MurrayFor years, sport in the summer months was an annual (or bi-annual) exercise in national humiliation for either England or the UK as a whole. How many Ashes defeats? How many Wimbledon whimpers? And how many deflating exits from either the World Cup or the European Championships? Most of us were raised in the shadows of legends and were taught that once upon a time we used to be the best at sports we invented, before the colonies and other countries we exported those sports to at the end of the Imperial era gradually overtook us and turned the teacher/pupil relationship upside down. A decline on the playing fields we’d laid out in the first place appeared to mirror a decline in our overall global standing, as though one was inexorably related to the other, and the past was somewhere we’d always been world champions. For endless decades, the last Brit to have won the men’s singles crown in SW19 had been before the Second World War; the name Fred Perry was once an ubiquitous yardstick TV viewers grew tired of being referenced year-after-year, yet it seemed he’d always be mentioned to remind us of our collective ineptitude at a game we become obsessed with for a solitary fortnight whenever June bleeds into July.

The England cricket team had the tables turned on it by the Aussies quite early, losing its first Test match to the uppity Antipodeans as far back as 1882; this prompted the infamous mock obituary that proclaimed ‘the death of English cricket’ following the defeat at the Oval, and gave birth to the Ashes series. The England football team managed to sustain the illusion a little longer, until overconfidence was punctured by two severe lessons in the early 1950s – a 1-0 loss to the amateurs of the USA at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, and the 6-3 thrashing by Hungary at Wembley in 1953 (which was England’s first defeat on home soil by Continental opposition since 1066). The latter result coming in the wake of the morale-boosting conquest of Everest served as a telling reminder that our spell on top of the world wasn’t destined to last long.

Of course, the England football team recovered and eventually did the business in 1966; but thereafter it was a slow slide back into international ignominy – the 3-2 loss to the West Germans in the 1970 World Cup after being 2-0 up; being outclassed by an even better German side 3-1 at Wembley in the 1972 European Championships; and then the ultimate humiliation, failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup with a 1-1 draw against Poland in 1973, a result that cost Sir Alf his job. To make matters worse, that World Cup was to be held in West Germany, and even worse (from an English perspective) the Scots had qualified. Yet, the whole country having to drape itself in tartan then became the new narrative of national failure. Despite having an abundance of talent at its disposal in terms of players who had lifted every club trophy north and south of the border (as well as in Europe), the Scotland teams we had little choice but to support in 1974 and 1978 heaped further humiliation on the nation, failing to get past the group stage on both occasions and producing some memorably embarrassing score-lines in the process.

My childhood exposure to summer sport on a national level was one characterised by bewilderment and questions. I wondered why England never qualified for the World Cup, why only British women occasionally won Wimbledon (though even that ended with Virginia Wade in 1977), and why the Aussies always won the Ashes. It was probably a good life lesson, actually, to realise that you can’t always get what you want – even if it would’ve been nice to have got it every once in a while. Any tiny sign that we might have sired a world-beater was grabbed with gusto. Although the tally of Great British gold medals at the first few Olympic Games I saw was pretty pitiful (never exceeding more than 5 from Munich in 1972 and plunging to a nadir of just the one at Atlanta in 1996), it probably helped propel the elite athletes who did get their hands on gold to levels of fame they’d otherwise have evaded – even if it also contributed towards the risible comedy cult of Eddie ‘The Eagle’, who was celebrated for being crap and accelerated the tedious ‘Plucky Brit’ narrative.

In sports not associated with the summer months we seemed to do better. We were always good at Formula One, for example, with the likes of Jackie Stewart and James Hunt crowned world champions during my formative years; and in boxing we appeared to have several champs in different weights, even if the one everybody wanted – the heavyweight – remained impervious to our efforts, despite the likes of Joe Bugner, Richard Dunn and Frank Bruno all having a shot. We were no better come the time of year when strawberries & cream were the delicacy of choice. After Roger Taylor reached three Wimbledon semis between 1967 and 1973, there then followed an interminably lengthy period in which futile hopes rested with the likes of John Lloyd or Jeremy Bates, both of whom the viewer knew would wilt when confronted by a genuine world-beater – and they always did. And then Tim Henman appeared out of nowhere.

Despite looking and sounding like a member of the Shadow Cabinet from the years when the Tories were cast out into Opposition, and despite attracting the kind of unhinged granny fan-base that camps outside London hospitals for days when a royal birth is imminent, on court Henman exceeded every expectation bar one. Four Wimbledon semis between 1998 and 2002 was undoubtedly impressive considering what had preceded him, yet he just couldn’t cross that line into the final. What Britain needed at Wimbledon was the kind of figure that had given English cricket a kick up the arse in the 80s, Ian Botham. The immortal Ashes turnaround of 1981 made ‘Beefy’ an old-fashioned ‘Boys Own’ national hero, with Botham not only socking it to the Aussies but the stuffy old MCC fossils as well; his off-the-field antics also played their part in his legend, and it was a long time before English cricket again came close to the heights it had scaled with its best all-rounder leading the charge. It was hard to imagine an Englishman bringing that to the refined arena of Wimbledon, so perhaps it took a Scot to do it.

A contrast with gentleman Henman’s Home Counties niceness, Andy Murray’s rages at himself when a shot went astray was a joy to behold as a Brit. Here was a player with fire in his belly and a will to win none of us had ever seen before. His progress up the world rankings was rapid, reaching his first Grand Slam final in 2008 (the US Open) and the first of three consecutive Wimbledon semis the following year. In 2012, he went one better and became the first post-war male Brit to reach the singles final, though couldn’t make it past the immovable object of Roger Federer; however, that same year he did achieve a unique double of the US Open and Olympic gold. A year later, the British hoodoo was smashed when Murray won Wimbledon, beating the mighty Novak Djokovic in straight sets; a second Wimbledon win followed in 2016, with Murray’s glorious battles becoming intrinsic to the Great British Summer for a good few years in the 2010s.

The 2012 Olympics in London was a pretty qualified success for this country on many levels, not least the amount of medals won (including 29 gold) that placed us third on the final board; investment in British athletics from the Olympic low of 1996 onwards had paid off. The England cricket team’s memorably dramatic 2019 World Cup win (reminiscent of that edge-of-the-seat Ashes triumph in 2005), when placed alongside the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and Murray’s achievements, could put forward the argument that the 2010s were British summer sport’s golden age. The one area in which we continued to struggle on the global stage was football. Anyone who witnessed the atrocious capitulation to the minnows of Iceland at the 2016 Euros cannot fail to be impressed at the transformation overseen by Gareth Southgate’s management since then. A World Cup semi in 2018 and now one step closer to completing something my generation (the first with no memory of 1966) has had to live without longer than any other. And all we have to do is beat Italy…

© The Editor




SkeletonThere are many advantages to having one foot in the analogue age and the other in the digital; but perhaps the best is that you come to the latter as a fully-formed adult having avoided growing up in public. At one time, the only individuals whose lives were ‘Truman Show’-like open books from birth were the children of celebrities or those at the front of the queue when it came to Royal Succession; with the advent of social media, the goldfish bowl previously reserved for the unenviable elite has expanded to become a global housing estate. It’s now customary for parents-to-be to post scans of their foetuses, followed by galleries of their newborn cherubs, and then for each stage of the toddler’s evolution to be documented online. The narcissistic assumption that everyone beyond family is as captivated by the process as the parents used to be manifested as an exclusive treat for the luckless physical visitor, condemned to perusing a photo album featuring a thousand-and-one variations on a boring theme. Today, however, the whole world can share in this dubious honour.

And, of course, as junior comes into the world cyber-literate, it is second nature for him or her that every phase of their development will be performed on the cyberspace stage, even when they wrestle a degree of control from mummy and daddy. In this climate, every proclamation, observation and statement that might later lead to personal embarrassment is something that can henceforth be invoked by anyone. By contrast, those born on the preferable side of the digital divide can rest easy in the knowledge that only the few comprising our circle of friends and acquaintances at the time were exposed to any toe-curling embarrassments – and most have probably long since forgotten them. Thoughts expressed in private diaries seen only by the author were secure in their anonymity and, unless captured on video or audio, any such thoughts aired publicly were transient moments as ephemeral as a theatrical production seen by nobody but those present at the performance. The ‘digital generation’ have no such get-out-of-jail card; their equivalent moments are preserved forever.

Anybody with the merest semblance of curiosity about life does not remain rigidly set in stone when it comes to their views and opinions; as you learn and experience more of what life has to offer, one’s perspective on all it can afford alters and adapts to the new surroundings. Therefore, the person I am today is not the person I was as recent as five years ago, let alone twenty-five years ago and certainly not forty-five years ago; in the case of the latter, it would be exceptionally odd if I hadn’t changed, for I’d be the oldest schoolboy in the world. I never trust anybody whose views and opinions freeze around the age of 18 and remain the same thereafter – probably the main reason why I was never convinced by Jeremy Corbyn, who still emits the naive air of a gap-year Marxist (which perhaps explains his appeal to adolescent graduates). I have very little evidence of what I thought and believed at 18, though the fact the archive is so depleted reflects the fact I was the sole curator of it; nobody else was interested enough to keep records and there was no digital platform in existence at the time to preserve the documentation on my behalf. Thank God for that. The memory is enough – and I can keep that to myself.

Okay, so it’s not as if I was a card-carrying member of the National Front or in the Rick Astley Fan Club – my crimes were not so diabolical; but I remember thinking, saying and writing things down at 18 that I couldn’t disagree with more today. Yet, that’s okay; there’s nothing wrong with that – in fact, it’s perfectly natural and normal that I should now be of the opinion that I knew f***-all at 18, because I didn’t whilst simultaneously thinking I knew everything. That is the prerogative of the teenager, and I’m wise enough now to cut him some slack and not condemn him retrospectively. As far as the wider world is concerned, I was born at some point in the early 2010s and whoever I was before that is irrelevant to the person cyberspace knows as Victoria Lucas or Petunia Winegum or Johnny Monroe. It doesn’t matter. It has absolutely no bearing on who I am now unless I choose to pen a post like this, in which I am drawing on my pre-online life to make a point. And even then, none of you knew me before I appeared online, so I could be simply spinning a yarn and taking artistic licence with my own personal history; who’s to know, and what does it really matter? There is no contradictory proof either way, so I remain the curator, director and dictator of my own archive.

It doesn’t seem that long since Jared O’Mara, the Labour MP who’d ousted Nick Clegg at the 2017 General Election, was suspended from the Party when a series of decade-old comments he’d made online resurfaced. These juvenile opinions on everyone from Girls Aloud to gays to Danes and Spaniards were characteristic here-today/gone-tomorrow observations of the cyber-literate millennial unfortunate to have their typical teenage bullshit stored away for a rainy day without them realising it. The cockiness that comes with early adulthood is generally mirrored in the instant reaction to issues or personalities of the day, a reaction that tends to emanate from the gut rather than the head. The 21st century is especially cruel in that it never forgets and rarely takes into account that whatever gut reaction yer average 18-year-old might make at the time doesn’t necessarily mean that remains his or her reaction to the particular topic under discussion for all eternity. And in the unusual instances when it does, one can safely assume that the individual in question has none of that curiosity for life which is essential for growth, maturity and wisdom.

The pious contemporary practice of holding every adult responsible for whatever they said when they were still a work-in-progress adolescent has made the headlines again this past week in the case of England cricketer Ollie Robinson. The 27-year-old vice-captain of Sussex was just days into his international Test career when ‘offensive tweets’ dating from almost ten years ago were dredged-up and have now resulted in Robinson being dropped from the England team after a solitary cap. Robinson was unlucky to be selected for his country smack bang in the middle of British sport’s across-the-board ‘Wokeification’; this is a moment when England football manager Gareth Southgate fails to grasp precisely why genuine football fans are booing the misguided, middle-class governing body’s attempts to uphold the virtue-signalling gestures it could get away with in empty stadiums. Ollie Robinson is being held to account for allegedly ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’ online comments he made back in 2012 and 2013, and one has to wonder what possible relevance they might have to a man in his late 20s who one presumes has changed his perspective a little since he was 19.

Robinson made the customary public apology when the archaic tweets surfaced, and even the Sports Minister Oliver Dowden had accused the ECB of going ‘over the top’ in suspending Robinson for something he said so long ago. But perhaps the most telling example of where we are now came via the comments of the England captain Joe Root. ‘We all have to keep looking to educate ourselves,’ he said, ‘trying to be inclusive as we can, and keep making everyone feel comfortable to play the wonderful sport we have.’ ‘Educate ourselves’ – how fittingly Critical Race Theory; let’s start from the belief that everyone is racist and work our way back from that, eh? Were Ollie Robinson dim enough to stand by whatever he said as a teenager, he’d be deserving of a slap on the wrist; but he’d have to be pretty bloody dim if he did, and it doesn’t seem he is. Not that this matters, though. The assumption appears to be that everyone’s closet is crammed with skeletons, even if we’ve not opened its doors for a decade or more. The fact those skeletons are in there indicates we are all perpetual sinners – for if the evidence is online, it must be true.

© The Editor


As referenced in a recent post, less than a month from now we will apparently be in a new decade. This used to be cause for both reflection and celebration, but any attempt at it now might come across as somewhat forced. Television viewers became accustomed to the ten-year review on or around New Year’s Eve whenever we reached the end of such a cycle. I can remember watching those shows in 1979 and 1989, whereas 1999 had an excuse to cast its nostalgic net far wider – stretching over both the twentieth century and the previous thousand years. The 1990s were somewhat short-changed as a result; but that in itself was probably about right. Before the 90s ended, we were already entering a more homogenised world in which the old custom of each decade being distinctive from its predecessor was becoming redundant as a cultural touchstone.

If the 1990s had any lasting cultural impact, it was through both building on what had been developed during the decade before and laying the ground for what was to come. The manufacturing of, say, The Spice Girls, echoed the way in which Madonna had packaged herself in the 80s, but was done so with more clinical cynicism; the difference between the pop star and the tin of baked beans was even less evident. Once Ginger, Sporty and the rest were split into separate acts, the limitations of talent that gluing them together had just about masked was laid bare. No wonder they now seem to be engaged in perpetual reunion tours. However, the lesson of how they had been so spectacularly marketed as a triumph of energetic enthusiasm and grasping hunger for fame and fortune over having something to say was not lost on Simon Cowell. And if the way in which he has ruthlessly reduced a once-viable and valuable art form into a commodity indistinguishable from a packet of fish fingers defines this decade, so be it.

I suppose, from a British perspective, certain moments jump out from murky memory if one is asked to sum up the last ten years. The ‘I agree with Nick’ General Election of 2010 that opened the decade, and the Coalition and Austerity that kept its first five years on a tight, miserable leash; the 2012 London Olympics that momentarily restored a fragile equilibrium following the previous summer’s riots; the shock result of the 2016 EU Referendum that has more or less dictated discourse and discontent ever since – certainly, if pressed for an instant response, I guess all of these would loom fairly large. But – bar the odd euphoric moment in the Olympics – it’s not like recalling Beatlemania or Mods & Rockers or Psychedelia or Glam Rock or Punk Rock or anything else that still has the power to energise and inspire.

If anyone who didn’t actually live through the 1960s thinks of the 1960s, the instant imagery that appears has essentially been shaped by documentaries produced after the event; as has always been the case with the Second World War for those who didn’t fight it, the 60s has been kept alive by documentation in the shape of film and sound recording in a way that past centuries miss out on. How wonderful it would be to see and hear the likes of Dickens or Napoleon or – if we travel further back in time – Shakespeare or Elizabeth I; but their images exist solely as either faded photographs or oil paintings – something that undoubtedly distances them further and places them in a different realm to the one we inhabit. We can’t see them move or hear their voices, and I often think the mediums that really came into their own in the second half of the last century played their part in keeping the genuinely transformative decades present tense – and if you stand those decades alongside this century’s efforts, the 2000s and 2010s inevitably pale.

When it comes to the popular culture that always seemed to push things forward, we also have to now acknowledge that the 60s, 70s and 80s were anomalies in which a pace of change previously spread over a century was condensed into not much more than thirty years. Talk of decades as individual entities with their own unique look, sound and style is an entirely relevant approach when describing that trio; but it doesn’t fit now. This decade that’s poised to conk out in a few weeks has felt like an extension of everywhere the world has been since 9/11 – and it appears to grow more depressing with each passing twelve months. And this isn’t an ‘old man’ wistfully looking back on his youth either; I probably hated living through the 80s more than I’ve hated living through the 2010s. If anything, all the happiest moments of my adult life have taken place this decade; but that doesn’t alter the fact that it still doesn’t feel like one in the tradition of the decades I grew up in.

Whichever political party is sworn-in as the Government in just over a week from now – and, bar some unforeseen sensational development or the dreaded Hung Parliament, I think we can safely guess which one it will be – the decade to come will open under the same black cloud that has hung over this one; and it’s difficult to discern when, or if, it will clear and the sun will come out again. Of course, life has a habit of springing surprises on us when we’re not expecting them, so something could happen that might hold this post up in five years’ time as woefully inaccurate in its pessimistic predictions. But most of the surprises life has sprung on us recently haven’t really been that great, and unless World President Thunberg discovers gold flowing through Antarctica in 2025 and we all receive our equal fair share, the 2020s may well turn out to be just like the 2010s – only not as good.

BOB WILLIS (1949-2019)

Stanley Matthews, forever endearingly modest when it came to his own outstanding talent on the football field, always visibly winced whenever the 1953 FA Cup Final was referred to as ‘The Matthews Final’; his assertion was that it should be known as ‘The Mortensen Final’, as Blackpool’s centre forward scored a hat-trick to bring his team from 3-1 down to beat Bolton Wanderers 4-3. But it was the dazzling skill of the Wizard of the Wing that played a vital role in Blackpool’s memorable comeback and rewarded Matthews with his only medal in a remarkable career that spanned the era from the Great Depression to the Swinging 60s.

What this shows is how an individual with star presence can stamp his name on a sporting occasion that grows in stature the further away we travel from it, even if it tends to overshadow equally important roles played by team-mates. Such was the position Bob Willis – whose death at the age of 70 has been announced – tended to find himself in ever since the legendary Ashes series of 1981. The Surrey, Warwickshire and England bowler played an immensely significant part in reversing an anticipated whitewash by the Aussies at Headingley. Known both at the time and ever since as ‘Botham’s Ashes’ in recognition of the undoubted impact of England’s great all-rounder, Willis nevertheless made an important contribution.

He took eight wickets for 43 runs during that Test, a career-best performance that helped England wrench victory from the jaws of defeat. By his own admission, the lanky Tom Baker lookalike was often secretly listening to his musical hero Bob Dylan on his Walkman during team talks in the dressing room; but that didn’t affect his determined focus as he charged towards the Aussie batsmen during that match at Headingley, something Ian Botham himself often remarks upon whenever 1981 is mentioned; and when it comes to Ian Botham, 1981 does get mentioned rather a lot. But the part Bob Willis played in one of the all-time great sporting comebacks means his name should never be far from the retrospective scorecard either.

© The Editor


A recent silly little video of mine (yes, I still make them, albeit not for YouTube) recalled those ‘occasional day’s holidays’ schools sparingly dished out to their grateful pupils; unlike the Bank Holidays or General Elections that closed the school gates, these rare gifts weren’t dictated by government, but by the schools themselves – ‘teacher training day’ being one of the mysterious euphemisms regularly employed as an excuse to give us all a 24-hour break from the grind. Back then, those of us whose parents were both in work were left to our own devices without fear of legal reprisals; but should the occasional day’s holiday unfortunately coincide with a day in which one parent happened to be at home, the sense of elation would be somewhat muted.

A day with mum, for example, would usually include being dragged to the shops – the shops in question being all the boring ones, of course; M&S, BHS and C&A were the dreaded triumvirate of tedium for a child, especially if mother’s intention was to procure an ‘outfit’ for said offspring with birthday parties, weddings, christenings and Christmas in mind; being transformed into a minor member of The Partridge Family was not necessarily high on the wish-list of many little boys in the 1970s, but it had a habit of happening whenever mother and son were left together.

A day with dad had its own horrors, mind. If father was feeling particularly restless, this could involve a trip to that dismal temple of misplaced masculine aspirations, the DIY store; this in turn might be followed by a ‘lunchtime pint’, which meant yours truly being handed a glass of lemonade in an empty beer garden whilst dad’s drink was consumed indoors at a strangely sedate pace. Therefore, the lesser of the available evils consisted of father strapping himself into the armchair and watching a continuous stream of live cricket. And to me at the time, cricket seemed to be a sport that spanned the entire day.

It appeared to start around 11 o’clock in the morning and would, in many cases, still be on around 7.30 in the evening – yet whenever I caught a glimpse of the screen it never looked like anything was happening. A vast expanse of green with most of it going to waste as lots of static men in white (who apparently shared a barber with either David Coleman or David Soul) stood around and occasionally broke into a brief sprint. The appeal was beyond me, especially when its marathon monopoly of the box meant I missed ‘Scooby Doo’ on the other side. Yes, the soporific ambience might be enlivened by the sudden apparition of a pissed naked man dashing across the pitch and attempting to leapfrog the wickets; otherwise, I couldn’t understand how it could hold my father’s attention, for this was the original ‘Slow TV’. At least football moved.

Yet, the names stuck; a child’s head has plenty of space for storage, and the roll-call of cricketers from the era claimed a good deal of that space through extensive exposure, so much so that even now – all these endless decades later – the mere mention of Tony Grieg or Geoff Boycott or Jeff Thomson or Dennis Lillee or Clive Lloyd is enough to evoke the moment as effectively as a few bars of anything by 10cc or ELO; ditto the distinctive tones of the men who described events to the viewer or listener – Laker, Benaud, Arlott, Trueman, Johnners – poets of the airwaves who imbued the sport and its numerous beguiling terms with a mellifluous, mystical resonance as potent as the locations on the shipping forecast. I didn’t get any of it as a child, but it makes more sense now – well, almost.

Looking back, it’s astonishing to realise this all-day, ad-free cricket coverage once shared the schedules with the Wimbledon fortnight and the two-year alternating of the World Cup and the Olympics; throw in a bit of golf or Formula One and it’s a wonder how a paltry pair of BBC TV channels managed to squeeze it all in without a red button or an iPlayer. But they did. And the only cost to the viewer was the licence fee. Yesterday, we had a trio of major sporting occasions going out live on free-to-air TV for the first time in a long time; aside from the frustrating failure of the respective governing bodies in ensuring their showcase events generated maximum viewing figures by not being staged simultaneously, it was still a refreshing change, if a tantalising one.

Boxing was the first sport I recall taking the bait of the satellite groomers around 30 years ago; I’d tuned-in to the big fights ever since the classic Ali events of the 70s, but the disappearance of pugilistic pursuits from the mainstream took my interest with it; I couldn’t name you a single world champion of any weight today. Football had been the initial beneficiary of the breaking of the BBC/ITV cartel, of course; but the reassuring presence of the traditional Saturday night highlights package as well as FA Cup coverage meant the loss of live league games didn’t have a negative impact on the popularity of the sport – if anything, the opposite applied. Yet, the national game was always going to do alright; not so its summer replacement.

It was a while before cricket followed suit, but the unforgettable Ashes series of 2005 was the last time live cricket graced the screens of non-subscribers. Whilst it’s understandable a sport that struggles to pay its way at county level went for the big bucks in the hope the money would filter down from the one-day glamour competitions, half-empty grounds with few faces under 40 isn’t exactly promising for tomorrow’s prospects. The selling-off of so many school playing fields has combined with a generation of casual viewers being denied stumbling onto the game during the same period to put cricket’s future in a precarious position. Yesterday’s staggering spectacle at Lord’s was surely the most encouraging advert for the sport that the ICC could have wished for; it would be foolhardy to let the opportunity to capitalise on it slip away from terrestrial broadcasters again, as happened in 2005. Cricket once more has the chance to benefit that desirable demographic so beloved of the Labour Party, ‘the many, not the few’.

There’s no doubt – as has recently been proven with the Women’s World Cup – that daily exposure on free-to-air TV enables a sporting tournament to capture the attention of the nation. For all the choice now available, terrestrial television remains the main recruitment tool for sport when it comes to ensnaring novices; subscribers are already converts. Indeed, would the annual Great British love affair with events in SW19 continue to fill the tennis courts of the country’s municipal parks every summer had Wimbledon gone the way cricket went? Yes, it could be argued that the game’s lengthy absence from free-to-air TV screens has further enhanced radio coverage and the legend of ‘Test Match Special’; and those who do subscribe would probably agree the likes of Sky and BT have successfully rebranded certain unlikely sports as ‘sexy’. But to give any sport exclusive coverage on a channel requiring subscription threatens to turn it into a minority interest that permanently excludes the majority – both today’s and tomorrow’s.

© The Editor


Are policemen getting younger or are you getting older? Is the English football season kicking-off earlier every year or…no, balls to that! It is kicking-off too bloody early this time round – far too bloody early. Granted, we have another seven days before the pampered Prima Donnas of the Premier League are chauffeur driven through the gold-plated gates of their millionaire mansions and deign to breathe the same air as the common people for ninety minutes again; but that will still only be August 11. This weekend, English football’s pimp – otherwise known as television – again fires the starting pistol for a marathon that will take us all the way to next summer’s World Cup in Russia; the three Football League divisions have a week’s start on the Premier League, and their campaign opens this evening.

Domestic football is not, and never should be, a summer sport. The bi-annual international tournaments are different, and the fact we have the granddaddy of them all at the end of the 2017/18 season is perhaps why this season gets underway just four days into August. The traditional curtain-raiser to the top division’s very own marathon, the match between last season’s champions and FA Cup winners that most of us prefer to refer to by its old name of the Charity Shield, takes place on Sunday (not Saturday, heaven forbid!); and the Premier League kicks-off proper next…er…Friday.

Although there’s always an overlap between the cricket season and the football season at either end, it never feels quite right when they’re being played simultaneously; it’s an uneasy, jarring combination – a bit like listening to Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ during a heat-wave in July or anything by The Beach Boys in December. When the football season is galloping towards a (hopefully) exciting climax – with promotion and relegation places still up for grabs and everything in the balance – the second half of the season has been building up to such a frenetic pace that there’s no time to catch one’s breath. It then appears anachronistic that in the thick of this high-speed race to football’s finishing post, the first day of plodding play at Headingley is taking place, greeted by a smattering of old geezers armed with packed lunches and brollies.

The chasm between the two sports is partly the nature of the climate in which they are supposed to be played. True, rain regularly stops play in cricket during those chilly early weeks of the county game and the opening day of every football season is usually bathed in blazing sunshine; but the erratic temperament of the English summer aside, that unpredictable bridge between spring and autumn can occasionally produce the kind of weather entirely conducive to leather-on-willow, not to mention the sedate commentary of ‘Test Match Special’ rather than the hysterical castrato that goalmouth action can inspire on ‘Match of the Day’.

Both sports are so associated with the time of year in which they’ve traditionally taken place that whenever the football season impinges upon cricket’s turf, it almost makes football appear to be a narcissistic, scene-stealing actor, unwilling to allow any other member of the cast to grab the audience’s attention while he has no lines. When the England cricket team are busy playing a home Test series against South Africa, football should just let them get on with it and be gracious enough to grant them their brief moment under the spotlight before being edged off-stage by the plunge back into 24/7 fanatical coverage spanning eight or nine whole months that football regards as an entitlement. Few pay attention when the cricket season creeps into view, right at the moment when the football season is reaching its dramatic climax; yet football thinks nothing of gate-crashing cricket’s place in the sun.

If I want to evoke the sound of a childhood summer, I only have to hear the voices of John Arlott, Jim Laker or Richie Benaud and I’m there; if I want to evoke the sound of a childhood autumn or winter, I hear the voices of John Motson, Barry Davies or Brian Moore. These individual voices are as associated with a specific time of year as an Easter egg or a harvest festival. Each has its proper place and its seasonal relevance, but perhaps the way in which lines drawn in the sand that always divided the respective seasons have been blurred in recent years – particularly where the retail sector is concerned – has been compounded by the increasing extension of the overlap between cricket and football every August.

Come September, October and (especially) November, I will be as hooked as everyone else with a semblance of interest in the football season; the nights drawing in, the clocks going back and the fire being switched-on are rituals that perfectly complement the football season at its grimy, gritty best, when men are separated from the boys on muddy quagmires and teams scrap for scalps as the money-spinning prospect of the Third Round of the FA Cup hovers into view. There’s a kind of masochistic pleasure in anticipating the worst of the winter, knowing it will pass and that spring is waiting at the finishing line. If a team can survive January and February unscathed, the prize is all the sweeter come March and April.

Yes, when the Ashes are staged in Australia, they take place in the incongruous environs of a Southern Hemisphere winter; but that’s the other side of the world, and it’s permissible as a result. One couldn’t imagine county cricket being played on English pitches in November, so why should we have to invite the football season into our homes at the beginning of August, when we’re neither prepared nor bothered? It’s arrived at the party ahead of everyone else and hasn’t even brought a bottle with it, despite being able to afford an entire wine cellar. That’s just not cricket.

© The Editor


Well, exactly one year ago today we were all about to wake up to the news that a majority of the Great British Public had voted to leave the European Union. At the time, this blog showcased a variety of views pre-vote, and I welcomed them all into what I hoped would be perceived as a healthy forum for the great debate of our times. Twelve months on, the subject remains on the tip of that same public’s tongue, though the phrase ‘Brexit’ has become so ubiquitous that I have to admit I’m pretty sick of it. The General Election of just over a fortnight ago was called in order that Theresa May could strengthen her position when it came to orchestrating the actual physical withdrawal from the EU, and the inconclusive result of that campaign speaks volumes as to how divisive the issue has remained ever since June 23/24 last year.

For all Nigel Farage’s understandable euphoria when he saw his life’s work finally succeed, Britain’s ‘Independence Day’ didn’t necessarily mean everything changed in the space of 24 hours. We’ve had a year to get used to the result, though it’s only been in the past week that a Minister from the UK Parliament has actually sat down with the Brussels mandarins and begun negotiations; we’ve still got two years of this to look forward to. The result was more or less as close as the result of the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014 and the reaction of many whose vote wasn’t on the winning side has been similarly ill-tempered and emitting a distinctly malodorous odour of sour grapes.

A rash of hissy-fit protests in the wake of the vote and then the emergence of figures such as Gina Miller have served to intensify divisions that even led to a tediously-vocal audience member being ejected from the ‘Question Time’ audience last Thursday. If the EU Referendum exposed divisions in the UK that had been fermenting for decades, the General Election has simply reinforced them.

The glaring divide between young and old on this issue has been simplified in characteristic tabloid fashion both in the actual tabloids and on television, though the divisions distinguishing the metropolitan mafia of Westminster bigwigs and media commentators from those residing outside of the self-contained M25 bubble are more prescient. A lazy assumption that to vote Leave was somehow the exclusive province of Britain First-supporting white working-class bigots or racist pensioners is typical of numerous distortions propagated over the past year; in reality, many British-born Asians voted Leave, some doing so because they believed Britain’s traditional loyalties lie with the Commonwealth rather than Eastern Europe.

A year on, many who didn’t pick the winning horse (not all of whom belonged to any ‘elite’) have accepted the result with good grace and are grown-up enough to acknowledge that a democratic vote doesn’t always side with the way you yourself voted; some, however, cling to the slim hope that the will of the people can somehow be overturned and what they regard as common sense will prevail in the end. These dissenting voices stretch from Europhile Tory grandees like Clarke and Heseltine to the aforementioned Miller and the conscience-stricken Christian Lib Dem ex-leader Tim Farron. Their determination that a so-called ‘Soft Brexit’ will preserve membership of the Single Market and Customs Union, therefore enabling free movement of labour to continue, flies in the face of the immigration issue that was so pivotal to the Leave vote in the first place; but as much as their argument effectively negates the actual result, any ‘Hard Brexit’ strategy has been trashed by the failure of Theresa May to achieve a majority in the Commons.

The problem with Brexit as far as most people are concerned is that they still don’t know what it fully entails; the simplistic Remain/Leave option on the ballot paper a year ago has become so ambiguous and open to so many interpretations in the last twelve months that it has allowed both sides to fill in the blank spaces with their own notions of what it should mean. It’ll take another couple of years before the full ramifications of the decision that claimed the head of a serving Prime Minister (and May well claim the head of another) are fully understood, and by then who knows what this country will resemble? As a means of healing divisions, Brexit remains an unconvincing Superglue.


There’s something about cricket that lends itself to a certain kind of voice. John Arlott, Johnners, Jim Laker, Fred Trueman, Richie Benaud, and Henry Blofeld – none of these great gentlemen could have commentated on football or rugby league, for example. The fast-paced nature of both those sports was suited to immortal voices belonging to the likes of Brian Moore or Eddie Waring – the former able to capture goalmouth action with such a memorable level of fevered excitement that it ensured Jim Montgomery’s miraculous save from Peter Lorimer in the ’73 Cup Final would be incomplete without him; and the latter perfectly complementing what was once a gritty, grubby sport played on cold, muddy pitches with a bullish northern delivery that was never better expressed than when Wakefield Trinity’s Don Fox missed a penalty kick in the dying seconds of the ’68 Challenge Cup Final that handed the cup to Leeds – ‘eeh, the poor lad’.

Cricket, with its often soporific interludes and evocation of quintessential English summer serenity, requires a different kind of commentary, and with all of its past poets now gone, ‘Blowers’ was one of the last of the old school still elucidating at will on long-wave. Alas, no more. Blofeld has announced his retirement from ‘Test Match Special’ with the end of the current cricket season in September. His diction is pure pre-war and why not? Estuary English has no place in cricket and it remains one of the lingering bastions of unfashionable pronunciation that is allowed because it implies a certain eccentricity in the context of a sport that, certainly at county and Test Match level, refuses to adhere to the hyper pace of modern life. And even if you don’t like cricket, it’s hard to deny such a rare precious anachronism in the twenty-first century must be embraced.

Blofeld, whose father was at school with Ian Fleming and therefore no doubt provided the surname for James Bond’s nemesis, has been a fixture of radio’s most mellifluous sports broadcast since 1974 and it’s as hard to imagine TMS without him as it once was to imagine it without his illustrious predecessors and one-time fellow commentators. It turns out he’s ‘only’ 77; I imagined him to be closer to 100, but maybe that’s merely due to the voice, which betrays an admirable immunity to healthy living as recommended by government guidelines. But it will go on. As will he – one hopes. England needs him.

© The Editor