Ex-LFC Player Pundits – A Short Rant

Jurgen Klopp arrived in Liverpool with a fair amount of hype. There’s no doubting that the appointment of Klopp following the sacking of Brendan “David Brent” Rodgers was quite a coup for Liverpool F.C. He brings some much needed life to the club after the endless droning from Rodgers about “character” and “the group”. Now things are measured in terms of “this moment” and whether the football or decision making on the pitch is “cool” or not. Whatever Klopp brings to the party, things are certainly not going to be dull.

In his first press conference, the former Dortmund manager quipped about the British press, saying that he had heard a lot about them and that it was up to them to prove all that he had heard was wrong. The assembled football journalists that crowded into that press conference were charmed and Klopp probably bought himself some time with them in terms of getting things right at Anfield. However, there was one section of the football media that were not in attendance that day and seem ready to crank up the pressure on “the normal one” from the get go.

Step forward the ex-LFC player pundits.

There are usually warning signs that a Liverpool manager is about to be given his P45. Press conferences become a bit awkward, “people outside the club” with “agendas” are often spoken about and as the paranoia really begins to set in the former players in the press start getting blamed for the current incumbent’s inevitable fate. Houllier, Hodgson and Rodgers are prime examples of this belief that they had somehow become victims of these mysterious outside influences before finally biting the dust at Anfield. It is something I’ve never really bought into although I’ve found the behaviour of certain ex-LFC players now plying their trade with the likes of Sky and BT Sport somewhat sinister.

It’s almost as if the classic British media trick of building someone up only to take glee in knocking them back down has been triggered early in some of them. Maybe the clocks changing back to Greenwich Mean Time has confused the likes of Souness, Carragher and McManaman somewhat?

Following the weekend’s visit of Southampton in the Premier League, Souness and Carragher were up in arms and that was just at half-time. They complained about the shape, the balance of the side, nothing having changed since Klopp’s arrival and there being nothing to get excited about, particularly “for two Liverpool fans”. Now, of course, these guys are entitled and paid to have an opinion. Hold on a second though. This was Klopp’s third game in charge! He’s been in the job two weeks! Not only that he’s had a horrific injury list to contend with resulting in the only fully fit, available striker being the fourth choice Divock Origi. There may be talent lurking in there, but he’s fourth choice for a reason! This is also someone else’s team and an unbalanced squad full of forwards (if mainly on the treatment table), “number 10s” and lacking in wide players. It’s also a squad lacking in confidence following Brendan’s chopping and changing of formations and playing players out of position. It really didn’t matter who breezed into Liverpool the other week, this is something that’s going to take some time to put right.

Since Carragher turned pundit, he’s sadly become somewhat of a rent-a-gob for me, hamming up his comedy double act with his new best mate from Manchester, Gary Neville. As for Souness despite a stellar career as a player, this is a man who as a manager of Liverpool brought Julian Dicks to the club.

Outside of the cozy studio bonhomie of Sky, it was the earlier Europa League fixture against Rubin Kazin which sparked a pitch-side Steve McManaman to lose his cool. “They’d have been booed off if this was Rodgers”, he moaned before anguishing with words tossed around such as “poor”, “frustrating” and “not acceptable”. McManaman was a man close to bursting, his face bright red, looking if he was about to implode. What the former blind-alley merchant failed to recognise though was that this was game TWO! Klopp had barely had time to figure out who was going to post the next picture of him enjoying Liverpool’s nightlife and there stood Steve McManaman, badly in need of a haircut that suits his age, raging on the Anfield turf about how everything is just STILL so poor a full 180 minutes into Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool reign.

Klopp needs time at Liverpool and he’ll get it, just like Brendan Rodgers did before him. This isn’t Leeds United or Aston Villa we are talking about here where a manager’s life expectancy is shorter than that of a mayfly.

Personally, I couldn’t understand why McManaman was so upset. It’s not as if Klopp was holding the club to ransom, refusing to sign a contract extension before jetting off on a free transfer to Madrid now was it?

Best of Order…Please?

I was intrigued to read an article in the Edinburgh Evening News today about how the comedian Kevin Bridges had a night of his sell-out tour ruined by hecklers constantly, well, er… heckling during his performance at the Edinburgh Playhouse recently. The article’s author, Brian Ferguson, who was in attendance said, “Frankly, it was the worst-behaved audience I had witnessed in 25 years of attending events.” For those watching, solely to be entertained by Kevin’s latest stand-up tour (as well they might have not unreasonably expected), having forked out £30 for the privilege, it was probably a night to forget.

Things get worse when you realise this seems to have become a familiar problem for Kevin at other gigs; such as those in Derry, Arbroath and even, as can be seen via Trip Advisor of all things, Ludlow. (There were no such issues for “The Searchers” who performed at the same Ludlow Assembly Rooms venue with a “great atmosphere”.)

Is this just a problem for Kevin Bridges though? Perhaps the demographic he appeals to is that of a loudmouth, drunken, lout? It appears not! Brennan Reece was “throttled” in Northwich, police had to remove a man disrupting Celia Pacquola’s set in South Wales and Michael McIntyre had his show interrupted in Darlington by a woman who “kept using her phone”.

Trawling the internet there are thousands of instances of disrupting audience members. Of course, there have always been hecklers, but more recently there seems to have been a slip in what some people deem to be acceptable behaviour. Some of this is encouraged by venues who allow taking drinks into gigs as well as serving them beforehand and during the interval which leads to anything from people wandering in and out to go to the toilet during a performance to the kind of behaviour seen in Edinburgh. It’s almost as if some people seem to have forgotten basic manners and can’t actually distinguish what may or may not be just plain rude.

It’s a cultural shift which is not just affecting comedy gigs, but other areas of our lives too. Indeed, in some cases this shift has been encouraged and actively courted. Darts for example. The sport of darts was losing appeal, viewers and sponsors at a rapid rate during the late 80’s and early 90’s. Nowadays, it’s big business, largely thanks to the promotional skills of Barry Hearn. The Premier League of Darts sees the big arenas sold-out across the country to watch the likes of Phil “The Power” Taylor and “Mighty” Michael van Gerwen. The TV coverage has blossomed and there is no doubt that interest in the game has hit new heights.

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Yet, despite this, what has been done to the game of darts? Darts crowds have always shouted, cheered and if you like, heckled. It was controlled though. For the most part, common courtesy for the players dictated that all the jeering and shouting happened between the throw of the players and not when they were actually concentrating and throwing their darts. During throws there was a hush. A silence. A respect for the players. If the crowd overstepped the mark there was a phrase that the referee would use that would compel them to regain their senses and have respect for the two guys at the oche: “Thank you ladies and gentlemen. Best of order please! Game on!”

I love darts but I can hardly watch it now as an ignorant mass, barely watch the game, (in fairness there’s not much you can see in such a large venue, especially when you’re pissed!) dressed in their comedy fancy dress, with their hilarious home made placards, drinking, screaming, chanting and at times abusing players throughout the game. Quite often timing their collective wisdom of jeers and bully-boy booing directly when a player is throwing or about to throw. Yes, darts is popular and growing and has a massive appeal, making lots of money. Is it actually better off for it though in sporting terms? Not for me it isn’t. It’s sold itself down the river to the lowest common denominator and is contributing to a cultural dumbing down of what’s become acceptable. Sadly other sports also seem to be following darts’ lead. The word “sport” will soon be a misnomer, unless preceded by the word “blood” as any sense of “sporting” behaviour and respect dies a very ugly death.

Elsewhere, ITV’s X Factor has provided some of the most uncomfortable viewing seen on British television since Keith Chegwin stripped off in “Naked Jungle”. The “Six Chair Challenge” section of the auditions process has been just short of a scene from the Hunger Games. It has been brutal. Again, a hyped up crowd seemingly completely comfortable to take part in a collective blood-letting, screaming abuse at contestants for telly ratings.

Is it any wonder that in Great Britain in 2015 someone can feel completely comfortable, on a packed bus, to scream racist abuse at an elderly man with a walking frame or a woman on an equally crowded bus feels equally as comfortable racially abusing a pregnant woman?

You may sneer at the link I’ve suggested, just then, between comedy shows, sport, television and two criminal instances of racist abuse. The point I’m making though is that in our daily lives, the line about what we deem as acceptable through our popular cultural influences is being degraded. What was once rude, unsporting or vulgar is beginning to become almost normal. Check out social media. Facebook and Twitter regularly indicates what a growing minority deem as an acceptable way to engage with others. It’s often not very pretty.

More “out of order” than “best of order” you might say.

The Case for Jeremy Corbyn

If you believe everything you read Jeremy Corbyn is the anti-Christ. He’s the Bogey-Man hiding under the bed (dressed in red – obviously) waiting to destroy humanity as we know it. He’s outdated, a danger to the current civilised world and the free-thinking, fast-paced, free-market economy and all of the wealth that it provides.v218-Jeremy-Corbyn-Get-v2Whilst clearly, none of this is true, despite what the Daily Mail, Katie Hopkins and even Tony Blair will have you believe. One thing is for definite. Jeremy Corbyn has got some people very, very scared.

Let’s hop back to 1997. Tony Blair’s New Labour swept to electoral victory following a string of defeats under the likes of Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock. Margaret Thatcher had changed the political landscape. Pure socialism or anything close to it was seen as outdated and unelectable. The free-market and capitalist thinking had won and had become generally accepted as how modern society worked. Blair had recognised this in opposition as party leader. For that victory in 1997 to happen, Labour had to change or face extinction. The question was how to stay a party of the left whilst being open to capitalist thinking. Step forward the “third way” and let’s not forget, despite Blair’s tarnished legacy, Labour achieved a great deal. New schools, hospitals, inner city regeneration programmes, future jobs fund etc. All principally Labour values yet mixed with a new openness to business, corporations and an acceptance of capitalist ideology.

All was fine until, Iraq, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair’s falling out and the global financial crisis which caused chaos around the world and has left us with the austerity politics of the current times. OK, admittedly this is a simplified recounting of political and economic recent history but the point is that Blair’s New Labour fitted that particular moment in time.

Back to 2015 and times are very different. Not that, the Tories, the right wing press and the global corporations would lead you to believe this. The fact is that capitalism, as we know it today, has failed. We live in this country and globally, more than ever, as the haves and the have-nots. Globally, the markets failed, crashed, banks went bust whilst the rest were bailed out by Governments. We paid for the mistakes of the bankers. You did and I did. Global institutions ran by the richest people on the planet and we kept them afloat. Have they paid us back? – No! Are they still the richest people on the planet? – Yes. What have we been left with? – Austerity. Cuts in essential services, the rise of foodbanks, the ruthless demonisation of the poorest and must vulnerable in society and for what? To protect the richest top 1 or 2% of the population, the banks with their ever increasing bonuses despite crippling whole countries through their own incompetence and the corporate giants who dodge tax and pay slave wages.

Capitalism, as we know it today has failed, just as the old socialism had prior to Thatcher. Politicians have failed to protect us from this failure and have been complicit in accepting donations, turning a blind eye to tax avoidance and in the current climate of austerity continued to line their own pockets with huge pay rises whilst the rest of the public sector has had pay frozen or been closed down for good.

Times are different and whilst the answer may not be a return to that old socialism of the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s if what has happened in the likes of Greece and more closer to home, Scotland is anything to go by then there is a surge of anti-austerity feeling. There is a lack of trust in politicians. There is a ambivalence to the carefully selected suit, the pre-prepared sound-bite and the polished party-line.

That’s why there has been a “Corbyn effect”. That’s why he stands out against the same old – same old of Cooper, Burnham and Kendall and that’s why the right and their press friends and corporate cronies are desperate to portray him as a relic, a dangerous lefty, a “friend of Bin Laden” and whatever else they can throw in his direction. Should he win the Labour leadership election is he a likely election winner in 5 years time? Not necessarily perhaps, but it could be a timely last hurrah for anything approaching socialist, value driven, politics in England and Wales. The press will remain in opposition to him and the establishment figures won’t give him an easy ride, but if he can carry on what he has started, by being himself, embedding a new social agenda that can stand up against austerity, whilst credibly filling the vacuum where capitalism has failed. Then, maybe, just maybe, with that traditional left-leaning, grass roots support that fell for UKIP, the Lib Dems or simply can’t help but fall for the media spin of “the one you like but can’t win” – just maybe he can pull off one of the most dramatic political sea-changes ever brought about in UK political history.

It may be a tall order, but not impossible. I for one will be willing him on.

Britain Loves an Underdog… Sometimes.

The British love a sporting underdog. We revel in a “giant killing” in the F.A. Cup, unless it’s our team being slayed of course! We watched in our millions late into the night when Dennis Taylor, the plucky Irish funster, beat Steve Davis the boring, safe, winning machine in the last frame on the final black. More recently we cheered on Garbiñe Muguruza as she went toe-to-toe with Serena Williams in this years Wimbledon Ladies Final as she threatened to make an impossible come back from 5-1 down in the last set.

There’s an overwhelming feeling of the British sense of fair play when it comes to sport and we like to make heroes out of the unlikeliest people. Step forward Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards and any junior football team paraded annually in the local press for going a full season without winning a game and getting thrashed every week 62-0 but never giving up, tuning out every week and with the goalkeeper suffering repetitive strain injury from retrieving the ball from the back of the net so often week in, week out.

Strange then that this sense of fair play and supporting the underdog doesn’t seem to apply in other aspects of our country. London Underground workers staged a strike last week over Boris Johnson’s plans to introduce night trains. Whilst this may seem a good idea it’s somewhat of a vanity project for Boris and something he basically announced on the fly, without discussing with anyone about how it might work and probably more problematically how much it might cost.

Transport for London’s proposals to drivers terms and conditions for pulling off Boris’s night trains see drivers faced with rotas where the amounts of night shifts they face are totally set apart from any realistic work-life balance one might expect. Imagine if you suddenly faced the prospect of having to change your hours of work from the daytime to the middle of the night. Particularly, if you fancy spending time with your family when you’re not working. I’m guessing you wouldn’t be too impressed?

Surprising then the amount of vitriol against the tube workers from many in what seems to be a tale of the underdog, in this case the ordinary working tube driver, against the establishment figure and Bullingdon bully boy Boris Johnson. Ah! But look at how much they get paid and ooooh! Look at their holidays, those greedy tube drivers! Why do tube drivers get paid more than nurses? Greedy, overpaid, underworked tube drivers!!!

Strange how when we look at ordinary working people and what they are worth compared to other ordinary working people we seem to reason that X gets paid more than Y so X is totally underserving and should be only getting paid the same amount as Y. It’s the race to the bottom and the politics of envy.

The ordinary working people of Britain should be looking at the tube drivers and underground staff and lending them their full support against Boris and his tax avoiding top earning, Tory donating friends. We should applaud them too in that their perceived high wages and generous terms and conditions shouldn’t be a stick to beat them with but a model for us all to follow and fight for. The RMT Union is a strong one, perhaps the last of its kind. It shows just why all ordinary working people should join a union as a matter of course. Together, through a union, ordinary workers can be heard and have a strong powerful voice against poor working practices and the attempts by employers to treat their staff unfairly. Instead of envying tube staff, we should be using them as the model to springboard fairer wages and terms and conditions for all.

David Cameron wants to opt out of the European rules on employment rights. Those rights entitle you to fair hours, annual leave, sickness and maternity benefits, redress against unfair dismissal and so on. At a time when unions have been vilified by a right-wing media and membership is on the wane we now find ourselves in need of them more than ever as workers rights that we have all become accustomed to are under threat. London Underground workers should inspire us not anger us. Whilst austerity continues to bite, whilst the vulnerable are attacked, whilst the rich get richer and contribute the least to society as a whole and whilst the political classes merge into a faceless force for the few and not the many; let’s support Underground staff in their battle with Boris.

It’s actually a battle we all need them to win before they come after us next.

Prickly Heat

At long last summer in the UK has arrived. Get the barbecue out, set sun factor to 50 and dust off those shorts folks because we’re having a heatwave!!! Wimbledon is here, the ice cream van owner is finally smiling and turn up Cliff Richard’s “Summer Holiday” up to the max for some “fun and laughter”.

Actually, on second thoughts, best scrub the Cliff Richard bit, just to be on the safe side!No matter though because it’s officially a heatwave and time to get out those paddling pools, fill the coolbox up with ice and get the super-soakers out for some fun in the sun. Sounds great doesn’t it? It’s what we’ve all been waiting for hasn’t it? – Well, hasn’t it?!!

Perhaps not. Barely day one into this festival of sunshine and the naysayers have been out in force droning out the common British phrase, “It’s too hot!” They go on and on and on about it too. “It’s toooooooooo hot! Oh my,it’s tooooooo hot!” they say, “Oh I’m melting in this! It’s just tooooooooooo hot!!!” These will be the same people who a few days earlier will have been moaning about how wet it’s been and constantly asking the question, “where’s summer?” Waxing lyrical about how summers were better in the 70s and dismissing global warming at a stroke.

Ok, so you think you can avoid the naysayers perhaps? Possibly, but it seems these people all work in the media too. Aside from the obligatory two kids together with an ice cream shot and a scantily clad, bikini shot of Emma (22) and Claire (19) from Kent enjoying the beach, the papers aren’t exactly to sold on the weather either.

The list of sun-related problems we’re about to face makes you wish it was Christmas already (which helpfully is only 25 weeks away – hurrah!). Here’s what we need to be on the look out for as we go into “meltdown”:

  • Just surviving is going to be an issue. This hot spell only means one thing. – Death! Heatstroke, exhaustion, skin cancer, dehydration, killer bees, crazed terrorists and drowning. Probably best staying in then and seeing this out.
  • Infrastructure. It can’t cope can it? Not in this heat. The roads are going to melt like they’d been laid by the Devil himself at the Core of Hades. Trains aren’t going to fair much better either, the tracks are going to be buckled so much that a single from Liverpool to Manchester could see you ending up in Middlesbrough. Let’s face it nobody wants that!
  • Foreigners. If they’re not trying to kill you then at the very least they’re going to spoil your holiday with ferry strikes, road blockades, air traffic control disputes and generally not being able to speak English!
  • Water. No man is an island they say but thankfully Great Britain is, surrounded by water and with plenty of rain for the other 50 weeks of the year. Expect a hosepipe ban in place by the end of the week.
  • Idiocy. Let’s face it if there’s one thing we Brits are good at it’s summer idiocy. If it’s not jumping from high ledges into shallow water, or all day drink-fuelled nuisance or the classic leaving dogs with the windows shut in the car until they become a Korean delicacy. Let’s not forget the discarded cigarette that will turn half of the Yorkshire Moors to dust too. If there’s one thing we can rely on in this hot spell it is the rise of the idiot.
  • Extreme Weather. If it’s not enough that the heatwave is destined to kill you one way or another than if there’s one thing a hot spell will bring with it is thunderstorms and heavy rain. Classic cathedrals, iron waving golfers and Wile E. Coyote are all at risk from being struck by lightening. Then there’s the torrential rain and flash flooding destined to see people stranded in their cars, sheep stranded on small hills and Paul Daniels marooned in his house in the middle of the Thames unable to escape. (I thought he was a magician?) Despite this the hosepipe ban will remain in place for another three weeks.
  • Facts. Heatwaves bring stats and lots of them. If it’s not the torrential rain that will drown you, it’ll be the stats. Highest temperatures, (since records began), lowest water supplies, (since records began) greatest humidity, (since records began) and so on. Who started these records anyway? Is there a record of this? (since records began) and is there a record (since records began) of when the records began, since when records began there was probably no record of this. – (Incidentally, if I hear just how many portions of strawberries and cream will be consumed at Wimbledon this year one more time my blood, if it isn’t already in this heat, may just boil.)

So, there we go then, day one of the heatwave and just thank God you’ve survived it. Make sure you’re well prepared for the apocalyptic meltdown that we face over the next few weeks and remember be careful! It’s an arid, barren, melting-pot of boiling, burning death out there and frankly it’s just too hot!

Never Go Back

To some extent we are all stuck in the past. I suspect this intensifies the older we get. For most of us our childhood, teens and early adulthood evoke special memories. The days before responsibility and having to stand on your own two feet. We associate the “best days of our lives” with our favourite cultural reference points. It’s one of the reasons why there is so much television time based around nostalgia. You know the sort of stuff. Basically, Stuart Maconie waxing lyrical about stuff he remembers.

We all reminisce about the past, largely focusing on the best bits, quite naturally – and perhaps transforming the reality of what we remember into something far greater than the actual sum of the parts. Sometimes, we crave a return to those special times. Maybe a reunion, a visit to a particular place or a concert featuring Rick Astley.

Memories can be built on until they become the stuff of legend. They can reach a height that can never be attained again or frankly wasn’t attained in the first place. It is for this reason the phrase, “never go back” was invented. The memory of something and the subsequent hype around it becomes greater than the reality; an unachievable and unrealistic outpost clouded by our rose-tinted view of days gone by. Never go back.

Last week saw the much hyped return of Channel 4’s TFI Friday. During the 90’s it was much watch telly, featuring Chris Evans at the height of his powers, just before he went a bit loopy. It was irreverent, different, always felt a bit dangerous and was a fun way to get your weekend started on a Friday evening. – Or at least that’s how I remember it.

The much lauded comeback, one-off, special, celebration, whatever it was – it certainly wasn’t how I remembered it or how I want to remember it. It was all a bit dull, a bit too long, a bit rough around the edges and something that was probably left best alone.

Chris Evans himself is just too sane and long in the tooth these days to carry that kind of show off. Blur’s rendition of Coffee and TV was just too out of tune and unlistenable, Lewis Hamilton (the main guest of the evening, no less!) was just to boring and wooden. He makes Nigel Mansell seem positively enthusiastic. He makes watching paint dry seem an enjoyable way of passing time. He makes snooker seem like an extreme sport. Of all the guests you could have chosen to embody the spirit of TFI Friday’s golden years, Lewis Hamilton shouldn’t have made the shortlist, the long-list or within 50 miles of any list being drawn up by Channel 4.

As for Evans himself, well he’s just taken up the mantle of new Top Gear presenter following the departure of the rumbly-tummied, loose-fisted racist. He stated that the future of TFI was now in the hands of Channel 4 and seemingly passed the torch onto Radio 1’s Nick “Grimmy” Grimshaw, who promptly fluffed his lines when invited to try his hand at introducing a band on the show. An ominous moment for him.

He should never go back.

Gone to the Dogs

“Uproar”, “controversy” and “anger” are just some of the words which have been used today following the “revelation” that Britain’s Got Talent winners, Jules O’Dwyer and her “talented” dog, Matisse enlisted the help of a “stunt” double. Part of their £250,000 winning act featured Matisse walking a “tightrope” except it today emerged that it wasn’t Matisse performing that part of the act it was another, identical dog known as Chase.

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Angry viewers have beseiged social media networks crying “foul play” despite no poultry being used in the act. Others have complained that Jules, height-phobic canine, Matisse and all action stunt-pooch Chase as well as three-legged, sympathy mutt, Skippy had cheated second placed “magician” Jamie Raven out of the top prize. Skippy, was unavailable for comment but is reported to be under investigation by the Department for Work and Pensions as clearly being “fit for work”.

Underhanded dog trainer O’Dwyer explained to mythical, ageless, Scot, Lorraine Kelly that Matisse required a stunt double because of an apparent “fear of heights”. Rumours also circulated today of a long-held jealousy between the two dogs and a discrepancy in pay between them which sees Matisse earning 10 times the amount of Chase. Both dogs remained tight lipped today but were spotted taking a dump on a kids football pitch near Hackney. It also emerged that O’Dwyer will be facing investigation for impersonating a police officer, albeit “particularly badly”.

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Former Britain’s Got Talent winner and canis lupus familiaris, Pudsey, of dog act, Ashleigh and Pudsey, today issued a statement: “I, Pudsey of dog act Ashleigh and Pudsey do not wish to comment on any rival dog act, suffice to say that I can confirm I do all of my own stunts. I also don’t require a dog with a disability to make myself more popular and would like to make it abundantly clear that I am, as ever, available for panto again this year.”

Responding to the storm a source close to ITV said, “If the public feel conned by the dogs then it’s their luck out really. I mean they voted for a dog act to win a talent show! Again!!!” Laughing hysterically, the two legged, media savvy, homo-sapien continued, “Just how stupid are the British public? They even voted for a magic act when magic doesn’t even exist. Oooooh, is Hogwarts real is it?!! Magic died as entertainment as soon as Paul Daniels ditched the wig. Some people even think Teller from Penn and Teller actually can’t speak!”

Teller from Penn and Teller was unavailable for comment.