Britain’s highest observation deck, the Shard, today opened to the public.
When building work was completed on the latest addition to London’s skyline, it was marketed as “Europe’s tallest building”. However, that title was short-lived and soon went to Moscow’s Mercury City which stands 31m higher.
Nor can there be a claim that the Shard contains the highest observation deck on the continent. That honour still belongs to the Eiffel Tower which allows visitors to reach heights of 275m, compared to the 244m lookout from the 80th floor of the Shard.
Despite the fact that earlier boasts no longer apply, the views over London and the surrounding areas will no doubt be spectacular. On a clear day, visibility is said to extend for 40 miles across the city. It’s just unfortunate that the nature of Britain’s weather make it impossible to predict a clear day!
And the weather may not be the only factor in keeping a lot of tourists away. Admission prices are also typically British, and purchasing a ticket on the day will cost adult visitors £29.95.
The cost would seem expensive even if the Shard was the tallest structure on the planet, but the prices become almost impossible to justify when compared to similar attractions around the globe.
The rooftop observation deck of Guangzhou’s Canton Tower is the highest in the world and twice the height of the Shard, yet the cost (¥150/£15.63) is around half as much. A 370m trip to the 86th floor of the Petronas Towers would set a tourist back a similar amount (RM80/£16.28).
In North America, the Empire State Building offers visitors the choice of ascending to viewing points situated on two levels. Rising 320m to the main deck on the 86th floor costs $25.00 (£15.75), while a ticket that includes the addition of elevation to the top deck is priced at $42.00 (£26.46).
Toronto’s CN Tower gives visitors a similar choice. A purchase on the day for standard admission costs $32.00CAD (£20.20). Arriving at an initial height of 346m it includes the chance to step on the tower’s glass floor, and is a height that most people would be satisfied with. If not, an extra $12.00CAD (£7.58) will pay for access to the Skypod – situated a further 80m above the ground.
Chicago’s Skydeck is arguably even better value still, with admission costing $18 US dollars (£11.34).
Nothing in Europe compares to the much higher structures of Eastern Asia or North America, but value for money can certainly be found in similar attractions within some of the continent’s biggest cities. The Eiffel Tower is amongst the most visited tourist attractions in the world, and views over Paris from the tower’s summit cost just €14.00 (£12.10). Cheaper still is entry to Berlin’s iconic Fernsehturm which at €12.00 provides 360 degree views over the German capital.
Britain doesn’t do value for money quite as well as many other countries. So, while the Shard may not be as tall as many of its global rivals, it could at least be marketed as one of the highest priced observation decks in the world.
Before the 2013 Australian Open even began, there was plenty of talk concerning the history that Djokovic or Murray would make, should either of them claim the first of the year’s grand slam titles.
Djokovic was aiming to be the first player in the Open era to win three successive titles in Melbourne. Murray, having won his first Grand Slam title with the US Open in September, was looking to become the first player to follow up a maiden title by winning back-to-back titles.
It was fitting then, that these two should contest the final, as they did two years ago. Last year, the two men faced each other in a gruelling five hour semi final, and a match that could have gone either way with only the finest of margins separating the players.
Djokovic won both of those meetings – as he did in the 2013 final earlier today – but Murray’s five-set win against the same opponent when they met in New York only four months ago is evidence that he’s more than capable on his day of triumphing over the world number 1.
On route to the final, Murray claimed his first win over Roger Federer in a grand slam event. It would be premature to suggest that Murray has overtaken Federer in the men’s game, but it was nonetheless a significant victory, and one which could have been achieved in straight sets had the Brit been more clinical.
If Murray can improve on his dismal showing during last year’s clay court season, there’s every chance of him improving his ATP World Tour ranking enough to leapfrog Federer and head into Roland Garros as the second best player in the world.
In fighting off the challenge of Djokovic to reclaim the world number 1 spot in 2011, Federer proved to his doubters that he’s still amongst the sport’s best, but there must surely be questions over just how long he’ll be able to compete with the likes of Djokovic and Murray in five set tennis.
And with Rafa Nadal far from certain of retaining his position amongst the elite after such a long injury lay-off, there looks to be very few players capable of challenging the dominance of Djokovic or the emergence of Murray.
That could either offer tennis fans with many fascinating battles between the sport’s top two stars, as it did during the period between 2006 and 2008 when Nadal rose to the challenge of toppling Roger Federer, or it could lead to a predictable state of affairs, where the two finalists may as well be handed a passage straight through to the final for lack of any serious threats elsewhere.
For me, the lack of progress made from players such as Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro has been disappointing.
A series of injuries certainly affected Del Potro for a lengthy period after he won the 2009 US Open, but he’s fought his way back into the top ten, and has the ability to be causing problems for the very best players.
Similarly, Berdych and Tsonga both have the talent to be more of a threat, but simply don’t look any closer to breaking into the elite than they did three or four years ago.
Each of those two players have long had the ability to challenge the top players when they meet, as well as having the potential to get much closer to competing for and winning the biggest prizes.
But with each major tournament that goes by, there’s a similar outcome whenever a top four seed is pitted against an opponent ranked in the lower half of the top ten. Berdych and Tsonga both showed glimpses of their ability to produce tennis of the highest quality in their respective matches against Djokovic and Federer, but neither genuinely looked like upsetting the odds.
Amongst the younger players, I was looking forward to seeing how Milos Raonic coped in his fourth round match with Federer. Raonic clearly has plenty of potential but failed to provide any real test for Federer, who in the TV commentary was described as “looking bored” as he closed in on a comfortable victory.
The previous round had resulted in Bernard Tomic – another player touted for future success – send crashing out by Federer in straight sets.
In a sport that was ruled by Federer, taken over by Nadal and then by Djokovic, there appears at the moment to be only one genuine contender to the Serb’s status as world number 1 – Andy Murray.
Nadal v Federer was a rivalry developed in tournaments all over the world on every surface. Murray and Djokovic have each played in three of the last four grand slam finals, and the evidence suggests that the pair could contest many more, in a rivalry that is shaping up to be the fiercest on the men’s tour.
It’s not without a sense of irony that the high cost of tickets for Premier League matches was thrust into the spotlight by Manchester City supporters.
The £62 ticket price for a ticket to watch their team play away to Arsenal was no more than Man United, Chelsea, Liverpool or Spurs have had to pay for the equivalent fixture. In fact, when considering that those four clubs have consistently provided Arsenal with their biggest games of the season, visiting fans of that quartet will have had to pay top prices at Arsenal for as long as the Premier League has existed.
Man City will likely be the only one of that group of clubs rated by Arsenal as “Category A” opponents who don’t have 3,000 fans willing to pay such a high price, and for a club whose fans have often boasted about both their numbers and their loyalty – as was often the case whilst averaging 28,000 in League One – it’s surprising that there isn’t high enough demand to sell their full ticket quota for their first visit to the Emirates as Premier League champions.
However, when considering that even a must-win match in the Champions League was played out in front of almost 8,000 vacant sky blue coloured seats, perhaps the club simply don’t have the size of following that has previously been claimed. There could have been no complaints at the £35 cost of a ticket for the clash with Ajax – especially when compared to the 80€ admission cost of the reverse fixture.
The other irony about the issue having been forced by Man City fans is that clubs like Arsenal have been affected more than most by the wealth of cash thrown around firstly by Chelsea, and then, more recently, Man City themselves.
In racking up huge annual losses through the spending of hundreds of millions of pounds directly from the pockets of Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour, both Chelsea and Man City enjoyed the kind of spending power with which no sensibly run club could compete.
In a short space of time, Arsenal went from having consistently been one of best teams in the land, to one which could no longer compete with the best at the league’s summit. Most of the club’s star players have opted to leave due to the lack of silverware, and with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules due to take effect from next year, Arsenal face a huge challenge if they’re to strengthen enough to challenge for a league title in the near future.
Of course, none of that may be enough to justify such a high cost of tickets. But if Arsenal are able to demand up to £126 for a single Premier League match and still see the stadium full for almost all of their games, then why should there be any pressure to lower their matchday prices? Why shouldn’t Arsenal be allowed to maximise their income in such a highly competitive sport? And why should they be condemned for simply trying to compete with clubs who have been fortunate enough to find themselves bankrolled by foreign multi-billionaires?
Last year’s league titles in Spain and England were won by the two costliest football squads in history, and the Champions League won by the next biggest spenders over the last few years.
All three of those successful teams were able to invest heavily before the new financial rules take effect. Man City fans might do well to recognise that they, like Chelsea and Real Madrid, were able to spend vast sums of money in a way that their rivals couldn’t match at the time, and won’t be allowed to in the future.
Arsenal are simply one of a number of clubs doing whatever they can to remain as financially competitive as possible. And in an imperfect footballing world, no one should blame them for that.
The best league in the world. The most popular league in the world.
Both are common phrases to hear, when describing the English Premier League. Of course, they’re almost always used by British journalists or ex-players covering the English game on TV.
The recent announcement of the FIFpro World XI for 2012 was heavily criticised by many of those same British-based experts, after it consisted entirely of footballers playing for clubs in the Spanish Primera Liga.
How could it be possible that the Premier League was not represented, they asked? There were no questions of why the team included no players from the German Bundesliga, or Italy’s Serie A. But then they aren’t considered as being the best league in the world.
The most controversial omission was Robin Van Persie, who was the best player in England during 2012. He was overlooked, legitimately, in favour of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Radamel Falcao. The first two require no justification, though even Falcao managed to outscore Van Persie over the calendar year – as well as making a significant contribution to Atletico Madrid’s Europa League and European Super Cup wins.
There’s no question that the English league is the most hyped in the world, and it may even be true that it’s the most popular. After all, the revenue generated from worldwide TV rights are unmatched by any other top flight football league.
Whether it is the best though, is an entirely different question.
La Liga is generally seen as the next best league – again, based usually on the judgement of English-based experts alone. So in explaining the reasons why the Premier League rules, it is merely a case of those very people detailing why it is better than La Liga.
The main arguments usually include one or more of the following:
- English football is more entertaining to watch;
- There are only two strong teams in Spain;
- Every game in England is competitive, regardless of the gulf in class between the two competing sides;
- There is a better atmosphere in the stadiums;
- Most of the world’s best players play in England
Some of the above statements are often used with such conviction that they cannot possibly be false, but there is plenty that can be said in support of Spain’s case for having the strongest football league in Europe.
In Barcelona and Real Madrid, La Liga contains arguably the two best club sides in the world. Neither are invincible, but there wouldn’t generally be too many people who would strongly disagree with that assessment.
The strength of those two teams in itself doesn’t reflect the general health of the league, but a look at the performances of Spain’s teams in Europe over the last decade certainly points to a depth in the quality of teams further down the league.
Results in European competition are one of the few ways in which the strength of a given league can be truly measured and compared. Doing so would only lead to a conclusion pointing very much towards Spain rather than the Premier League.
Since 2000, six Champions League finals have included a Spanish club, five of them won by the team from La Liga. The other was Valencia’s 2001 penalty shoot-out defeat to Bayern Munich. The most recent three occasions have seen Barcelona triumph over English opposition.
In the UEFA Cup/Europa league over that time, nine different Spanish teams have reached at least the semi final, and there have been two all-Spanish finals. Atletico Madrid and Sevilla have each won the competition twice since 2005, and Valencia lifted the trophy in 2004.
In contrast, only six different English representatives have made it to the last four, and not since Liverpool defeated Alaves in 2001 has the Premier League delivered a winner.
For a league considering itself so strong, the performance of English teams in the Europa League has been quite dreadful. Every club in the top nine places of La Liga in 2010/11 had experience of competing in a recent a European semi final, though it’d be almost unimaginable for the same to be true of the Premier League.
Based on present league placings, such a scenario would have to have seen the likes of Swansea, West Brom and Everton mixing it with the continent’s best, while even Man City have so far failed to make any kind of impression on European competition despite resources that perhaps only one or two clubs in the world can match.
Middlesbrough and Fulham did managed to achieve some continental success by reaching finals in 2005 and 2010 respectively, though neither had to face Spanish opposition until the final. Both were beaten – emphatically in Middlesbrough’s case.
The only other argument from those above that I will address is that of how competitive the matches within each league are deemed to be. Is it really true that Real Madrid and Barcelona have games where they only have to turn up to win, whereas Manchester United and Man City have to fight much harder for any points earned?
It may appear that English games are more competitive, but is that based more on the style of football? Does the fact that English teams adopt a more physical approach give an impression that smaller teams compete better against the top teams in England than in Spain?
If results were compared, it would be difficult to see any noticeable difference.
How often do any of the teams near the bottom of the table cause any problem to one of the title contenders, in either country?
Wigan’s win against Man United last spring comes immediately to mind, but there are few other examples to offer from recent seasons. Barcelona were near unbeatable in the 2010/11 season but still lost 2-0 at home to Hercules, who were relegated and won only one other away game during the remainder of the season. Evidence that hugely surprising results do occur in Spain, too.
It was said of QPR’s win over Chelsea earlier this month that the result was further proof of something which simply wouldn’t happen in Spain. But Chelsea haven’t been consistent this season to keep up with the top two and are a long way off the league leaders.
Even in the two weeks since then, Real Madrid have been held to a goalless draw by bottom of the table Osasuna. Meanwhile, amongst the points dropped by Madrid last season on their way to the title were draws against Villarreal and Racing Santander – both of whom went on to be relegated.
In Barcelona, the likes of Messi, Iniesta et al. have helped the club to a record-breaking first half of the season. A first league defeat did finally occur yesterday, and it was to 12th placed Real Sociedad – a team who made Real Madrid work extremely hard to hold on for a 4-3 win during the previous round of fixtures.
There’s a lot for football fans to admire about the Premier League, but to boast that it is the best in Europe, or to dismiss so much that the Spanish league has to offer only goes to highlight an English bias that, beyond one’s personal preference, appears to be very hard to justify.
The government yesterday backed a Lords amendment to remove the word ‘insulting’ from Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
Section 5(1) of the Act reads as follows:
(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he —
(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
However, the law as it stands has been open to abuse and led to a number of arrests that have been widely condemned.
Amongst the most well-known case was that of a 21-year old student who spent a night in a cell during 2005 after calling a police horse “gay”.
Another example involved a teenager being arrested in 2008 after describing Scientology as a “cult”, while Jamie Murray, who runs a Christian cafe in Blackpool, was threatened with arrest if he didn’t remove bible scriptures that a customer had complained about, saying that some verses were insulting.
Examples such as the above, as well as many more that have been reported in the media over the last few years, not only reveal the way in which a minority of police officers deal with such petty complaints, but also just how thin-skinned so many people across the country have become.
Quite how the nation reached a stage where complainants feel the need to involve the police in such trivial matters is a mystery.
Imagine if everybody took the law so literally. Imagine if calling someone else’s favourite football team “rubbish” was to lead someone to feel so insulted that they needed to contact the police. Imagine if the police took a complaint such as that seriously.
Thankfully there looks to be an end to any legal option for the easily offended, or who make petty complaints for simply having disagreed with a person who has a different opinion.
In December, the House of Lords voted overwhelmingly in favour of an amendment which would remove the word ‘insulting’ from both clause (a) and clause (b).
During a second reading of the Bill in the Commons yesterday the Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced that there was no reason for the Government to challenge the verdict in Lords vote.
More serious offences involving verbal abuse or threatening behaviour will continue to be covered by the new wording, ensuring that the removal of the word “insulting” cannot lead to a law that allows for much more serious offences to be carried out.
It’s taken years of campaigning to achieve, but the upcoming change in the law represents another victory for common sense.
I have two observations to make about the controversial goal scored by Luis Suarez yesterday, which has led to the player receiving both fierce criticism and also some strong support from many analysts and fellow players.
The first is that it is not the duty of players to make refereeing decisions.
Whether or not it should have been disallowed has in itself been debated. Some say that the ball ricocheted onto the arm of Suarez and therefore he couldn’t get out of the way. Others claim it was a deliberate attempt by the Liverpool striker to control the ball with his hand.
If it hadn’t been Luis Suarez, there would be much less attention given to the incident. Regardless of his undoubted talent, there have been too many controversial moments in a career where Suarez has rarely been out of the spotlight and as with some of football’s other controversial characters, such as Man City’s Mario Balotelli, the slightest hint of controversy involving Suarez attracts a media circus and endless analysis.
However, nothing in Suarez’s history should be referred to when looking at yesterday’s incident, if only for the simple fact that no one can claim with certainty that it was a deliberate handball.
Given that it was a handball though, should Suarez have been obliged to point it out to the referee? The answer to that is, of course, no.
If football was such an honest sport in which there was total fair play with no deceiving officials with skilfully crafted dives, or wasting time by feigning injury to disrupt matches and gain an advantage, then there would be a stronger argument for suggesting that Suarez had a duty to make known to the referee that the ball had hit his hand.
The reality of modern football is that it’s a world away from the above picture of a sport in which there is complete honesty, and in an ever more competitive sport – off the pitch as well as on it – there’s unlikely to be anyone playing the game today who would get a lucky break from a refereeing decision and then ask for it to be overturned.
If honesty existed then players wouldn’t argue against decisions such as free kicks or penalty decisions when they know full well that they’ve committed a foul. Nor would players accept decisions in their favour that have been awarded for fouls when there has been no contact.
The other point I wish to make is that it’s not the first time that such an incident has happened and it’s hard to understand why such great attention is being placed on Suarez. Even the Mansfield manager, Paul Cox, refused to criticize the player.
I don’t recall such a fuss being made when AC Milan’s Filippo Inzaghi directed the ball into the Liverpool net with his hand during the 2007 Champions League final in Athens. On that occasion Liverpool were the dominant side for much of the match – unlike the meeting between the two teams in the 2005 final – and Inzaghi’s goal was a pivotal moment in swinging the match in Milan’s favour.
There could have been Mourinho-style whingeing from everyone in Liverpool’s corner, but it wouldn’t have changed the outcome. It was a refereeing mistake and it went Milan’s way on that occasion. Against Mansfield, the decision was in Liverpool’s favour.
In the weeks, months and years to come, there’ll be scores more teams on the end of wrong decisions that prove costly. Most teams will benefit at some point, and suffer at other times.
But, after all, that’s football.
Regardless of how anti-religion you may be, you have to admit that it does have some advantages.
Christmas, for example. A few days off work for many people across the country to enjoy the company of family and friends you seldom see; to indulge in a festive food and drink feast; to make the most of a rare opportunity to learn the names of neighbours you never speak to as you receive their annual card through the letterbox.
However opposed you may be to religion, without it, there would be no Christmas and we’d probably have to make do with a solitary day off during the New Year’s Day bank holiday.
But while there might not be much wrong with simply taking advantage of an opportunity to hand out gifts and have a good party or two, is it not a bit strange that so many anti-religious folks up and down the country would even want to join in with a time of year that has long been associated with a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ? Especially when bearing in mind that those very people don’t believe in Jesus in the first place?
Christians are often referred to by their most ardent opponents as being people who believe in an imaginary being.
If that’s the case, then it’s a rather weird situation to find so many countries around the world joining in to celebrate the birth of an imaginary being.
And if you believe in the existence of Jesus, but not that he was the Son of God, then have you ever stopped to consider just why his birth was unique enough to warrant a worldwide celebration?
Surely there can’t be just one man in the history of the world who deserves to be singled out and celebrated?
What about Gandhi? Or Mother Teresa? I’d bet that the overwhelming majority of people wouldn’t know the date that either of those inspirational figures were born, nor even the year.
Christians believe that Jesus is God’s son, who came to earth to show us how to live. Non-believers often try to disprove the existence of God, and much of society believes that the answers to life can be found elsewhere – and that we’ve “moved on” from needing God.
Just where we’ve moved on to exactly, and whether it’s for better or for worse is open to debate. Yes, there have been developments over history that have had a positive impact on humanity. The abolition of slavery, for example.
But what about the rapidly increasing culture of individualism and human rights? Not so much in the sense of genuine fairness, but rather in the sense that a person may demand the right both to free speech, and also the right not to be offended – two contradictory views which are demanded by the same person, and at the same time. It’s about them, and them only.
And what of materialism and the pursuit of wealth, which is often considered the ultimate goal for the majority. Life is about achieving a good job with an ever-increasing income, followed by a long prosperous retirement with a nice fat pension. That’s the dream; that’s what is to be aspired to, right?
These are two of the more selfish characteristics of modern Britain, but are values which youngsters are being raised to adopt in a more and more competitive society.
During his time on earth, Jesus taught about loving others, and putting them first. It’s a completely contradictory set of values to those we’re given by our modern society.
Maybe that’s the kind of thing which convinced enough people that he was special enough that his birth be universally celebrated, and for time itself to be marked by his birth.
CS Lewis, an atheist who tried to disprove Christianity and ultimately found too much evidence in support of it actually being true, claimed that Jesus could only have been one of the following three things:
1. a liar who made a claim that he was the Son of God – when he knew full well that he was not
2. a lunatic, who genuinely believed that he was the Son of God, when he actually was not
3. the Son of God, ie he was exactly who he said he was.
A fourth option, some might add, is that he didn’t exist in the first place. History clearly proves that theory wrong. That leaves one of the other options as the only ones that can have any credibility.
So, as you sit down to eat your turkey this Christmas, ask yourself this question: Will you be celebrating the birth of a random historical figure who was either a mad man or a liar? Or will you be celebrating the birth of the most inspirational man in history, a man who was the Son of God?
Personally, I don’t join in with the celebrations of key moments in the Islamic or Hindi calendars, and nor do I hold parties to celebrate the birth of invisible men who didn’t exist. I’d consider myself to be a rather strange individual if I did.
In an increasingly competitive world, Christian values are becoming less and less fashionable in modern society. But to me and to countless millions of other people around the world, Christianity and its values still make sense.
And certainly more sense than joining other non-believers around the country in celebrating the birth of a historical person who we don’t even believe in.