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Pietersen & Veainu get Tigers Purring

Premiership
Leicester Tigers  50
Tries: Cilliers, O Williams, Pietersen (2), Veainu, O’Connor, Thompstone, Bateman Cons: O Williams (5)
Bristol  17
Tries: Hawkins, Ford-Robinson Cons: Woodward (2) Pens: Woodward

JP Pietersen scored two tries on his debut in a blistering performance as Leicester Tigers thumped Bristol Rugby 50-17 at Welford Road.

The South African international was the man of the moment, bagging two of Tigers’ eight tries on a chilly afternoon of high octane Premiership rugby.

Debutant Pietersen joked after the match that he needed to lose weight despite dazzling Welford Road with an accomplished performance. He told reporters that he “enjoyed the best performance to date. Welford Road is always a special place, you can feel the atmosphere and it was amazing to play in one of the best stadiums in rugby”.

The charismatic full-back was also full of praise for team-mate Telusa Veainu, calling him a ‘special talent’ and a “nightmare for Bristol’s defence”, in a match he believes shows that Tigers have turned a corner.

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Mauling… Pietersen scored two of Tigers’ eight tries

The bonus point win leaves Tigers just four points off play-off qualification after a turbulent domestic campaign which saw head coach Richard Cockerill dismissed at the start of the year.

But any signs of a Leicester Tigers crisis were few and far between as Tigers blew Bristol away from start to finish. Tigers started brightly, immediately looking to penetrate down the right-hand side but Bristol drew first blood when Jason Woodward scored an 8th minute penalty.

Tigers interim boss Aaron Mauger aimed for an intense start and despite the initial setback, he got what he wished for. From then on, Tigers took hold of the tie, the ante was upped and the hosts began to penetrate the visitors’ faltering backline, only having to wait five minutes before they got on the scoreboard themselves.

Star men Telusa Veainu and JP Pietersen linked up well driving the Tigers forward allowing Pat Cilliers to score the home side’s first try of the match. It wasn’t long before the home fans were on the feet again as attack after attack eventually led to a second Tigers try, and first conversion, scored by kicker Owen Williams.

The hosts could smell an easy win and continued to ask questions of a Bristol Rugby side increasingly wracked with frustration. Their endeavour soon paid off as Tigers scored three tries in five minutes, giving them a comfortable 31-3 lead, putting the match to bed with just 30 minutes on the clock.

JP Pietersen waltzed to two tries for himself either side of Veainu’s success in the 27th minute. Whilst Pietersen will take many of the plaudits for scoring two tries on his home debut, it was Veainu who was setting the match alight with a high-octane performance that left Bristol’s props dead on their feet.

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Catalyst… Veainu was a ‘nightmare’ for Bristol’s defence

Bristol had resorted to hopeful punting in a first half completely dominated by the home side but find some joy at the end of the first half when Hawkins finally broke the hosts down to score the visitors first try of the game just before the interval.

The opening forays of the second half lacked the gusto and intent of the first, but Tigers were still on top. The sixth home try summed up Bristol’s afternoon as O’Connor blocked a kick close to the try line and ran unchallenged to take the scoreline to 38-10.

It got even worse for Bristol just eight minutes later as Tigers got their seventh try of the afternoon. Fittingly, it was leading try-scorer Adam Thompstone who took Tigers to their highest score of the season.

From then on, Bristol did well to keep the Tigers at bay as they continued to bear their teeth. However, the visitors had found their defensive resilience far too late. The dye had already been cast and the brute strength of substitute Greg Bateman proved it when he battered Bristol’s defence to score an eighth try in the 67th minute.

With the clock ticking down, Bristol managed to find some reward from an arduous afternoon in the East Midlands. They pushed forward and scored the final try of the match coming from Jamal Ford-Robinson, a substitute of their own, taking the final score to 50-17.

It’s Derby & Forest – Leicester are all on their own.

When the FA Cup 4th round draw pitted Leicester City against Derby County, it was inevitable that the great debate of the East Midlands derby would rear its ugly head again.

Of course, the irony never dawns on Derby and Forest fans that mentioning Leicester in every conversation about the East Midlands derbies doesn’t quite support their claims that the Foxes are irrelevant but alas, intelligence is not one of their passions.

It’s time to settle this once for all. My fellow Leicester fans; there is no rivalry with us and Derby, or us and Forest. Derby and Notts Forest are much better suited.

They play for the Nigel Clough trophy, a testament to some things they did apparently – we don’t compete with each other for anything! Think about, Derby don’t care so much they don’t even try to beat Leicester – that’s why we’ve won eight of the last nine matches against them. They don’t care.

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Of course though, the main reason why Leicester doesn’t bother the Derby and Notts Forest lovealry is that City are just out of the league, figuratively and quite literally.

Since 2000, Leicester have won 45% of matches against both, losing just 24% – no contest. In living memory, the Foxes have won 3 trophies, Derby have won 5 and Forest have 4. But when you subtract honours that weren’t made up by a 50 year old virgin, both Forest and Derby are left with none.

On top of that, Forest spent three seasons in League One in the last decade, by all accounts, by being in a Championship relegation scrap; they’re overachieving based on their historic level.

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And, Derby are literally the worst team in history. 11 points, we got more points than that against three clubs in the Champion’s League this season

I truly do not understand how there is any rivalry between Derby and Leicester or Forest and Leicester. As Leicester City are now the biggest club in the Midlands, and England, for that matter, it wouldn’t make sense for the Foxes to waste disdain on smaller clubs.

After all,  we don’t call Mansfield or Chesterfield rivals. You don’t see Manchester United interfering with Bury vs. Rochdale, or Arsenal interjecting between Barnet vs. Enfield Town. This is exactly the same, except obviously the chasm between us and football’s smallest frenemies is currently larger.

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Foxes fans now view other clubs as their main rivals. In fact, if you carried out a survey on the Leicester fan base – I would wager Derby and Forest would go unmentioned. These days, Leicester save their hate for Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and FC Porto – these are our rivals. Derbingham Founty don’t deserve to mention themselves in the same breath as Leicester City. We don’t need another club’s attention to feel important when we have hardware and continental football.

We’re the world famous Champions of England –  and we’re loving it on our own.

Trump Has Won, Now Liberals Must Wake Up

So, Donald Trump, reality TV aficionado, Twitter troll extraordinaire has been elected the 45th President of the United States. As is becoming all too thematic in the exercise of Western democracy, the underdogs defied the odds and pulled off an upset on Tuesday night.

As the dust settles, and the losing side tries to make sense of the election, it would be to comfort ourselves by ruing the loss of Bernie Sanders or to pass off the result of the election as the resurrected endemic of racism in the West. That’s the comfortable choice, but in truth, neither is accurate, certainly not in their entirety. Both of these assessments are too reductionist, there are much bigger forces at play.

Trump’s victory is a knife to the liberal core of the ‘metropolitan elite’ – of that much I am certain. There is a palpable anger in many Western countries towards the status quo. It speaks volumes that 18% of people who viewed Donald Trump as incapable of holding office, voted for him anyway, along with 34% of people who would have been ‘concerned’ if he were triumphant. This Presidential election was less about pitting Clinton against Trump or liberalism against conservatism, but served more accurately as a referendum on conventional Western politics.

Of course, it would be negligent of me to paint this result purely as the mutiny of the working classes as a whole – that was not the case. In fact, the majority of Black, Latino and Asian proletariat voted Democrat; instead, this was very much the solitary revolt of the white working classes.

In essence, this result was a middle finger to globalisation, to neo-liberalism, and to the perceptions of ‘enforced multiculturalism’. You could be forgiven, as a blue collar worker in a forgotten town of a forgotten American state that has seen generations and generations of manual labourers lose the industries that defined them to cheaper labour overseas, for thinking that globalisation hasn’t worked for you. A plurality of American voters believe that today’s economic philosophies detract from the US job market, and 65% of them made their voices heard by backing Trump on Tuesday.

This has been coupled with the rise of immigration and the transformation of predominantly white towns, counties, states and countries in to multicultural hubs. All of a sudden, from these two issues alone, these insecure demographics are provided with a visible and tangible scapegoat, one that has successfully been harnessed and weaponised. That is why 84% of people who want immigrants deported voted for Donald Trump too.

Perhaps, the right-wing populist rhetoric about multiculturalism and immigration espoused by Donald Trump is intrinsically associated with a time of industrial boom. It is linked to previous era where things seemed simpler and more prosperous to white blue collar labourers. Donald Trump’s campaign provided a nationwide nostalgia therapy, offering hopes of a modern renaissance in flourishing manual labour and destigmatised bigotry.

But for many voters, Trump’s rhetoric was not a major factor in their decision. People across the World are pissed off, they want an alternative to a system that doesn’t work for them, they want to be heard not patronised, and inspired not ignored. That is why Brexit happened in the UK, why Labour elected Jeremy Corbyn twice, why Beppe Grillo, Marine Le Pen, and Podemos and Citizens are doing so well in Italy, Germany and Spain respectively.

When voters are disillusioned to the extent we are seeing now, they want the biggest caricature going to represent them. Somewhat ironically, it was Bill Clinton who argued that the reason for Corbyn’s success in the UK was because they were angry but didn’t expect change so let the “maddest man in the room” front their crusade. It’s a phenomenon happening all over the disillusioned West.

Peter Thiel has correctly argued that only the media took Trump’s rhetoric literally. He called for a wall, and the media scrambled around for the logistics, how would they build it? Who would foot the bill? He proclaimed he would destroy ISIS and adversaries demanded a stringent, extensive intervention strategy – neither came. But a lot of Donald Trump supporters weren’t perturbed by the specifics – they heard a man speaking passionately about two major concerns, immigration and security, and picked up a placard. They took his desire literally, not his methodology. His words were symbolic of real concerns being heard, and what was perceived as a ‘real person’ being prepared to make big decisions to address them.

What always seems to pass over the liberal-led autopsy of these events is that a large portion of Donald Trump’s voters feel that years of business as usual has left them with absolutely nothing. Let’s say that life is like a box, and right now theirs is empty. If you put a mystery box in front of them, that they couldn’t possibly know the contents of, whether good or bad, they’re going to open it – every single time, such is the gravity of their desperation.

Deconstructing the rationale behind Tuesday’s shock vote does by no means excuse it, or make it legitimate. What is frightening about this international trend towards right-wing populism is how successful dissenting conservative elites have been at tapping in to the undercurrent of dissatisfaction of the working class, with whom they have little in common.

In the United Kingdom’s EU membership referendum, Nigel Farage, an ex-City banker, and Boris Johnson, a privately-educated career politician led what was labelled as a ‘working class revolution’.  The same scenario has reared its head in the States.

A white, misogynistic man born in to immense wealth, like Donald Trump, is by no means “anti-establishment” – in fact he’s the very antithesis of the term. These candidates are not the downtrodden; these are the egotistical, power-hungry nativist zealots who are posing the greatest threat to western liberal democracies – not the isolated working classes they purport to represent.

It is worth reiterating that this animosity for the establishment does not justify the support for a campaign that has called for a blanket ban on Muslim migration, a state-funded roll out of electric shock gay conversion ‘therapies’, and one which has been rife with misogyny. How can we continue to press ahead with making women feel comfortable about standing up to their sexual attackers, if the world’s most power democracy just made one of them their President? That is a legitimate question highlighting the moral quagmire we now find ourselves in.

We have seen an undercurrent of the nefarious entitlement of the white, heterosexual voters who have voted to reverse progress for ethnic minorities and queer communities, as spearheaded by VP-elect Mike Pence. They’ve seen this progress of rights for minorities whilst their liberties have remained stagnant. I guess when you’re used to preferential treatment, equality feels like persecution.

These are things that we cannot ignore no matter how frustrated and isolated so many people feel. We cannot cower and back down on things we know to be morally wrong. There’s a reverberation of hateful, divisive ideology abound in Western politics, and it’s one that liberals must fight back against without concession.

It is crucial to understand that millions of people who didn’t support Trump’s rhetoric threw their weight behind him anyway. It is fact that 29% of the people concerned about Trump’s treatment of women, held their nose and voted for him anyway – this shows just how deep the craving for change truly is.

We know that Donald Trump and his brand of politics is wrong, we know it. But we can no longer treat the people who feel so isolated from the mainstream that they support populism of this ilk with contempt. It serves nobody; people will not be shamed in to voting the ‘correct’ way.

We have entered the post-truth, post-fact era. The rational politics offered by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and centrists and liberals in general are fundamentally failing to mobilise support. It is clear now more than ever that people are voting with their hearts and guts. The great challenge for liberals and moderates everywhere is to inject the same passion in our message that can bring us victory again – it’s the only way.

Sneering at those who disagree with our world view will do us no favours. They are tired of the middle classes looking down on their frustrations, dismissing them without recoil and generally denigrating their reality.

No matter how contemptible, deplorable and unfathomable we believe Trump’s victory to be, we must start listening to the left-behinds and offer them a passionate, liberal alternative that gets them in the gut. Otherwise, we condemn ourselves to irreparable social divides for generations to come. It’s time to put the pitchforks away, right-wing populism has grabbed western liberal democracies by the pussy, and we’re all to blame.

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#WorldMentalHealthDay: A word on Anxiety

For several years now I have suffered with mental ill health. I never used to talk about my depression or anxiety, not because I’m ashamed to admit or acknowledge my body’s frailties but because I didn’t want to be an encumbrance on people around me. I, like so many others, have come to realise that attitude is wrong.

I used to be a depressive who could not cope with the world, somebody who struggled to function on a daily basis. On World Mental Health Day, I want to share the story of my anxiety, and how I took back my own life.

Mental illness is a hideous thing, it is consumptive, it can take over the very essence of your being, it suffocates you until it renders you unable to fight back. As recently as 18 months ago, I was heading in to an abyss I would have struggled to escape, I was chronically sad, and more importantly for this story, chronically anxious. Anxiety is not simply a state of just being scared of things, it can manifest itself in multiple ways including nervous ticks, irritability and panic attacks.

In fact, it was a panic attack that eventually set me on the path to freedom. I was used to panic attacks at this point in my life, I didn’t experience them that often but they weren’t infrequent either. One afternoon, whilst I was alone in my Dad’s house, I heard several bangs outside. Despite the fact they weren’t particularly loud or close, my stomach sank, and a sense of imminent jeopardy took over me.

I tried to carry on whatever I was doing when the banging sounded again. Instinctively, I flung my body to the ground and crawled in to the hallway. By now, despite lack of any other evidence, I was convinced there was a gunman on the loose in my vicinity.

The banging went on for half an hour, I flitted between sitting in the hallway, on the stairs, and behind the sofa – anywhere where I couldn’t be seen from the window. Eventually, convinced that the ‘assailant’ was getting closer and closer, I ran in to the bathroom, locked the door, and sat in the shower, clutching my knees to my chest. My heart pounded and I sat sobbing, waiting to be killed.

A few minutes passed and the door downstairs opened, I had managed to lock it in the peak of my anxiety, so I knew it was my Dad returning home. I heard him call up to me and I felt a relief like no other. I had ‘survived’ a massacre made by my own mind.

For hours afterwards, I would not stand in eyeshot of any window, I was still terrified, despite the fact neither gunman nor any gunshots had ever existed. That night I returned to my Mum’s house to try and escape the scene of my episode, and whilst there, I made a decision to take back my life from my irrational mind.

It may seem so small to the average person, but I forced myself to go outside and grab a coffee with a friend the very next day. I had to prove to myself that I could be safe outside again, and I had to do it quickly – and it worked. (P.S. thank you, Emma)
Following my traumatic episode, my Mum and Dad came together and got me the help I needed, my Mum came with me to the GP and I was prescribed anti-depressants, and my Dad encouraged me to return to counselling, which helped me learn to rationalise the irrational thoughts that plagued my headspace. Ever since then challenging my illogical thoughts has become easier and easier.

Today, I am able to do things that just two years ago would have been unmanageable. I can go to London on my own, I can go for a coffee on my own, I even managed to live on my own for a year – I am mostly free from my own mind. And even when it tries to snatch back control, I am equipped to put it right back in to place.

The reason I’m sharing this story today is to make it clear that battling mental illness is not easy. My brain was ill, it was imbalanced. If I didn’t get the medical and cognitive help I needed I would still be in that place now. It is not weak to seek help for mental ill health; it’s not even strong; it’s just smart. Mental ill health is real, it is chemical, and it is science. With every other illness you get treatment, don’t let stigma make you treat depression, anxiety or whatever else any differently.

Though, I am far better now, I still suffer. But I have found a recipe for tough love that has helped me manage. I am tough on my anxiety when I have to be, I rationalise and scrutinise each and every nervous, irrational thought I have – it’s gruelling but it’s worth it. And on days when I feel lower than low, I wrap myself in love. I indulge myself with all my favourite things, I remember only the things I like about myself , I remember all the things other people like about me, no matter how small, no matter how few. Eventually, my irrational brain is quietened, and lets me be.

My irrational brain used to be my nemesis, now it is a just a nuisance I could do without, and am doing without.

2016–17 Premier League Predictions

Last year, my Premier League predictions were pretty good, and the end result of the season even better. I haven’t quite been put off giving Premier League premonitions another stab – so without further ado here are my fully unqualified assessments of all 20 clubs.

Arsenal

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Last season: 2nd
Bookies’ prediction: 4th
Random prediction for season: Fans at the Emirates to hold at least one half-hearted “Wenger Out” protest. 

Once more, Arsenal failed to meaningfully challenge for the Premier League title, after apparently winning it with a late winner against 10-man Leicester in February. The Gunners pinned all of their joy on their accidental triumph Spurs last term instead. It seems to be a never-ending case of deja vu with Arsene Wenger, once again he has failed to make any game-changing signings in the transfer window, meaning they’re unlikely to scoop the title. As has become customary, I predict Arsenal settling for a place on the podium without ever really looking close to gold. 3rd. 

Bournemouth

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Last season: 16th
Bookies’ prediction: 14th
Random prediction for season: Eddie Howe to win a Manager of the Month award.

There is no doubt that Bournemouth have one of the country’s most capable managers in Eddie Howe, and after a promising first season in the top-flight, avoiding “Second Season Syndrome” will be the Cherries main aim. I expect next season to be tougher for the South Coast Side but shrewd signings in Lewis Cook and Jordan Ibe should add to a squad capable of keeping their necks above water. 16th.

Burnley

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Last season: 1st (Championship)
Bookies’ prediction: 19th
Random prediction for season: Sean Dyche to bemoan a lack of transfer funds following a defeat to a wealthy side.

The Clarets’ main asset is their togetherness. Sean Dyche has been able to instill a great work ethic and stability to what is, on paper at least, an extremely modest squad. Burnley have done tremendously well in the last three seasons but they don’t seem to have learned from their errors two years ago. Even great teams need quality additions following promotion to the top-flight, and we know given the value of that promotion, Burnley aren’t lacking in cash. Dyche needs to put his money where his mouth is or the Clarets are doomed. 19th.

Chelsea

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Last season: 10th
Bookies’ prediction: 3rd
Random prediction for season: Jose Mourinho to win at the home of his former club.

There is little doubt that last season’s placing belied Chelsea’s actual quality. The Blues have made a good appointment in Antonio Conte and their flagship signing of N’Golo Kanté will prove to be a very good one. That being said, there is little to suggest that any changes this Summer at Stamford Bridge have done enough to eradicate the gap between them and last season’s front runners. A season of rebuilding for Chelsea. 4th.

Crystal Palace

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Last season: 15th
Bookies’ prediction: 12th
Random prediction for season: Alan Pardew to be the first manager sacked.

The Eagles crashed at the end of last season, winning just two league games after Christmas. Alan Pardew is no stranger when it comes to overseeing calamitous spells of form following an extended purple patch. In truth, I fear the second Crystal Palace we saw last season will be a fairer reflection of them this term. They’ve made smart signings in Andros Townsend and Steve Mandanda but their season rests on Pardew’s ability to get them out of a rut. 17th.

Everton

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Last season: 11th
Bookies’ prediction: 9th
Random prediction for season: Romelu Lukaku to score 15+ goals again

Despite their being major upheaval at the senior level of Everton Football Club, the on pitch-personnel remains much the same. Whilst I expect the Toffees’ new found wealth and appointment of Steve Walsh as Director of Football to pay dividends in the long run, their crucial appointment for the next campaign will be Ronald Koeman as manager. He’s a man who possesses the ability to get an underachieving side producing more acceptable results. 9th.

Hull City

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Last season: 4th (Championship)
Bookies’ prediction: 20th
Random prediction for season: Hull to scalp Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium

Hull have seemingly mirrored Burnley’s conservative approach to transfers following their return to the Premier League. That alone would have been enough to make a case for Hull to go straight back down, given how unprepared the looked for the top-flight in the second half of last season. But, as we have learned in the last few days, manager Steve Bruce, who has been integral to their recent success has departed. Things are looking weary on Humberside. 20th.

Leicester City

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Last season: 1st
Bookies’ prediction: 7th
Random prediction for season: Leicester to reach the knock-out stages of the Champions League.

The Champions of England (that feels so good to type) shocked the footballing world last term with their stunning domestic triumph. Whilst, the ‘experts’ are ready to knock the Foxes down a peg or eight, there is little to suggest that Leicester have depreciated as a side. Losing Kanté will be a big blow but the Foxes have recruited well and Demarai Gray and Ben Chilwell can come to the forefront next term too. Leicester’s test this term won’t be maintaining their standards but will be balancing their title defence against an extremely testing schedule and a bigger pool of competition. 5th.

Liverpool

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Last season: 8th
Bookies’ prediction: 5th
Random prediction for season: Liverpool to beat Manchester United at least once.

Despite being lauded by football hipsters the nation over, Jurgen Klopp’s appointment in October 2015 did little to boost Liverpool’s prospects. Of course this is Klopp’s first chance at shaping a side at Anfield from the very start of a campaign and the signings of Sadio Mané, Joel Matip and Georginio Wijnaldum are intriguing but do little to convince me that the Kop will have anything great to shout about this time next season. 7th.

Manchester City

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Last season: 4th
Bookies’ prediction: 1st
Random prediction for season: Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho to have a touchline row. 

Chelsea aside, Manchester City were the most disappointing of all the ‘big boys’ last season. A squad that has delivered so much in recent years was reduced to a damp squib with the Citizens barely keeping pace until February. Pep Guardiola’s appointment should prove to be a masterstroke. He’s the man in management with the Midas touch, if anyone can reinvigorate this side then it is him – and I predict he will do just that. 1st.

Manchester United

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Last season: 5th
Bookies’ prediction: 2nd
Random prediction for season: Ibrahimovic to be United’s top goalscorer.

It will be intriguing to see how Jose Mourinho’s managerial prowess has been affected by the calamitous form that led to his Chelsea exit. Whilst there is no doubt Mourinho is a world class manager and that are United are one of the world’s great clubs, both have known better times. Mourinho should be able to get Manchester United to loftier heights than his predecessor, particularly if his big-money motormouth can score goals. 2nd.

Middlesbrough

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Last season: 2nd (Championship)
Bookies’ prediction: 18th
Random prediction for season: Middlesbrough to beat Sunderland home and away.

It’s been a fair old while since Premier League football graced Teeside, and it’s never been readier for it’s return than right now. Thanks to excellent facilities and a top-class manager, Middlesbrough have arguably done the best transfer business pound for pound. The recruitment of Alvaro Negredo and Victor Valdes are statements of real intent. I would have made a real case for Boro surviving without these marquee signings but with these star turns included, I’d say their survival is near certain. 12th. 

Southampton

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Last season: 6th
Bookies’ prediction: 10th
Random prediction for season: Southampton to beat Koeman’s Everton at home.

When will people learn? There is nothing Southampton do better than rebuilding. Sadio Mané, Graziano Pellé and, of course, Ronald Koeman are the big names out the door this Summer but there core of a squad that broke the top 6 last term remains. The Saints will continue to make the smart recruitments and rebuild once more. It’s not like Claude Puel is a bad appointment either. In other words, Southampton are far from panic stations but equally far from progressing. 10th. 

Stoke City

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Last season: 9th
Bookies’ prediction: 11th
Random prediction for season: Stoke to lose at home on a cold Tuesday night.

Stoke City are without doubt the most stagnant club in the Premier League. Mark Hughes’ men have remained virtually unchanged but there were early signs last season that this Stoke side’s best days were behind them. There are too many teams in the division worse than Stoke for them to fall in to any real trouble this term, but it could be a precursor of what is to come if the Potters continue to rest on their laurels.  13th. 

Sunderland

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Last season: 17th
Bookies’ prediction: 16th
Random prediction for season: Sunderland to be relegated on the final day of the season.

Things looked rosy for Sunderland at the end of May, with yet another great escape accomplished and bitter rivals Newcastle dumped out of the division in the process. In fact, Sam Allardyce’s side look buoyed by survival, in part, spearheaded by their January signings. Now, Big Sam has taken over the national helm and David Moyes has taken post back in England. Things may play out all too familiarly for the Black Cats but Moyes’ more conservative approach directly opposes the gutsy displays Allardyce had managed to instill in his former side. That attitude suited Sunderland and reversing that could be their downfall.  18th. 

Swansea City

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Last season: 12th
Bookies’ prediction: 13th
Random prediction for season: Swansea to resign Wilfried Bony before the end of Summer.

I ambitiously tipped Swansea to break the top six last season, and let’s face it, I was very wrong. However, I still believe that Swansea are a tidy side, and one that improved under Francesco Guidolin. If the Swans can keep hold of their best players and snag Wilfried Bony back from Manchester City, then there is every reason to believe they will be comfortable this season.  11th. 

Tottenham Hotspur

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Last season: 3rd
Bookies’ prediction: 6th
Random prediction for season: Harry Kane to score less than 20 goals next season.

I’m in two minds about this Spurs side. There is clearly an abundance of young talent in the squad, and a manager capable of nurturing it. But last season’s capitulation is psychologically crucial, when sides experience these dramatic dips they go one of two ways – it makes them stronger, or it hits them for six. Given how Harry Kane and Dele Alli performed in the Euros, it seems as if things may need to get worse at Spurs before they get a whole lot better. Contenders in waiting, but not now. 6th. 

Watford

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Last season: 13th
Bookies’ prediction: 17th
Random prediction for season: Watford to survive an entire season without a managerial swap.

The Hornets looked sharp following their return to the Premier League, in fact, had it not been for Leicester, they would have been the story of the early party of the season by keeping the pace with the top six. Watford have done well to keep hold of their captain Troy Deeney but it’s their trigger happy approach to managers that concerns me. We often see that stability breeds success in the modern game, and Watford’s set up is anything but stable. 15th. 

West Bromwich Albion

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Last season: 14th
Bookies’ prediction: 15th
Random prediction for season: Tony Pulis to leave his post by the end of the season.

The Baggies are at a similar crossroads to their West Midlands rivals, Stoke. They’re comfortable in mid-table – so do they stick or twist? Just like the Potters they’ve chosen the former. Under Pulis, West Brom have been moulded in to a sturdy outfit, assured defensively and resolute, there is little progression to be seen in this squad, and that should worry those at the Hawthorns. It is well documented that Tony Pulis has never led a side to relegation from the top-flight but that record is in great danger. 14th. 

West Ham United

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Last season: 7th
Bookies’ prediction: 8th
Random prediction for season: The Hammers to win their opening game at the Olympic Stadium.

West Ham are a side I criminally under-rated last term, I expected them to struggle following Sam Allardyce’s departure but instead they came on leaps and bounds. Again, if it wasn’t for my own club’s exploits, West Ham would have adourned many more plaudits last season. If Slaven Bilic can keep hold of Dimitri Payet, who is the focal point of the Hammers’ exhilarating attack then expect them to have another exciting season, this time in a new home. 8th. 

Stuff

I know this has almost become an annual thing and I guess people think I’m looking for attention but I’m not. I’m scared to be honest, I’m really really scared and I would be so grateful if somebody could help me.

I thought I had shaken the being dumped stuff but it’s coinciding with being taken off my anti-depressants and it’s not going and I’m annoyed at myself for still being upset because I know he’s a wanker in my head but my heart doesn’t. He dumped me by text and gave me no reason after ending a relationship we both agreed was “going really well”.

I hate my appearance, I hate it. I try so hard to work on it and improve it but I feel so inferior to so many other gay guys.

I keep seeing attractive gay guys everywhere and they make me feel so inferior in the looks department, make me hate my appearance and miss having someone I feel very unfulfilled and I’ve been trying a lot to broaden my horizons but nothing seems to stick – none of my friends at university seem very pro-active with taking me up on offers to hang out.

I have no money, can’t find a place for next year and all of my friends who I hang out with outside lectures are leaving at the end of this year meaning my social life will be even worse – I’m not even exaggerating. All six of the friends I regularly hang out with are all going.

Plus, at home my three best friends aren’t coming home for Summer and nor is my sister so I’ll be lonely for 5 months there too and I just don’t know what to do with myself. I’m constantly stressed about my lack of money and it’s too late in the day at uni to get a job this year and I don’t have the travel arrangements to be able to do so at home.

My family have had a lot of loss over the last year and I don’t feel safe and protected at ‘home’ anymore. My Mum’s home is just a different place and my Dad’s home is different and new.

I always seem to end up back in this place and I can’t work out how to avoid it because it feels like I’m doing an awful lot to prevent it but to no avail. I actually miss my ex, even though I’m pretty angry about how it all ended.

I’m desperate to escape to pastures new and to live the life I’ve been waiting to live for years. I want to go to London and live my life, I can’t bear 15 months, minimum, of this. I swear I haven’t known happiness since I was 13

It all feels a bit helpless, I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to get off the sidelines and now I’m actually trying to I can’t get anywhere with it. I know I’m feeling sorry for myself but yeah, I often wonder what the point is. I keep ending up back in the same place.

Clinton or Sanders?

The race to be in the race for the United States presidency is heating up, with the primaries in sight. To be honest, I don’t like the American style of elections but this year’s is of particular importance nonetheless.

As a member of the Liberal Democrats in the UK, you can pretty much disregard entertaining any notion that I will support a Republican candidate in their quest to take residency in the White House.

In fact, that race seems all but one by Donald J. Trump, meaning the battle to be the Democrats candidate is more crucial than ever.

Martin O’Malley, thanks for coming, but you haven’t a prayer of running in this race. The Democratic nomination is between veterans Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

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The internet is littered with tests to match your views with those of each candidate and with each test I have taken, I have found myself with Hil-Rod in second, and Sanders or even O’Malley in first place.

There is a lot to be admired about Bernie Sanders’ pledges to tackle the shocking socio-economic inequality seen throughout the United States, looking to emulate the social democratic governments of Scandinavia.

These aren’t my politics but they’re admirable nonetheless. Clinton, on the other hand is a seasoned liberal campaigner, who is seemingly getting more liberal as her career progresses.

A lot of criticism for Hillary has come from her previous stances on same-sex marriage which saw her oppose the legislation. Of course, this isn’t really relevant. As Americans would say, you have to give props to Sanders for having the foresight to champion such a law for the last three decades at least but the fact is, Clinton is now committed to progressing and protecting LGBT+ rights.

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On perhaps the biggest security issue in the States at the minute, Sanders is taking a devolved stance on gun control laws and failing to launch a meaningful assault on the lax tyranny that leads to thousands of slaughtered Americans every year.

On the other hand, Hillary’s stances on gun control are far less moderate and are a much braver stance against what is a resolute opposition in Republican ranks.

It is also worth remembering that Clinton has recently served as the US’ foreign secretary, and in a world where problems are becoming more and more globalised, she can lead from experience and expertise.

Ultimately, Sanders’ social policy is admirable but Clinton’s political brand is closer to my own. And given the threat that their likely opposition, Donald Trump, presents with his brand of US nationalism and fascism, the progressives Stateside needs someone who can actually beat his bombast in a two candidate run-off.

Sure, Bernie Sanders seems like a lovely guy, with economically questionable ideals, such as his 90% tax rate call, but if you give Americans the choice between socialism and fascism, they will pick the latter every single time.

Hillary is not perfect, of course she isn’t, but she is a competent politician with sturdy political ideals, economic sensibility and a history at the forefront of American diplomacy. She can beat Donald Trump’s brand of neo-fascism, whereas Sanders cannot.

Winner: Hillary Clinton

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Oh Canada, How I Envy You

How I envy Canada. Their General Election campaign came to a thrilling conclusion this week after the three main parties; the Conservatives, the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP), each took turns polling as clear front runners. However, it was Justin Trudeau’s revitalised Liberal Party that claimed a majority government, coming from third place four years ago. I could quite easily wax lyrical about Canadian politics for 600 or so words but instead, I think I could make better use of my time by reflecting on the more sober thought of how the Liberals can inspire their sister party in the UK.

For pretty much the entirety of Canada’s parliamentary history, the Liberals and the Tories have jostled for power. In 2011, the Liberals fell to being the nation’s third party for the first time in its history, slipping behind the NDP. Since then, the Liberal Party have been rejuvenated by breaking the shackles of establishment politics and becoming a political movement first, and a politics playing party second. As a result they now preside over a majority government that seemed unthinkable a few months ago.

New Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau

Remember the 2010 General Election campaign here? For about a week, it seemed the Liberal Democrats may shock the nation and actually win an election. Cleggmania was building on the momentum of successful leaders Paddy Ashdown and the late Charles Kennedy, and the party were genuine contenders, even topping the opinion polls. The Lib Dems were riding the wave of being outside the ‘Westminster bubble’; they were fresh, invigorated and exciting.

The Grits, as the Liberals are known in Canada, managed to recapture that essence over the last four years and made meaningful, passionate, principled policies at the heart of their crusade. The Liberals championed fringe issues like marijuana legalisation, open politics, voting reform, campaign spending reform, Trans rights among other things.

Whilst it is absolutely key that here in the UK, the Liberal Democrats continue to be a strong voice on big issues like our membership of the European Union, the positives of immigration, the housing crisis and the Snooper’s Charter, our party must also extend its message to the issues people care about but other politicians won’t dare touch.

Liberal Democrats need to shout louder about changing laws on drug use and possession, about being meaningful guardians of our environment without the crazy economics, and about championing social justice for those most oppressed in our society. Whilst I know that their message is vitally important, it’s a disgrace that in 2015 there is even such a need for Sandi Toksvig’s new Women’s Equality Party.

The Liberal Democrats are vehemently unapologetic, and probably rightly so, for entering in to Coalition government in 2010. In government the party was able to enact some of its best policies and retract some of the Tories’ worst – but it has come at a price. The party is now tainted with the plague of establishment and has seemingly somewhat lost its way.

If there is to be any hope of a Lib Dem ‘fightback’, the party must rediscover the gritty radical roots that made them so popular pre-Coalition. Despite the fact that the Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Party of Canada are not the same, they are very similar, they are sisters and there can be great parallels drawn between the two. If the Liberal Democrats are to win again, they must be like their Canadian sisters; loud, bold and more importantly, brave. In fact, as simplistic and vapid as it sounded, the Canadian Liberals’ campaign slogan is the most concise blueprint you could offer to the Liberal Democrats right now; Real Change.

Loud Liberalism Will Save The Lib Dems

My first Liberal Democrat conference this week was a thoroughly enriching experience. As a dedicated member of a party at its lowermost ebb in recent memory, having the opportunity to collude with like-minded individuals was invaluably refreshing and will do wonders in aiding our ‘fightback’.

In truth, Lib Dem conference is a strange land filled with gospel choirs, jovially witty songs and jokes about the breaking Prosciutto Affair. A place where I’m Paddy Ashdown’s idol, Nick Clegg is a humble giant and Alistair Carmichael stays up to discuss skinny jeans in to the early hours of the morning. However, despite the breezy spirit and happy-go-lucky merriment, the lasting legacy of autumn conference in Bournemouth is a serious one, a clear direction for our party to go to next.

Alistair Carmichael told me that he had noticed me in the auditorium after the Trident policy vote and expressed that he was struck by how ‘pissed off’ I looked – which was fair, because I was. A loaded debate which favoured the parliamentary party’s and established Lib Dems’ stance saw the party defer on making a real policy on Trident either way, this limp-wristed policy is all too indicative of our contemporary public perception – and we need to counteract that.

Economic sensibility is not somewhere we lost votes, in fact, I’d be willing to wager that our economic credentials are considered among the finest in the country, at least that’s what The Institute of Fiscal Studies thinks. Yet, we have lost our identity as a radically progressive party, or at least, it has been diluted and overshadowed by others. Small ‘l’ liberals in this country care about economic sensibility, of course they do, but they care about civil liberties, they care about internationalism, they care about recreational drugs, euthanasia, equalities and social justice and we need to rediscover that unapologetic vibrant liberalism that makes our ideology so popular the world over. It’s as Tim Farron noted in his first keynote speech; we need liberals to become Liberal Democrats.

My views were shared by a friend I made, a long-term party member who was attending his first conference, named Fareed. He and I spent many hours agreeing with our fundamental vision for our party and it was one we relayed to an enthusiastic albeit exhausted Norman Lamb late on Tuesday night. Although, we agreed on our collective vision, Fareed was able to articulate it far more successfully than I, a further testament to how enriching a strong membership can be. The Liberal Democrats need to make noise, we spent five years in a gruelling coalition government and barely anybody knows what we did whilst in power. We didn’t shout loud enough about delivering same-sex marriage, raising the personal allowance and ending child immigration detention centres. When parties and movements make noise, the people follow. UKIP have chirped on and on about the corrupt establishment politics of Brussels and Westminster and have seen a remarkable rise in the popular vote and too a win in last year’s European elections. Similarly, the SNP were able to bang the drum of Scottish independence last year and made such a racket that they won nearly every single Scottish seat in Westminster. People are intrigued by blare, titillated by dynamism and enthused by effervescence; I’m calling on my party to be one of unadulterated, uninhibited loud liberalism that will inspire Britons from St. Ives to Shetland.

My friend Fareed then went on to provide me with a stunning metaphor for our party. He is an avid fan of Classics, and particularly stories from the Iliad. During a lively chat at the bar this week, he told me the story of Cassandra, a woman punished by the gods with the curse of being able to foresee the future but never being able to convince people that she was being truthful about her predictions. It was during this casual sharing of interests that his eyes widened and he uttered the all too prophetic and tragically accurate phrase; “we’re the Cassandra party”. We were right about the welfare state, we were right about Iraq and we were right about the coalition. I, like Tim Farron, am absolutely fed up with being right and losing elections.

It was perhaps fitting that it was actually Charles Kennedy who left me feeling the most inspired to rectify that. During the remarkably observed and excruciatingly emotional tribute to our late, great former leader, a quote eerily echoed around the auditorium, a last contribution by Charles to his party, and a blueprint for our ‘fightback’; “This is what we should be passionate about. If it makes us unpopular in certain quarters, let’s be unpopular for what we care about, what we believe in, and what defines us and what we think is best for our country.”

It really is rather that simple, the sagacity of Charles Kennedy can lead us to the top yet again. We as a party have made mistakes, of course we have, but liberalism is a brand that provides hope for every single person the world over. We need to change, we need to move away from the comfort of vapid centrism and embrace the radical alternative that holds together our every tradition. The time is now to make a racket, take the fight to the government and make liberalism the brash politics that charms voters. Now, four months after our near obliteration, we are convalescing at an encouraging speed. Loud liberalism will save our party and our country. More than ever, the Liberal Democrats need Britain and Britain needs the Liberal Democrats – please don’t let us be right without power again.