The three horse title race, Birmingham City and England’s World Cup chances

The three-horse title race

During the past week Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have all has their turn at the top of the Premier League.

Despite all the talk of the bug four dominance there has not been a genuine title race with more than two teams since Liverpool pushed Newcastle and Manchester United close in 1995/96.

Currently at the top of the table, with more than half the games played, just three points separate the top three sides.

Although Chelsea are favourites, United have hung in there despite their poor form and injury problems and if Arsenal can pick up a decent haul from their next four games (when they face Aston Villa and Liverpool in addition to Chelsea and United) the title could go right down to the wire for the first time in 15 years.

Birmingham continue to impress with cup win

While Birmingham were many pundit’s favourites to plunge straight back into the Championship they continued to prove doubters wrong with an away win at Goodson against a resurgent Everton side on Saturday.

The FA Cup victory set-up an away tie with second-tier strugglers Derby County but more importantly stretched the club’s record unbeaten run to 15 games.

With Cameron Jerome and Christian Benitez looking impressive up-front, Joe Hart solid in goal and Lee Bowyer recapturing his Leeds United form City look a good bet for a top 10 finish.

A real test of the side’s credentials will come on Wednesday when they face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

England World Cup bid already in doubt

Most sensible fans would probably tip Spain and Brazil for this year’s World Cup but anyone brave enough to back England would already be fearing for their chances.

While it might seem odd to write-off one of Europe’s better sides before a ball has been kicked, the current state of the squad must be a worry.

No-one has seized the number one jersey, with David James unsettled at Portsmouth, and the defence might creak with Glen Johnson, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry suffering from injury and loss of form.

In midfield, Steven Gerrard has been well below his best and it is unclear who will start on the flanks, while the only player on good form at the moment is Wayne Rooney.

The upcoming game against Egypt in March will be an important barometer for Fabio Capelllo’s men and will give some players a chance to book their seat on the plane to South Africa.

Trying to defend the indefensible

My housemate and I have been friends for more than 20 years and on the way to the tube station last week, via memory lane, the topic of conversation turned to childhood.

We started talking about living with our parents, the things we used to annoy them and their, often failed, attempts at trying to rein us in.

All the standard fare got a mention. The ‘wait until your father gets home’, the grounding (usually lasting for just a few hours) and the often underrated, and now frowned upon, slap.

Then out of nowhere, he said: “Did you ever get accused of showing off?”

It was something I had long forgotten and brought back vivid memories of the hundreds of occasions when my Mum, trying to get me to stop acting up when we had company, would level the immortal accusation.

“All the time,” I said. “And it always worked!”

And it did. The words could make the most unruly teenager stop in their tracks and rack their brains for the best response.

But there isn’t one. And therein was its power.

What could you say that wouldn’t make things worse? Denying that you were showing off always made it look as if you were being nonchalant about showing off – thus making you look even more like a show off.

And admitting to it made you look arrogant. It was like saying “I am showing off. And what of it?”

There was even the schoolmate version. If your mates ever needed to bring you down a peg or two they could accuse you of fancying someone – the least appealing the better because whatever you said just made things worse.

It’s the golden ticket of controlling behaviour – I just wish there was an adult equivalent.

The telephone voice

The majority of people I have spoken to in the past few days will probably have forgotten the sound of my voice already.

It’s nothing personal – I don’t stutter, I don’t have a serious lisp and I don’t squeak. My voice is that of a bog standard man, with a Luton dialect and a spattering of slang.

But all bets are off if you call me in the office.

People who have spoken to me on my work number would certainly remember my high-pitched, overly-eloquent, trying-to-sound-important-but-failing tones.

Anyone who wants evidence of this need only call the office after 6pm to behold my business answerphone message in all its glory.

Admittedly, at first I thought it was just me. Then I was able to listen closely to my colleagues and knew I was in good company.

Even my contacts at other companies do it.

One lady I met sounded like Kathy Burke when I met her face-to-face, which was particularly funny as I mistook her for Joanna Lumley when she phoned me the day before.

But what is the reason for the plummy, over the top, wordy way of speaking to business contacts when most people talk to their mates they are just their usual foul-mouthed, inarticulate selves?

What is it about the office phone that turns Len Goodman into Stephen Fry?

Is it a need to feel comfortable among colleagues and contacts? Is it to impress others? Or do we all secretly want to sound posh. And do posh sounding people use more slang and drop their ‘t’s when speaking on the office phone?

My conclusion is that I don’t know. It’s a complete mystery to me.

All I know is that it won’t stop!