Journalism lecturer writes essential guide to arts reviewing

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Interviews with leading arts critics including from The Guardian, The Times, the BBC, the Daily Telegraph and the New York Times all feature in a new guide to arts reviewing written by a journalism lecturer from De Montfort University Leicester.

Read the full report here about Andy Plaice and his new book Arts Reviewing: A Practical Guide, which covers writing, ethics, and the impact of reviews as well as a debate on challenges facing reviewers such as the internet.

NFL UK presenter Nat Coombs on American football in the UK, and how and why you should watch it

by Tyler Arthur

Bored.
It hasn’t been a particularly exciting day. No plans, nothing to do, even less to watch.
Nat resorts to flicking between channels on the family TV, aimlessly, as we all do when nothing is on. Every station provides new hope of ten minutes entertainment… 1, nope. 2, 3, yawn.
Channel 4.
His eyes widen.
Twenty-two men, of varying shapes and sizes, wearing pads, and helmets, appear to be just smashing into one another. It is crazy.

Nathaniel’s young gaze is locked to the screen, his attention fixated on this alien sport.
Brutal, but beautiful.

That was years ago; but now, one of the UK’s resident NFL experts, Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Coombs, still has the same enthusiasm and excitement as he did in that first moment – the moment when he discovered American football.

“I turned it on by chance (in the days when watching things was less on demand, more lucky dip) and saw this day-glow, technicolour, explosive thing that I instantly fell in love with,” he recalls, fondly.

“I had no idea what was going on…”

Nat Coombs

Image courtesy of natcoombs.com, with permission of Mr Coombs.

As with many newcomers to the complex sport, he recalls that even though it was so exciting, he was initially confused.

“I had no idea what was going on – and no-one I knew at the time watched it.”

Nat, now used to be on his own, an English youngster watching ‘America’s game’ – but now, he feels much less lonely in his passion for the States’ version of football.

“Since I started broadcasting back in 2007, there has been a major shift,” Nat knows more than anyone, that the market is growing for the NFL here, in the UK. “Social media has really helped.”

Although he was able to ‘convert’ some of his friends, he suggests that nowadays it doesn’t necessarily matter if the people you go to school or work with watch and/or talk about the Sunday night matches.
“Now, games are live in this country and anyone can hop onto social media and chat away to fellow fans all over the country, [and world.]

‘That’s a major development.”

In the age of social media, we have bred a highlight culture, in all sports. This is great for American football. The ‘explosive’ nature of the NFL makes it perfect for these bitesize clips to be shared online.

Case study. Odell Beckham Jr.
If you don’t know who that is, or what he did, go on YouTube and search “OBJ catch”; that will be a good enough introduction to the sport.

It is in this highlight-heavy coverage of world events, through Twitter, and Facebook etc. that individual moments shine – and that is where people like Nat come in; with Match of the Day-esque TV shows for the NFL.

The goal of these short formats is to pique the interest of the casual viewer, but also to give a platform for new people to discover the sport – just like Miami Dolphins fan, Coombs, did all those years ago; full circle.

“Access to podcasts, and writing of all kinds online (as opposed to a weekly paper) all enables a cult/niche sport to flourish.”

And flourish is accurate, the USA’s iteration of football finds itself welcomed in London annually for a few weeks during their season, when eight teams travel to play at Wembley and Twickenham.

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The NFL’s presence in the UK grows, more and more, every year.

“I think the level we’re at right now is strong,” (five games a week televised live and four games annually hosted here), “and I think we can handle more,” Nat confidently believes. “Whether that’s a team [that plays in London] or more regular season games is hard to call.”

The sport has been on a huge upward trend in interest, and now features as the main focus of Sunday nights on SkySports – as well as the aforementioned highlights shows and radio shows in the UK.

Coombs’ enthusiasm is shared across hundreds of thousands of the UK’s NFL fans – who are showing huge support whenever given the chance. The International Series filled both stadiums in London, this year.

“I don’t think anyone predicts American football will surpass football/soccer, but if it’s a top 10 sport here, great!”

As the sport grows in this country, you can’t help but be encouraged to try it, and Coombs encourages all new people to see what it’s all about.

“For any newbies watching, I’d suggest mixing up RedZone [a highly addictive way to watch, as the broadcasts jumps from game-to-game when teams look like scoring] and watching a whole game play out,” he advises.

American football is physical, exciting and fast. It isn’t easy to understand it, and it isn’t simple to play it – but give it a go! You might be surprised.
Watch the Super Bowl, throw a football around with your friends, whatever you like.

Maybe next Sunday, after the Premier League has drawn to a close, and you find yourself with nothing to do…

Bored.

Turn on the NFL, just like Nat Coombs did, and see where it takes you.


 

Nat anchors live NFL coverage on TalkSport2 every Sunday from 5pm, and hosts the eponymous NFL Show with Nat Coombs on Tuesdays from 10pm. You can also find his podcast here: talksport.com/NFL.

Air rifle shooter still at large after injuring student

By Erik Dawson

On the night of the 23rd of November, De Montfort University student Lewis Holmes was taking his usual route back home from work when he was struck by a metal air rifle pellet, shot from a nearby window. The assailant still has not been caught.

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Lewis Holmes, 18, originally from Boston, Lincolnshire but currently studying Business Management at De Montfort University was cycling home from his shift at Boots at around 10pm.

As the student cycled down Eastern Boulevard toward his accommodation at Liberty Park, he was shot in the thigh by an air rifle, the metal pellet becoming lodged in his leg.

When interviewed Lewis explained that he ‘heard a loud crack and for a second I didn’t realise what had happened. It was only when I felt a sharp pain in my thigh and saw blood I realised I had been hit by something.’

When he had made it back to his accommodation, Lewis assessed the damage done to his leg. He added ‘There was a lot of bleeding and as I cleaned it I could see the metal ball still in my leg.’ Lewis then, with the help of fellow student and flatmate Archie Murfitt, walked to the Leicester Royal Infirmary where the metal pellet was removed from his thigh, and the wound was stitched together.

When asked today about what his opinion is on the incident, Lewis said ‘I still feel shocked by what happened. I didn’t think something like that would happen in the area, let alone to me.’ Lewis is now fully recovered and still working on his degree.

The police were called to the hospital where they took a statement from the victim and a police enquiry was launched. Unfortunately there was no CCTV in the area to catch the suspect.

If you have been involved in any similar incidents, or have any information on an assailant contact:

Leicestershire Police – Telephone Number: 101

 

Rukhsana Hussain: The Wonderwoman of Leicester

Breaking down barriers, integrating the new into society, being a set of ears to the needy… Rukhsana Hussain explains to Luke Smith why her charity work is so much more than a job.

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Rukhsana Hussain at the award ceremony

In a world of turbulent times, both politically and socially, it is sometimes difficult to stand up for what you believe and help those people who just need a little bit of help, somebody to guide them through troubled times, or even just somebody who wants to sit and listen to their problems. Rukhsana Hussain, a charity worker based in Leicestershire, has no problems ticking all the boxes in making our local community a better and more tolerable place to live.

Rukhsana’s charitable endeavors began two-and-a-half years ago, when she began work with Asylum seekers, explaining to me how she set up an organisation called ‘Hope 4 Humanity’, which is now in the process of being registered as a charity.

“Hope 4 Humanity is in the process of becoming a charity, that works locally with refugees and asylum seekers that are newly arrived to the UK. It’s more to do with integration, settling them, and supplying them with the life skills they may not have acquired. We do also work with those who have also been here for a few years also, but we do tend to concentrate on those who are newly arrived.

“It was me and a friend who set that up originally, working with some local volunteers, and it’s taken us to this point to now get a third person involved so that we can now set Hope 4 Humanity up officially.

“Since that point, we have also started up an initiative called ‘Speak Out’, which is all based on anti-bullying and just raising awareness, trying to do some presentations in different parts of the community. It can sometimes be quite difficult to get into the communities, especially as I work with a number of ethnic minorities, so it can sometimes be quite difficult to get in and see what’s going on. It’s all about breaking down the barriers and helping them have the confidence they need to recognise the problem, open up about it, and then seek the help”

Her charitable work continued into the area of domestic violence, a vicious and destructive issue that will affect 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in their lifetime.
Domestic Violence is clearly an act on the rise, with as many as two women per week being murdered through domestic violence, and thirty men per year. It also has the most repeat offences than any other crime, with it taking an average of thirty-five assaults before the victim calls the police. Although Rukhsana only works with Leicestershire, those UK figures clearly show that domestic abuse is on the rise all around.

Rukhsana is tackling the issue in the Leicester area by supporting victims.

“It’s not official support, it’s just letting people know that I am there.

“I think that the biggest thing to me is over the years, mental health has increased so rapidly. It’s everywhere. Whether I’m working with victims of domestic violence, whether I’m working with children, whether it’s anti-bullying, whatever I do, it’s all tailored around mental health.”

Rukhsana is no stranger to publicity, and with her exemplary charity record and ever growing lists of awards, is it any wonder? She has been recognised for her work with the Wonderwoman 2017 award, a Leicestershire Heroes 2017 nomination, an East Midlands Women’s Award 2017 nomination, and that’s just to name a few of the awards Rukhsana has been nominated for or won for her incredible charity work.

“Through all of my work, I was awarded the Wonderwoman 2017 award (an International Women’s Award), which was really good because it was so unexpected! I was also up for the Leicestershire Heroes Award 2017. We were finalists, we didn’t win, but it was great to be there anyway because I did notice that out of the people there, there weren’t many Muslims there, so it was quite an achievement for us to break those barriers because not only were we Muslim, but women too!”

Rukhsana’s love for helping others and working within the community has ventured into reducing hate crime in the Leicester area, through the charity MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development team).

“There was a suspected hate crime last month in Beaumont Leys, so we decided that we would hold an event because there is a lot of under reporting. The importance of MEND and the hate crime awareness meetings is to make sure that everybody knows: what is a hate crime, and if they do suffer this kind of crime, or if they see it happening somewhere else, how can they report it.”

Leicestershire Police define a hate crime as: “any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on a person’s actual, or perceived, disability, race, religion / faith, sexual orientation and or/transgender

Leicestershire Police is currently running a hate crime prevention programme called Stamp It Out and is encouraging anybody suffering hate crime to call 999 or 101 in non-emergency situations.

Tackling the tough issues: Is contact rugby harmful to our school children?

Huge rugby players dominate the professional game and have an even bigger monopoly at schoolboy level. Ross Barnett finds out whether banning contact in youth rugby is the answer to the sport’s problems.

Four-and-a-half years ago I was playing in a rugby match like no other. It was a frosty, cold Wednesday afternoon in a third XV cup game when one of my team mates broke his back in a freak rugby accident, restricting him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

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Ulster U19 player, Adam Hanna on his home farm in Dromore, Co Down.

That event changed my perspective on rugby and while I hold the sport very close to my heart, there are issues surrounding injuries that need to be dealt with.

Rugby players are getting bigger and heavier and recently Professor Allyson Pollock, director of the Institute of Health and Society at Newcastle University, advocated a ban in schoolboy scrums and tackling in an article for the British Medical Journal.

She pointed to statistics in America in which rugby related injuries were on the rise, as well as having the highest concussion rates in children per 1000. It is a striking and worrying statistic, so why do people still like playing rugby?

“I like the physical and competitive aspects of it,” answered Adam Hanna a 16-year-old Northern Irish schoolboy: “There’s a lot of respect between players and it’s a great way to make friends.”

I made the journey to watch his match to gauge the attitudes of some of the players about this issue. Afterwards, I visited his farm where he lives and works part time.

“My dad played rugby and I was part of a rugby family, so I had to keep up the tradition,” said Adam as he walked me around his 90-strong herd of cattle.

“I started playing tag rugby 10 years ago, aged 6, which taught me basic skills such as how to catch and throw a ball.”

Adam’s family is heavily involved with their local club team, Dromore RFC and travel to Kingspan Stadium to watch their provincial side, Ulster Rugby.

“If tackling was banned for schoolboys, it would ruin the quality and eventually kill off the sport that we love. I think it would be more dangerous as boys and girls would be introduced to tackling when they’re fully developed. This would lead to more injuries as they wouldn’t have the correct tackle technique.”

Although World Rugby is putting a huge emphasis on head injuries, only last week All Black international Ben Smith revealed that he forgot that his wife was pregnant after taking a knock in a pre-season game in February.

While schoolboy rugby doesn’t have the same resources as the professional game, coaches on the touchline are forced to rely on the word of the player involved to make a snap decision.

“If you are knocked out there is no way you should come back on. Even if you have to go for an HIA, [head injury assessment] I’m still sceptical as to whether the player should be allowed back on the field,” said Adam as he helped his brother prepare the parlour for milking later that night.

There are not many countries that play rugby better than New Zealand. The Kiwis implement a weight-grade system where children are teamed up with children of a similar size rather than age.

“I was never really scared for myself,” said Adam when he was talking about his feelings when he started playing rugby, “I was so much bigger than everyone else, so I had a few concerns that I would injure them!

“If you go in with the mindset that this could be your last match because of a serious injury, then I feel it increases the risk of getting injured and you won’t give 100% in the match.”

There are discrepancies between the size of players in the professional game which increased when the game went professional and upon the arrival of the sport’s first global superstar, Jonah Lomu. This is further accentuated at schoolboy level.

“I think [the use of the gym in schoolboy rugby] needs to be enforced better,” said Adam, “either everyone should be going to the gym at senior rugby [School years 12-14] or no one should be. Not everyone is of a similar build but with players equally developed I believe there would be less injuries.

“If you’re twice the height and weight of someone in your class then it won’t be safe for them, but then if you are playing people older you could be hurt. You might be physically developed for your year but not for those who are older.”

World Rugby has been increasing the spotlight on seatbelt tackles – tackle from behind where the arm of the defender goes over the shoulder of the attacker – as well as implementing new laws in relation to the scrum to prevent accidents such as the one I witnessed.

Despite this, there will always be controversy over the force and magnitude of tackles in rugby and in particular, youth rugby.