Living with dragons

In a society filled with Google Maps, MapQuest and other easy access map services, Gregory Marler de

Intense followers of the NMA awards may remember a nomination made last year for OpenStreetMap (OSM). The project, set up four years ago, involves creating a wiki-map of the world that can be modified by anyone who creates an account. Unlike other online and offline map providers, the resulting map is free to copy and use how you like, with no restrictions or fee except ensuring that you credit your changes and link back to OSM.

A free map data source like this is great for small organisations that can't afford the alternatives, but some people still question whether it's useful or required in their simple life. A couple of months after the 2007 NMA awards ceremony I was set to move up north to the beautiful city of Durham. Seeing that only the river and A1 motorway had been mapped in Durham for OSM, I decided to start an experiment.

The experiment was to live without using any maps unless I could copy, publish, and modify them without requiring explicit permission or paying. So to guide me to locations and addresses I could use: a 1948 map that was so old its copyright and usefulness had expired; and I could use OpenStreetMap, that might as well have marked the city 'Here be dragons' because no one had added the streets. To record the stresses and difficulties I experienced I set up a blog, Living with Dragons, so you can follow along and know how I'm doing.

Prior to moving to Durham and starting this experiment, I had spent slightly less than 48 hours there. Going anywhere outside the very centre would require guessing where to go or going with someone who knew. I was invited to houses of new friends but had to ask them to doodle directions from the nearest place I had previously been to.

Along with living without maps, I'm also dedicating some time to building OSM's coverage of Durham. This requires me to walk down every road and footpath I can possibly find, and by the end of it, I'll know Durham very well. But mapping an unknown area is harder than somewhere you're used to. I couldn't systematically divide up areas to map each week. Sometimes I'd map a small area but discover it to be the type of housing that is a warren of short roads and many footpaths/alleyways.

Since October I've mapped the city centre and the area to the east of it. I'm currently working to the North, and what's been done can be seen here. On June the 7th and 8th I'll be arranging a mapping party so you can come along on either or both of the days to learn what to do while helping me out.

Dragon drawing by Joyce Webb

Photo: Getty
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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.