write dark chapters instead of taking a step back from the circus.

He has showed cracks in the past, most notably when Button got the better of him as teammate. We saw then, as we have again this season, the exuberant Lewis become a moody, withdrawn, petulant impression of a teenager.

But he’s thirty-one years of age and should be setting an example as a world champion when off the track. Bad winners are worse than bad losers, Lewis is displaying traits of both.

Should Nico Rosberg win the title, Lewis has claimed he’ll, “take it like a man,” which begs the question: why hasn’t he managed to so far? If he did jump from the team, there would be nowhere to go following Mercedes of any worth. He’d become the next Fernando Alonso. A great driver, destined to struggle in second-rate cars.

None of the gunslingers can be confident of what the future holds but all three can be certain of one thing: they’ll be more losers than winners.

The Exorcist

The Exorcist

The start of a Halloween weekend sees many turn to their movie collection to dig out the best fright-fests. This invariably leads to discussion that asks the big question: What is the scariest film ever?

The answer from these quarters: The Exorcist.

As firm as that answer will always be, so is the chance it’ll find disagreement. Since its release in 1973, the horror genre has gone through many reinventions in order to maintain appeal. The search for shocks, of the jumpy kind or those that push the boundaries of what is acceptable to show on film, means the psychological chills have seen less usage.

Sure, The Exorcist wasn’t averse to special effects designed purely for a gasp, and to test the viewer’s constitution, but it’s credit to its real scares along the way that these still stand-up. Admittedly some have lost their immediate power after years of being parodied, either on purpose by the likes of French and Saunders, or by cheap copy-cat horror productions looking to recreate some of the magic.

Those untouched by the movie are the ones most likely to dispute the existence of life after death. But if you spend your days praying to a force for universal good – or just believe there might be something after death – then playing with the notion of a bad side becomes unsettling.

The build to the evil emerging is a deliberate slow step. In the opening scenes we witness Father Merrin unearth a token in Iraq, signalling a demon has returned. This backstory is developed in other media, here we just get a hint and he later alludes to it himself.

A skip to Georgetown and we are introduced to the life of famous actress Chris MacNeil (played by Ellen Burstyn) and her daughter Regan. What is most remarkable about Linda Blair’s performance of the twelve-year-old is that any evidence of over-acting can only be found in the pre-possession scenes. Before the demon is inside her, the acting is cringe worthy. But once she is asked to perform as a possessed human, it’s far too believable.

The seemingly innocuous occurrences ramp-up until Regan herself displays changes in behaviour. Being famous comes with suspicion. It’s conceivable a daughter exposed to the Hollywood lifestyle would have a sense of theatrics. When Chris seeks help from local priest Father Doctor Damien Karras (double titled to highlight he is also a psychiatrist), he even asks if Regan could have accessed recreational drugs.

The Father is assured that hasn’t occurred. What let the demon in was Regan playing with a Ouija board. But the case comes at a time he has lost his faith in God. This morphs once he begins to believe Regan could be possessed for real and it’s not a disorder, fake or a result of being exposed to drugs or a situation.

He calls in Father Merrin for assistance. The shot of Max von Sydow’s Merrin arriving on a dense, murky, atmosphere filled night is beyond iconic. If a sense of a character and his importance to a film has ever been better captured then that footage must be missing: This is the pinnacle of achieving such a feat.

Merrin brings great advice (“But he [the demon] will also mix lies with the truth to attack us.”) and prior experience. And soon begins a battle between good and evil, to a suspense filled climax.

It may sound an over-the-top reaction now, but upon its release stories of nuns sprinkling Holy Water as people stood in the queue to watch the film, added to its notoriety. It’s the sort of marketing campaign movie execs wouldn’t dare dream up. Such was its impact, those that saw it, understood why. In England, St John’s Ambulance had extra staff on standby as people passed out when confronted with the images.

Its 1998 re-release in the UK is when this writer appreciated those concerns from the seventies. Undiminished by time, it was equally as shocking and thought provoking.

By the time the famous head-spinning scene arrives, you are absorbed and truly believe the young girl is possessed, the words that follow, “Do you know what she did? Your cunting daughter?” are chilling. Far from the potential comical, dated look it should have had two decades after being made.

Remarkably, when adjusted for inflation it is the highest grossing film Warner Bros. has ever released. It explains why they were quick to call for a sequel but makes one wonder why the successful formula was abandoned. More surprising is how no movie maker has ever gotten close to replicating the style.

Usually when a movie gets rated number one in a genre, it is revisited on a fairly regular basis. The Exorcist is the exception to this rule. Even though it’s a horror movie and this is Halloween season (and the eagle-eyed viewer will note the story takes place over Halloween) it’s not one I’ll be revisiting any time soon.

After seeing it in the cinema during its 1998 run, three weeks of nightmares followed. A little older now, after a viewing this can be reduced to three uneasy nights.

Until such a time the demon can be faced once again, the aim is to try and enjoy “Tubular Bells” as nothing more than a piece of music, not associate it as the perfect soundtrack to the perfect horror movie.

Premature Pep Talks

Premature Pep Talks

Ever since Pep Guardiola arrived at Manchester City he has been subjected to an unprecedented degree of inspection and expectation. Understanding the negative impact this could have, Pep has been the voice of reason. When City started the season with a run of ten wins, he spoke to closed ears when attempting to explain it wasn’t a true indication of the team’s current level. Now with a dip in form, he once again faces ignorance from a media determined to undermine Europe’s most successful manager.

Suddenly there is no shortage of experts offering advice to the Spaniard. Pundits that occupy seats in the safety of studios, or journalists who have to service the wants of fans from opposing clubs (the clickbait brigade), are suggesting that his proven methods will never work in the Premier League. That before we’ve even entered November, it’s time to admit the English way is unique and his crazy ideas have been shown up for what they are.

Not satisfied with telling a man – who was happy to point out in Friday’s press conference he’s won twenty-one titles with his ideals – his tactics are wrong, they are also attempting to forge wishful transfer rumours into facts. He was happy to point out where they are incorrect.

Beneath the obvious, are more subtle claims. These are just as easy to dispel. The most erroneous is that in principal he is no different to predecessor Manuel Pellegrini. For those that found that amusing (as any serious person should), take a second to let the giggles pass.

The notion comes from the half-baked view Pep and Pellers both shared a common denominator: They have one way and no Plan B.

This was clearly a case that could be mounted against Pellegrini. Like Roberto Martínez, it seemed they’d rather lose playing their way then adapt to opponents and unique situations. They refused to be proactive, instead soldiering on, expecting different outcomes with faltering systems.

Pep is different, and certainly not a one-plan man.

The ethos – his religious view on how the game should be played – will remain consistent, but within the framework changes are made. Whether it’s switching to three at the back or an extra man in midfield at the expense of a striker. There was always a rigidity with Pellegrini (even with formation changes) that isn’t evident with Pep. A tailored approach after examining the opposition has replaced blind optimism, or should that be: plain stubbornness.

When those able to acknowledge Pep has adaptability, they cover it by saying he should slowly implement his ideas and until then play to the strengths of the current squad. It can’t be argued that the best managers go in and work out where strengths are and chop the weaknesses. But isn’t that what he’s done already with the brutal treatment of players like Joe Hart and exclusion of Yaya Touré?

It’s only managers who are survival experts, like Sam Allardyce, that allow personnel to dictate shape and style. There’s a reason veterans of the managerial game have never featured in the Champions League while Pep has won it two times.

It is always a results based business – Roberto Martínez would have done well to remember this – but to take the silverware, become an all-time great, you need to have ideals that can be transposed across a spectrum of tactical problems.

He’ll accommodate players where possible but ultimately they bend to his will: his ethos can’t change for theirs.

Unlike Pellegrini, who it seemed sent players out with vague instruction, Pep makes it clear what he expects to see. When his system fails it’s obvious where individuals have been lacking. This accountability makes it easy to root out weaknesses and build the correct team. That process is now underway following the passing of the honeymoon period.

Players are beginning to show their true colours. Some are just unsuitable for the demands Pep is making. Others, through either poor work ethic, attitude, or time of life, cannot perform to the required standard. Pellegrini may have ignored their shortfalls, Pep will not.

Guardiola also knows football tactics are constantly evolving, it’s why he came to City. This opportunity is the continuation of his education. There’s no suggestion he’ll plough on with failing tactics but he’s confident the overriding ethos works.

People shouldn’t complain when José Mourinho parks the bus because it’s boring, they should question why he’s still rolling out tactics from yesteryear. Pep’s dynamic approach makes even the Portuguese United boss look like a tactical dinosaur.

But members of the “Red Press” would rather highlight Pep’s perceived failures, that are nothing more than growing pains, and ignore how the Special One has become the Stagnant One.

They also believe his tactics have been worked out. That Celtic somehow exposed the key to the conundrum when they only replicated what Swansea had attempted. Pep would rub his hands at the prospect of every team pressing City every game until the end of the season. If his system is implemented correctly, they’d be making the space for him in vital areas of the pitch.

But it’s easier to pretend after years of success, the brutal nature of the Premier League has cracked the Guardiola code. It’s as if he was the Illuminati and Brendan Rodgers formed some part of a Da Vinci Code, that the Tom Hanks looking Premier League managed to work out in time to prevent an embarrassing runaway success.

Thankfully people like Robbie Savage have sound advice. The man that only adorns the BBC because his dress sense brightens up the dreary looking Phil Neville, and his mindless enthusiasm on commentary offsets the drier tones of Mark Lawrenson, believes Pep isn’t a tactical genius after all. Robert Langdon – sorry, the Premier League – has seen to that.

Nor does Pep need to reinvent the wheel to conquer Europe with City, just fix its punctures.

And that’s the problem: Pellegrini didn’t leave Guardiola with a working wheel. It was a shiny cart with its components used for forward motion removed, instead sat upon shaky bricks and an instruction manual that had been left out in the rain. City didn’t need tweaking, they required revolutionary treatment.

There is no one better in the game to provide this than Pep Guardiola.

Like any revolution, it will take time. Those that have faith will be patient, those with hope it fails will fabricate stories and print insincere views to upset the steady progress.

Pep doesn’t need to change his ethos; he just needs to realise in the land of Premier League football, freedom of speech means the nonsensical have the loudest voices. But empty vessels do make the most noise…