BBC SingersFor those not in the know, the BBC Singers are the UK’s sole professional chamber choir; perhaps lack of competition has enabled this ensemble to remain a revered fixture of the country’s Classical furniture for the best part of a century, but it also means people take notice when such unique BBC employees feel the brunt of their employer’s diminishing commitment to the highbrow. A couple of years ago, it was announced that the BBC Concert Orchestra would be dispatched to the wilds of the provinces as yet another token gesture in the ongoing (and increasingly tedious) operation to make the Beeb less ‘London-centric’; but this week an even more dispiriting sign of these BBC times came with the announcement that the BBC Singers are to be disbanded before the start of this year’s Proms, just a year before reaching their landmark 100th birthday; another penny-pinching body blow to the declining morale of these unsung old retainers was the announcement that salaries for members of the English BBC orchestras will be slashed by 20%.

Axing the BBC Singers was described in one newspaper article as an ‘act of vandalism’; BBC DG Tim Davie was the recipient of a joint letter penned by several Classical luminaries, declaring the intended cuts to be ‘irreversible and catastrophically damaging plans’; the BBC’s response reads: ‘Since 1922 we’ve been an integral part of the Classical music ecology in this country, and in order for us to continue to be a leading force in the industry, we need to modernise, make some necessary and difficult changes to the way we operate to ensure we are responding to audience needs and provide the best possible music to the widest possible audience.’ That statement just stops short of masking its meaning in Birt-speak buzzwords, but bearing in mind the self-destructive path the BBC seems determined to stick to, one wonders if their remaining ensembles will be restructured so that they will henceforth hire not on musical merit, but on box-ticking diversity/inclusivity grounds; perhaps ‘The BBC Rainbow Orchestra’ will eventually emerge from the ashes.

Naturally, the ominous spectre of the licence fee looms over every bumbling move the BBC makes these days as it struggles to justify its existence, and in the process has a habit of forgetting what made it special in the first place. The BBC’s nine musical ensembles may be a legacy of the old Reithian principles that regarded broadcasting as a moral mission to raise the artistic appreciation of the nation, and are viewed by some (especially within the BBC itself) as an anachronistic luxury; yet their continued presence in the face of the relentless dumbing-down that has characterised the Corporation in recent years has been something of a minor victory, particularly when compared to the fate of BBC4, a channel that for a good decade or more was the last remaining bastion of the Beeb’s once-peerless television output.

Now, rather than playing the long game of starving them out, the BBC has instead decided to disband its Singers in the same week as its somewhat kneejerk decision to hand a P45 to a grossly-overpaid star following the latest in a lengthy litany of gormless missives on social media. The fact the Beeb would have happily carried on paying Gary Lineker’s astronomical wages had his current comments on illegal immigrants not landed the Corporation in one more row with the Government that it could desperately do without says as much about its priorities as cutting the salaries of the BBC orchestras. Okay, so BBC TV’s football coverage commands far higher ratings than the listening figures for Radio 3; but we’re not talking about ITV or Channel 5, are we? Isn’t the BBC supposed to amount to more than merely chasing ratings?

Gary Lineker has been a bit of a repeat offender for quite some time; remembering I once wrote a post on here about his Twitter activities, I was surprised to learn when I tracked it down that it had been written as far back as December 2016; in a way, that shows just how long the BBC has tolerated his off-air utterances. As with Jeremy Clarkson before him, it seems the Beeb will allow the front-men of their most profitable franchises to get away with stretching the Corporation’s supposed ‘impartiality’ to breaking point for years until one incident too many provokes enough outraged headlines for a favourite son to be shown the door. I suppose the main difference between Lineker and Clarkson’s positions is that the latter was popular with that section of the viewing public the BBC disdains, whereas the former is a darling of all that the BBC bigwigs hold dear; one suspects they’d been keen to get rid of an embarrassment like Clarkson for years but didn’t dare, whilst losing Lineker was the last thing they wanted. However, unlike ‘Top Gear’ – which has failed to thrive since Clarkson’s departure – ‘Match of the Day’ will survive Gary Linker just as it survived David Coleman, Jimmy Hill and Des Lynam; viewers don’t tune in for the presenter or the pundits; they tune in to watch the games.

From all accounts, the entire commentary team of ‘Match of the Day’ have walked out in solidarity with Lineker; moreover, this Saturday’s edition will have neither presenter nor pundits as it seems Lineker’s sofa mafia have also downed tools and refused to work – although most of them, like Lineker himself, are essentially freelance anyway and routinely turn up on other broadcasters to cover matches the BBC hasn’t got the rights to anymore. Personally, I quite like the idea of ‘Match of the Day’ taking a ‘TOTP 2’ approach to coverage, with no host and no waffling ex-pros endlessly analysing what we’ve just seen. Who knows – it might work as a formula and we’ll be spared the inevitable Alex Scott inheriting the hot-seat. Anyway, as things stand, this move is not being officially regarded as permanent, though it’s hard to see a way back for Lineker with the BBC so terrified of offending a government that wants to take its own shears to the Beeb’s myriad tentacles.

The reactions to the comments that ultimately left the BBC with no choice but to give Gary Lineker the push mirror the polarisation of our times and highlight the dividing lines between those who applaud the compulsion of celebrities to virtue signal and those who deplore them doing so. One side praises Lineker and accuses the BBC of being spineless Tory lapdogs whilst the other claims the freedom the ex-footballer has had to make a mockery of BBC impartiality is symptomatic of the metropolitan Woke elite that forces its arrogant agenda down the throat of a viewing audience sick of being lectured to. Ironically, Piers Morgan, of all people, supported Lineker’s right to express his opinion (even if he disagreed with it) and argued it wasn’t a sackable offence, what with Lineker not being the host of a news programme. The culture wars do indeed occasionally throw up unlikely bedfellows.

It’s interesting that suspending a high-profile presenter of a popular programme provokes an across-the-board ‘everybody out’ attitude not just amongst BBC staff but at the equally PC Premier League, and provides further ammunition for social media soapboxes; it gives the impression that the BBC has been reduced to an ineffective supply teacher unable to exercise any authority over its unruly pupils. On the other hand, when it comes to a corner of the Corporation with a lower profile (albeit one with a far more distinguished history), the BBC can wield the axe unchallenged and protests are limited to the small albeit passionate circle of musicians directly affected. Perhaps these particular BBC employees don’t fit the profile the Beeb is keen to cultivate and consequently aren’t viewed as important – even if their gradual obliteration will do far more long-term damage to the Corporation’s dwindling reputation than the loss of Lineker ever will.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/797932964


Dickie DaviesFor a generation, Dickie Davies was the face of sport on television, whilst for more than one generation John Motson was the voice of one specific sport on the same medium; that both should pass away within a week of each other is one of those timely coincidences that often occur and make my job easier. A rather heartless admission, true, but the number of times a paucity for inspiration re a Winegum post is salvaged at the eleventh hour by the death of a famous face is remarkable; even the recent post covering the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon was eased by the passing of Raquel Welch being announced as I was writing it. On the eve of taking a week’s break and busy cursing Wee Nicola for intruding upon my preparations, hearing a celluloid sex symbol of old had shuffled off this mortal coil meant a post I hadn’t intended to write could be completed with a tad more haste than if I’d had to delve even further into the Krankie career to pad it out. So, yet again the Grim Reaper came to my rescue. And, as the march of time proceeds on its relentless pace, the collective childhood furniture is reshuffled once more and continues to become more threadbare as another pair bites the dust.

Dickie Davies fronted ‘World of Sport’ on ITV for 17 years, from 1968 until the Saturday afternoon rival to ‘Grandstand’ was axed in 1985. With his pseudo-Jason King moustache, sideburns and coiffed barnet combination (not forgetting the distinctive silver streak running through that admirable mane), Davies was one of the most instantly recognisable television personalities of his era, inspiring all the notable impressionists and comedians of the day to do their own take on the unmistakable image – the best being an especially memorable and characteristically bawdy interpretation by Benny Hill. Davies had come up through the regional ranks of ITV in the early 60s and by the time he became the permanent host of ‘World of Sport’ after a few years as understudy for the programme’s first frontman Eamonn Andrews, the show had carved a unique niche for itself in comparison to its competitor over on the BBC. With ‘Grandstand’ already marking a decade on air once Davies settled into the ‘World of Sport’ hot-seat, ITV’s rival had worked out a way to navigate the Beeb’s monopoly of major sporting events by promoting more obscure sports, none more so than wrestling.

The prospect of fat sweaty men in leotards throwing each other around the ring never sounded much like enticing entertainment on paper, yet ITV’s Saturday afternoon coverage made unlikely stars of the likes of Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki and remains a more vivid memory in recollections amongst people of a certain age than whatever was showing over on ‘Grandstand’ at the same time. As with Frank Bough on ‘Grandstand’, Dickie Davies was the perfect safe pair of hands to link the various sports being covered, and the fact he was a permanent fixture in the nation’s living rooms for a decade and-a-half helped establish the programme as a lynchpin of the Saturday schedules as much as ‘Doctor Who’ or ‘Parkinson’. If you saw Dickie Davies on the screen, you knew what day of the week it was. As befitting a presenter on the more openly showbizzy commercial television, Davies also didn’t appear to take himself too seriously either, often sharing the screen with funny men like Eric Morecambe or Freddie Starr and even once appearing as himself in an episode of the early 70s Adam Faith drama, ‘Budgie’.

With the BBC owning football highlights with ‘Match of the Day’ on a Saturday night, ITV’s equivalent was a more scatty affair on a Sunday lunchtime, as each major ITV region had its own soccer show, meaning their commentators were less well-known nationwide than the BBC’s mainstays. Kenneth Wolstenholme was in possession of one of the most familiar voices in British broadcasting during his lengthy stint as the Corporation’s premier commentator on the national game, but by the early 70s Wolstenholme had gone and the likes of David Coleman and newcomer Barry Davies were being entrusted with the big games. Due to Britain being a three-channel television nation, there were naturally fewer jobs in TV sport to go round, and once these men reached the pinnacle of their profession by grabbing a seat behind the microphone they tended to stay there; in the process, their voices came to define the sports they covered. Think of cricket television coverage and one thinks of Jim Laker or Richie Benaud; pause for Formula One, and it’s still Murray Walker’s excitable tones one hears; Wimbledon – Dan Maskell; athletics – Ron Pickering; and so on. With football receiving more coverage than any other sport, there were a few more options, even in the 1970s, with Brian Moore ITV’s sole household name. In the wake of Kenneth Wolstenholme’s departure, however, the BBC needed a new voice; and in 1971, they found it.

John Motson emerged from the world of local newspapers before joining BBC radio and was quickly picked-up by BBC TV as back-up for Coleman and Davies; his voice was first heard on ‘Match of the Day’ in October 1971, but it was in February 1972 that Motson received his big break, commentating on what most anticipated would be a walkover for First Division Newcastle United when they turned up at non-League Hereford United for an FA Cup 3rd Round replay. After Newcastle took a predictable lead via hairy hit-man Malcolm MacDonald, Hereford midfielder Ronnie Radford launched a rocket that sailed over the quagmire of a pitch and into the back of the Newcastle net, taking the game into extra-time, which saw a shock 2-1 win for the home side. That Radford goal has been replayed every FA Cup 3rd Round weekend ever since, with Motson’s commentary as seared on the memory as the parka-clad kids invading the pitch.

Due to repeated plays of the Ronnie Radford rocket, Motson soon found himself being handed more prestigious matches and he eventually commentated on his first FA Cup Final in 1977, being handed the Wembley microphone as a permanent presence from 1979 onwards. As David Coleman left football and devoted more of his time to commentating on athletics and presenting ‘A Question of Sport’, Motson was promoted to the position of the Beeb’s main football voice; unlike his contemporaries – such as Barry Davies, who often commentated on the early rounds at Wimbledon – Motson was a one-sport man, something which enabled him to indulge in his nerdish obsession with statistics, the peppering of which throughout a match soon became a hallmark of his commentary. With Barry Davies firmly in second place, John Motson was unchallenged in the top spot until he finally retired from live games in 2008; during his career, ‘Motty’ covered 10 World Cup tournaments as well as endless domestic League and Cup matches, finally hanging-up his microphone for good in 2017. By then, he was one of the last such commentators solely associated with a single sport to the point whereby it was hard to imagine a big game without his occasionally hysterical tones attached to it.

Both Dickie Davies and John Motson were products of a very different television era, an era in which TV coverage of sport was restricted in comparison to the multi-channel miasma we find ourselves in today. Whilst many undoubtedly relish the wall-to-wall broadcasts of their chosen game and subscribe in their millions for the privilege of watching it, I personally feel less was more. I could name a tiny handful of present day sports commentators, but I seriously doubt I could do an impression of any of them; the clamour of voices is so overwhelming that none of them stay in the memory long enough. As for those that front the shows…well, let’s just say they’re no Dickie Davies.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/797932964


VWOne strange tradition that never fails to deliver is that of a year entering its final days and the Grim Reaper embarking upon a frenzied period of visiting famous names; for Death, the climax of the twelve-month calendar usually consists of breakneck house-to-house calls as though he’s required to fulfil a specific celebrity quota before 31 December and always leaves it till the last minute. Indeed, he left it so late this year that he ended up calling on two exemplary figures in their chosen fields on the same day, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Brazilian football legend Pelé. The latter’s battle with cancer had been publicised and his hospitalisation routinely referenced during the recent World Cup, when Lionel Messi became the latest player to wear the crown that the man born Edson Arantes do Nacimento had copyrighted from the age of 17; in contrast with an anticipated passing that had felt inevitable for several weeks, news that Vivienne Westwood has also died came as more of a surprise, with few beyond her inner circle aware she was fatally ill. Born within six months of each other, one was a king and one was a dame, and both left an indelible mark on 20th century pop culture that will long outlast their mortal remains.

At a time when access to football played beyond Europe was minimal to say the least, the World Cup was the only real window to the global game available to football followers in the UK and on the Continent – and even then it could be something of a logistical challenge for it to reach British and European screens. If the tournament was staged in South America – such as Chile in 1962 – the fact that broadcasting’s satellite age was still a twinkle in Telstar’s eye meant games would be shot on film and then rushed to a waiting plane; in 1962, TV viewers over here had to wait an unimaginable two days after the Final itself was played before they actually got to see the match transmitted on the BBC. Four years earlier, at the least the contest was a little closer to home, staged in Sweden. This was just the sixth World Cup tournament, and up to that point the Jules Rimet trophy had only been held aloft by three countries – Uruguay, Italy and West Germany. Brazil had reached the Final on one solitary occasion – 1950 – and had suffered an inconceivable loss on home soil to Uruguay; they felt it was their destiny to win, but despite their dazzling flair, Brazil never seemed able to leap that final hurdle to immortality. And then, in 1958, they unveiled a prodigy.

In 1958, the 17-year-old Vivienne Swire had relocated from her birthplace in working-class Derbyshire to begin student life on a jewellery course at Harrow Art School; on the other side of the world, Edson Arantes do Nacimento – who had emerged from a poverty-stricken corner of Sao Paulo – was the great discovery of Brazilian club Santos and was a year into his international career when the World Cup in Sweden came calling. Rapidly on his way to becoming a household name in his own country, Pelé (having adopted the time-honoured Brazilian tactic of going by a nickname) was Brazil’s secret weapon in 1958. Although he didn’t make his debut until the third and final group game, by the time the team entered the knock-out stage – which in those more manageable days of just 16 teams was the Quarter-Final – he scored the only goal against Wales; in the Semi-Final Vs France he netted a hat-trick and the rest of the world sat up and took notice. In the Final, he scored twice as Brazil hammered the host nation 5-2 and finally fulfilled their destiny by getting their hands on the most coveted prize in football. Overnight, the teenager had become a global superstar.

Four years later, Pelé’s reputation had grown to the point where Santos had received numerous tempting offers for their greatest asset from a string of eager English and European big guns – including Manchester United and Real Madrid – but had held firm, with the Brazilian Government declaring him an official national treasure in order to prevent his export. He kick-started Brazil’s defence of the World Cup in Chile with the expectations of a nation weighing heavily on his shoulders, but suffered an injury early in the tournament and played no further part in the contest; despite Brazil retaining the trophy without him in Chile, Pelé fared even worse in England in 1966, exposed to the worst ‘professional tackles’ of the era as he was kicked out of the competition by Bulgarian and Portuguese defenders; the holders exited at the group stage and Pelé vowed to never grace the global stage again. Whilst all this was happening, Vivienne Westwood had walked out on her first marriage (from which she took her surname) and had set up home with Malcolm McLaren, a partnership that would prove fruitful for both. Although earning a wage as a primary school teacher, Westwood was already designing her own clothes, and by the early 1970s she and McLaren had opened a boutique called Let It Rock on Chelsea’s King’s Road, one that specialised in vintage Teddy Boy gear from the 50s.

As Westwood and McLaren were establishing themselves on the King’s Road, Pelé had relented from his decision of 1966 and was back in the Brazil line-up for the Mexico World Cup in 1970. Like Maradona in 1986 and Messi in 2022, this was Pelé’s chance to justify his reputation before a global audience, and he – and his team – didn’t disappoint. Even now, over half-a-century later, that Brazil side is still acknowledged as arguably the finest team ever to win the competition; indeed, so overwhelmed were FIFA by Brazil’s performance that they allowed them to keep the Jules Rimet trophy forever as they became the first country to capture it for a third time. Yes, Pelé was the star man, but he was ably supported by players whose names evoked Renaissance artists – Jairzinho, Rivelino, Carlos Alberto – and who played with an artistic flair unparalleled in the history of the game. Prior to the Final, the game of the tournament came between Brazil and defending champions England; Brazil won 1-0, but the match is chiefly remembered for Gordon Banks’ miraculous save against Pelé – as memorable a moment as Pelé’s attempted goal from the halfway line against Czechoslovakia. Brazil defeated Italy 4-1 in the Final, with the opening goal coming from the man himself; it was Pele’s last game in the World Cup, retiring from international football a year later and resisting efforts to coax him out of international retirement in 1974.

By the mid-70s, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren had renamed their boutique ‘Sex’ and had begun selling the kind of fetish gear normally unseen outside of Soho backrooms; Westwood was certainly ahead of her time, considering such gear is now commonplace with gimps on dog-leads entertaining toddlers on Pride parades. They then tapped into a craze amongst impoverished London art students (including a certain Johnny Rotten) for wearing ripped clothes held together by safety pins; the two strands combined and created the Punk look, which – when stitched to the music produced by the band McLaren managed, The Sex Pistols – ended up selling a lifestyle. It was the springboard for Westwood to become Britain’s most renowned and radical young designer, and she never really looked back. As Punk was bubbling on the King’s Road, Pelé had done the unthinkable and relocated from Santos to the US, helping to launch the North American Soccer League in the colours of the New York Cosmos. Hip Americans who were finding football a hard sell instantly warmed to the fact a black man was considered the planet’s finest footballer, and even though Pelé was arguably past his best at 35, he still outshone most of the competition on the stateside field of play and didn’t finally retire for good until 1977.

Whether an elder statesman still selling his sport around the world or an established fashion designer attaching her profitable name to whichever cause she sought to promote, both Pelé and Vivienne Westwood had become global brands by the time they simultaneously bowed-out of the spotlight and both are pretty much irreplaceable, however many pretenders to their respective crowns they survived in their lifetimes and will continue to withstand in death.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/769970801


World CupAlas poor Mick – the former Southampton centre forward named Channon was one of the few permanent fixtures of the unstable era in English international football that constituted the sad decline and fall of Sir Alf Ramsey as well as the inconsistent tenure of Don Revie. Mick Channon made his England debut in 1972 and played his final game for his country in 1977. At a time when England were incapable of finding a settled side and rarely played the same line-up two games running, Channon’s name was one of the few automatic choices on the team-sheet, and he collected a total of 46 caps, scoring 21 goals over five years. Yet he remains the most-capped Englishman never to have played in a World Cup or European Championships tournament, for he was prominent amongst a generation of great English footballers that also included the likes of Tony Currie, Gerry Francis, Roy McFarland and Malcolm Macdonald – men who unfortunately missed out on the kind of international competition today’s players take for granted because they were playing at the wrong time.

The 1970s was a curious period, almost reminiscent of that pre-war era of international football, when the England team effectively opted-out of the World Cup, regarding the newfangled tournament as being somehow beneath them; at least the team tried to qualify during the 70s rather than declining to participate, but they still failed to do so. The blow to national morale that came with the fatal draw against Poland at Wembley in October 1973 meant that, for the first time since their inaugural entry in 1950, England wouldn’t be going to the World Cup Finals. To add insult to injury, Scotland had qualified, and the tournament would be held in the backyard of another old enemy, West Germany; oh, and the Germans ended up winning it as well. 1974 could have been written off as an unpleasant blip for English football, but it happened again four years later.

After having to pretend to support Scotland at the 1978 World Cup (something that didn’t stretch much beyond the lacklustre draw with Iran), it was a relief that England finally qualified for the 1982 tournament; for my generation, it was the first time we’d been able to cheer on our own country in the contest, and the excitement in the build-up – along with familiar, misplaced optimism – was something that has become mandatory ever since; well, until this year. Indeed, given the uniquely low-key overture to the 2022 World Cup, you’d be forgiven for not knowing it kicks-off this coming Sunday. I’ve never previously experienced such muted hyperbole preceding the World Cup before, especially with England participating; and, for once, England go into a tournament having performed exceptionally well at the previous two – semi-finalists in the 2018 World Cup and runners-up at Euro 2020. However, there are reasons for this noticeable dearth of enthusiasm, and it says a great deal about the multi-million dollar business the beautiful game has become in recent years.

Qatar is a country that has never qualified for the World Cup and has no footballing pedigree whatsoever. It had no notable stadia when winning the right to host the tournament, so embarked upon an intensive building programme thereafter, undertaken by cheap migrant labour; many of the exploited labourers died during the construction of this stadia, though estimates vary as to the numbers. Mind you, considering summer temperatures in the country can reach up to 113º Fahrenheit, it’s probably fair to say hard labour in such conditions isn’t recommended. The searing heat is utterly unsuitable for running around a football pitch for 90 minutes, which is why a sacred tradition has been broken to accommodate the fact and this World Cup has been put back to the end of the year. Of course, this has meant the suspension of domestic league programmes, smack bang in the middle of the season; league football is the weekly bread-and-butter of the football fan, and the majority would rather see their own club win the title or the cup than have their international team do well instead. World Cups and Euros have increasingly become a summer side-dish to the main course of club football – the snack between meals you can eat without ruining your appetite; the prospect of a season being interrupted just so the World Cup can be held in an appalling autocracy where being gay means a prison sentence and women are second-class citizens frankly stinks. Sure, countries with dubious human rights records have held global sporting events before – the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the 1978 Argentina World Cup, the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and indeed the very last World Cup, which was held in bloody Russia. But this feels even worse.

The awarding of the World Cup to Qatar back in 2010 embodies everything that is ugly, obscene and unedifying about football today. 11 of the 22 members of FIFA’s Executive Committee who gave the vote to Qatar twelve years ago have subsequently been suspended, indicted, banned or fined; two were excluded from the decision-making process even before it took place due to allegations they’d offered to sell their votes; a year after the right to host was won by Qatar, the Sunday Times alleged two other committee members had each been paid one and-a-half million dollars to vote the right way. The stench of bribery, corruption and brown paper bags has not cleared since the disgraced voting of 2010; anybody with half-a-brain knows the sole reason the World Cup went to a footballing backwater like Qatar was that Qatar bought the tournament. And this blatant truism has definitely filtered through to the TV stations, presenters and pundits, who are conspicuously quieter than usual. One gets the feeling that even the overenthusiastic cheerleaders for the competition are ashamed, toning down their normal giddiness at the prospect of the World Cup being just days away.

Unsurprisingly, some in the game have echoed FIFA’a scruples by taking the money and running with it, struggling to uphold their routine Woke posturing in the face of hilarious hypocrisy. Just a couple of months on from winning plaudits after choosing to queue-up to see Her Majesty’s coffin at Westminster Hall rather than using his celebrity status to jump that queue, David Beckham’s reputation is in the gutter following revelations of a handsome gratuity from his Qatari paymasters; similarly, infuriatingly right-on pundit Gary Neville – the arch-advocate of taking the knee – has decided not to boycott the World Cup and will instead be covering the contest on site, for a mouth-watering fee. It was almost a throwback to the glory days of ‘Have I Got News for You’ when Ian Hislop ripped into Neville a couple of weeks back, and he was as deserving of it as Matt Hancock is of being showered in koala crap on his own primetime reality show. But the hypocrisy doesn’t end there. After two years of bombarding football fans with nothing but political issues and slogans, the football authorities are now claiming politics has no place in the sport and supporters should concentrate on the games instead of questioning the ethics of holding the World Cup in a country like Qatar. You couldn’t make it up.

When the MSM has cautiously touched upon those ethics, the focus has predictably been the threat to travelling members of the ‘LGBTXYZ Community’, something a Qatari World Cup Ambassador provided ammunition for by stating, ‘Homosexuality is damage in the mind’. But as football isn’t primarily regarded as a particularly ‘gay’ sport, the impact of such prejudice is probably more minimal than some of the other unsavoury elements surrounding the whole atrocious circus. Like most, I’ll no doubt tune in to see how England fare, but I won’t be especially annoyed if they fail to make it out of the group stages this time round. The sooner the team are jetting home to prepare for the recommencement of the domestic season, the better. Qatar bought the tournament, so Qatar may as well buy the bloody trophy; let them have it. Any other winner would only be tainted by association.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/769970801


Pointing 2Like a stubborn dad repeatedly making a pig’s ear of repairing something in the house, determined not to lose face by calling in a professional tradesman, the knee-taking footballers cannot countenance entirely dropping the habit. Even though the virtue-signalling futility of it has seen the ritual reduced to specific showcase matches rather than a pre-match ceremony before every game, its presence remains. Then again, the FA are too full of their own noble narcissism to accept such a vacuous gesture is a safe pose compared to making a real stand against genuine injustices by, say, refusing to participate in the upcoming World Cup in the human rights haven that is Qatar. Similarly, rentagob Woke football pundit Gary Neville, notoriously swift to seize upon any imagined discrimination within the game, clearly sees no contradiction in accepting lucrative offers from the totalitarian Middle Eastern autocracy that has built stadia via slave labour – which pretty much tells you all you need to know about the hypocritical morality of a sport too eager to maintain the affluence to which it has become accustomed to put conscience before avarice.

Football authorities capitalised on the absence of uncouth fans and their dissenting voices when resuming play behind closed doors during the pandemic; the national game was quicker than any other sport to bombard viewers at home with divisive dogma and political sloganeering because it – as with every other institution that profits from a weaponised cause – knew any objections could be instantly dismissed as bigotry. And the moment supporters were allowed back into the newly-consecrated temples of ‘tolerance’, the inevitable objections to being preached at were predictably (and unjustly) branded as bigoted nostalgia for the bad old days of bananas being thrown at black players. The supporters’ beef wasn’t with Footballers of Colour, but with being lectured by wankers who view them as inconvenient scum; not that they’re given a break from it, mind. Watching ‘Football Focus’ these days is akin to being battered about the head with a copy of the Guardian, so relentless is the pushing of ‘the message’ with endless features on mental health issues or homophobia or misogyny or racism. Not that the programme is unique when it comes to BBC1, however.

Having been reluctantly forced to sit through a sample of Saturday evening BBC1 a few weeks ago, I discerned the latest box being ticked on the BBC inclusivity/diversity checklist appeared to be dwarves. There was one on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, one on a trailer for a sitcom, and then one as a contestant on ‘Blankety Blank’. It goes without saying that there’s no reason whatsoever why dwarves should be excluded from such shows, but the fact three in a row featured within the space of fifteen minutes was obviously yet another example of the cynical – not to say condescending – BBC approach to a minority within society. You overload every programme with the minority-of-the-week to compensate for past omissions and then present a lopsided picture of that society, all the while patting yourself on the back for being such a Good Person. Many years ago, a friend of mine saw a thalidomide comedian at a small venue and told me how the audience was crammed with smug, self-satisfied middle-class punters laughing hysterically at every joke, demonstrably pleased at how they were in possession of so little prejudice that they’d treat a thalidomide comedian the same as any able-bodied comedian; only, they weren’t treating him the same; they were effectively patting him on the head.

This trend is never more apparent than when these types – and a fair few of them work for the BBC, let’s be honest – speak to any non-white guest on TV or the radio. One can almost count down the minutes until the ‘racism question’ gatecrashes the interview. Anyone white who has a black or Asian friend or neighbour would find such a line of questioning rightly ridiculous in ordinary conversation, yet the MSM presenter has to insert it in there as soon as possible. ‘Oh, you’re black, therefore you must experience racism all the time’. Yes, I’m sure the minute the interviewee steps out of the door he or she feels as though they’re in 1950s Alabama. Of course someone black or Asian will probably have experienced some form of racism in their lives, just as many women will have experienced some form of misogyny, many gay people will have experienced some form of homophobia and so on. But chances are other things far more interesting will have happened to them in their lives – or even merely ordinary, relatively dull things that everybody experiences. Not that the MSM want to know that, though; they need their precious victim narrative reinforcing, even if organisations that exploited it have belatedly been exposed as charlatans.

Suddenly, celebrities who could’ve been relied upon to ‘do the right thing’ a couple of years ago are openly questioning BLM. Fancy that – everyone from Kanye West to Sharon Osbourne. Ozzy’s missus wants her money back – good luck with that. They’ve just realised this unashamedly Marxist mafia that deliberately stoked division, were sponsored by everyone from ice cream manufacturers to the Mayor of London, and scammed a fortune from well-meaning individuals motivated by good intentions, using the cash not to improve the lives of the impoverished communities they purported to speak on behalf of but to feather their own multi-million dollar nests, aren’t saints after all. Well, some of us were pointing that out at the time, whilst Seattle neighbourhoods were burning and lockdown-breaking marches were laying waste to our city centres. The online reaction to famous names expressing their feelings of being conned has ranged from deafening silence to obstinate denial to confused claims these former fellow suckers have turned ‘right wing’ overnight.

But when you have a world in which medical students – such as those at Minnesota University – are forced to take an oath to ‘fight white supremacy, colonialism and the gender binary’, don’t be surprised that opportunists will spring up to build careers and generate immense wealth on the back of it. Not that spinning this shit is exclusive to seats of learning in the US, however. Only the other week, the Students Union at the University of Westminster announced it was getting into the colour bar business by declaring white students would be barred from its ‘Black History Month’ events, which will be ‘reserved for black students to encourage a safe space for discussions and honest conversation’. Dr Neil Thin, a lecturer at Edinburgh University, said in response, ‘It is bitterly ironic to see the rhetoric of “safe spaces” abused to justify racial segregation. Nothing is more likely to make social spaces unsafe than this kind of wilful sowing of interethnic suspicion and division.’ Indeed. Isn’t this…er…institutionalised racism?

Ditto the NHS. Amy Gallagher, a nurse in the final stages of a two-year course in forensic psychology, is suing London’s Portman Clinic following claims she had no choice but to participate in a compulsory 2020 online lecture titled ‘Whiteness – a problem of our time’. When she raised objections, Gallagher says she was threatened with suspension from her course. ‘They are forcing Critical Race Theory onto people,’ she says. ‘You’re not allowed to disagree with it or they will bully you for two years. The NHS is forcing someone to adopt a racist ideology and it needs to be stopped…what they describe as anti-racism is racism. What they describe as tolerance is an intolerance of anyone who thinks differently to them. Left unchallenged, such institutional bullying will only be emboldened.’ As with the long-overdue questioning of the ethics of child transgender clinics and the disturbing theories of their affiliated organisations such as Stonewall and Mermaid, it was only a matter of time before people began standing up to the toxic ideology that has infiltrated our institutions. There may be a long way to go, and many battles to be fought, but at least it’s a start.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/746266089


Football RadioSure, it’s not the end of the world; but it’s the end of something. The BBC’s decision to drop the classified football results from the long-running ‘Sports Report’ sounds like one of those crass decisions made by a new controller of the station in question (5 Live) who’s keen to make his mark and shake things up a bit. It’s a familiar pattern on BBC radio, like when the Radio 4 UK Theme was axed back in 2006. Commissioned in 1978 to open the station every morning after the handover from the World Service, the medley of traditional English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish melodies heralded the dawn of the day’s broadcasting and quickly became as much of a wireless institution as the theme tune to ‘The Archers’ or the sound of ‘Sailing By’ announcing the arrival of the Shipping Forecast. The man who wielded the axe for the UK Theme was the then-controller of Radio 4, Mark Damazer; many were suspicious this was an action motivated by embarrassment within the ivory corridors of Broadcasting House that such a popular piece of music didn’t reflect the way the BBC likes to think of the nation, though Damazer claimed what he described as ‘a pacy news briefing’ was what listeners wanted first thing on a morning. Well, perhaps it was what the BBC overlords felt they ought to want first thing on a morning. After all, they know what’s best for us.

At a time when theme tunes introduced virtually all radio shows, the debut of ‘Sports Report’ in January 1948 naturally came with its own sonic calling card. ‘Out of the Blue’ was in the same vein as other jaunty themes to be found on the BBC Light Programme during this era, such as ‘Music While You Work’ or ‘Top of the Form’; it fitted perfectly into its times, yet along with the aforementioned theme from ‘The Archers’ and ‘Sailing By’ – as well as the theme to ‘Desert Island Discs’ – it’s one of the few to survive into the 21st century. ‘Out of the Blue’ has long since passed the stage of being regarded as old-fashioned, and its anachronistic sound is now recognised as the aural equivalent of a vintage item of clothing, cherished precisely because it is so antiquated and out of step with the here and now. In a sense, such a tune becomes timeless if it sticks around long enough; had it been replaced in the 80s or 90s, those replacement tunes would now sound more dated and old-fashioned than ‘Out of the Blue’ ever will.

The theme to ‘Sports Report’ is one of those pieces of music so bound up with the time and day of its transmission that it becomes inseparable from it, so utterly woven is it into the fabric of the Saturday teatime experience. Indeed, it’s as impossible to imagine hearing it on any other day as it would be to listen to a Christmas song in the middle of July. But it’s not simply ‘Out of the Blue’ itself that has been regarded as a time signal for millions of listeners for more than 70 years; what have always traditionally followed it are the classified football results. Remarkably, this weekly roll-call of winners and losers has only ever been recited by three different voices for the entire run of ‘Sports Report’. John Webster held the post from 1948 to 1974; James Alexander Gordon was the reader from 1974 to 2013; and Charlotte Green succeeded him, occupying the hot seat until the decision to drop the results was suddenly announced. The man in the middle of this trio with golden vocal chords is the one most of us grew up with. James Alexander Gordon’s famous delivery, in which his intonation would rise and fall to indicate whether the home team had won, drawn or lost before revealing how many goals they’d scored or conceded, was a hallmark of listening to the classifieds for almost 40 years, and one that left the listener eager to hear every result, not just the one involving their own team.

Even with the advent of ‘Grandstand’ on TV and its super-fast ‘tele-printer’ bringing the results to the viewer in the comfort of their living room, the classified football results on the radio were still a vital source of information for the supporters, especially those on the long journey home from an away game. If one were lucky enough to be making that journey home by car after a cold, wet fixture in some drab provincial town, the sound of the afternoon’s results being read by James Alexander Gordon would be as soothing to the occupants of the vehicle as a roaring fire would be to the fair-weather fan who stayed at home. I suppose it is this warm association that has given the results on the radio such an affectionate place in their hearts of football followers for decades, and why their abrupt removal has been met with the same kind of anger that the axing of the Radio 4 UK Theme provoked in 2006. A couple of years ago, a book I wrote about the 1970 FA Cup Final – ‘No Place for Boys’ – contained a passage on the subject of how significant the reading of the classified results on ‘Sports Report’ has continued to be, and I reproduce it here to spell it out…

For generations of football fans, even those who can now access every result via their Smartphones seconds after the final whistles have been blown, tuning in is still key to the experience of following the sport in Britain. If football is a religion, then the ritual of catching ‘Sports Report’ late on a Saturday afternoon is one of its holiest ceremonies. In a curious way, hearing all those score-lines coming in from across the country is one of the rare moments when that country actually feels like the otherwise-mythical One Nation, with millions of its citizens sharing the same sensations at the same time – all the way from Elgin City FC down to Plymouth Argyle. And whichever end of the country you’re at, all you need is a radio and you’re part of it.

The reason the BBC has given for dropping the classified football results from ‘Sports Report’ is that live commentary on the Premier League fixture at 5.30pm means the programme has been shortened and there’s no room for the results in the mix anymore. Sounds a bit like ‘the pacy news briefing’ excuse Mark Damazer used. This particular excuse was also expanded upon in a rather predictable way, citing the availability of other, faster means of accessing the day’s results than the traditional practice of waiting to hear them at 5.00. This misses the point entirely. Just as far more landlubbers tune into the Shipping Forecast than fishermen – who could access all the shipping news they need in a superior form to ye olde Long Wave via satellite tracking systems – the fanatical Sky Sports subscriber who rarely takes his eyes from the screen as scores are flooding in throughout the afternoon is not the target; many listeners who couldn’t care less about the sport switch on simply to hear the names being recited. In the flesh, Crewe Alexandra or Queen of the South are no more exotic locations on the map than Cromarty or German Bight, but when their names are joined together for the recital, they acquire a uniquely poetic resonance that renders them almost romantic. And there’s not a lot of romance about in 2022.

Expecting anyone at the BBC today to remotely understand their listeners is a tall order; dropping the classified football results is merely another example of not only how out-of-touch the Beeb is with its audience, but how it continues to view it with condescending contempt. When the ground beneath the feet is as insecure and unstable as it is at uncertain and often unnerving times like these, people tend to be naturally drawn to the few remaining signposts they feel they can rely on to reassure them all is not lost. During that first bewildering lockdown, millions retreated into the safe womb of nostalgic telly, music and pastimes, desperately seeking something that could take their minds off the horrors of the present day. We may be through the worst now, but the scars of that unsettling time run deep and variations on the Project Fear formula are keeping many in a state of emergency. The yearning for the kind of security that is connected to less stressful and more innocent times remains potent. The classified football results were a fixed point at a fixed time on a fixed day, and had been since most of our parents were in short pants. Taking them away now is not a great idea.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/740131147


VladWhen a long (ish) life means you find yourself with feet on either side of a divide that separates one era from another, it can be interesting to realise how a personal living memory is little more than a Wikipedia entry to those who emerge in the years and decades after the world map is redrawn. Unencumbered by any remembrance of how things used to be, those for whom the Iron Curtain or Apartheid are as irrelevant to the here and now as Ancient Egypt or the Incas invariably see the past in a completely different light. I guess for anyone of a certain age – i.e. over 40 – the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the release of Nelson Mandela had an immense significance that is difficult to articulate to someone born after 1990; and, to be honest, it can sometimes be easy to forget the way things were even if you were there. I remember once watching a documentary about Live Aid in which a member of Paul Weller’s Style Council recalled how the band had a testing journey to reach Wembley Stadium on the day, flying from an overseas tour that required taking the long way round on account of not being able to venture into Soviet airspace. The recollection served as a reminder of just how different the global situation was then.

A couple of decades earlier, when television satellite technology was in its infancy, an attempt to link up the four corners of the globe for the first time in the groundbreaking ‘Our World’ broadcast was confronted by an effective no-fly zone when Eastern Europe declined to participate; the programme may best be remembered for the unveiling of ‘All You Need is Love’, but the ambitious aim of the enterprise was squandered by the opting out of Iron Curtain countries. Back then, the Eurovision Song Contest was the optimistic TV showcase for post-war European harmony, though no East European countries ever took part bar Yugoslavia. At the same time, however, Eastern Bloc sportsmen and athletes competed in events such as European club football tournaments and the Olympic Games, and there was also the cerebral Cold War clash on the chessboard that came with the infamous battle between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in 1972; so at least the East had a degree of visibility denied South Africa during the 70s and 80s.

Often it was sport that provided the most high profile example of South Africa’s international isolation, notably cricket and rugby union, when regular tours by South African teams were scrubbed off the sporting schedule from the early 70s onwards – a situation it had actually taken a surprisingly long time for the rest of the world to agree on. Once agreed, however, the boycott was enforced with a heavy dose of moral and emotional pressure imposed on those who wavered from it. Hard to remember the uproar now when so-called ‘rebel tours’ of South Africa by cricketers took place in the 80s or when the likes of Elton John, Rod Stewart, Queen, Status Quo, Sinatra and even Shirley Bassey played profitable gigs in Sun City. Anyone named and shamed for participating in breaking the boycott was severely criticised thereafter; Freddie Mercury and the lads were added to the UN’s blacklist of sanctions-breakers following their ill-timed 1984 concert at the luxury resort, which took place at a point when serious civil unrest in South Africa had highlighted the injustices of the regime for the world to see once again.

The cultural Apartheid could also extend into some bizarre areas. Clout were a relatively inoffensive all-female rock band – itself something of a novelty in the 70s – who enjoyed the dubious status of one-hit wonders via their 1978 smash by the name of ‘Substitute’; the record stalled at the No.2 spot behind the immovable ‘You’re The One That I Want’ for several weeks that summer, yet ‘Top of the Pops’ had to settle for airing a clip of the band on a foreign TV show as the blanket ban on all things South African meant Clout were prevented by the Musicians’ Union from appearing in-person on the nation’s most-watched music show. The anti-Apartheid crusade was a particular passion for the Left in the 80s, and then – as now – the Left tended to monopolise the creative industries, meaning the boycott was the leading cause of the day in a way Palestine has become in the 21st century. Artists were expected to fall into line and most of those with any sort of conscience did so. The white South African was a cultural bogeyman during this period, so much so that a South African-born actor like the recently-deceased Anthony Sher was in denial of his origins when trying to make it as a thespian in the UK, conscious that he’d be confronted by a degree of prejudice that could jeopardise his ambitions.

Perhaps more than any other form of sanctions, a cultural boycott tends to be effective. A country’s art, along with its sport, can often be the way it successfully sells itself on the world stage. For example, what do most people immediately think of when they think of a country like Brazil? The Bossa Nova might spring to mind, but chances are the Brazilian football team will get there first every time. Likewise, during the era of the Soviet Union it was Russian composers and musicians sharing the international spotlight with athletes like Olga Korbut that offered a far more positive image than Leonid Brezhnev observing the parade of nuclear missiles on May Day. The USSR may be defunct as a nation now, but Russia has continued this tradition to project a less-toxic brand to the world; the coup of hosting what turned out to be a highly enjoyable World Cup in 2018 was a great leap forward that even managed to edge the country’s appalling record of using performance-enhancing drugs at the Olympics off the back pages. Recent events have put the brakes on this progress.

In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the universal cultural condemnation has been swift and fairly unprecedented – nowhere more than on the football pitch. After announcing that the prestigious Champions League Final, scheduled to be staged in St Petersburg, has been moved to Paris, UEFA then linked arms with FIFA and barred all Russian clubs and the national side from competing in domestic and international competitions as well as the former dropping its sponsorship deal with Russian energy giant Gazprom. The close ties many oligarchs and Russian corporations have developed with numerous Premier League clubs in this country has been uncomfortably underlined this past week, resulting in Manchester United and Everton cancelling sponsorship deals with Russian companies; but perhaps Roman Abramovich deciding to put Chelsea up for sale is the most notable rat looking for the lifeboats.

Elsewhere in the world of sport, the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix has been cancelled whilst Russia and its warmongering sidekick Belarus have both been banned from rugby union competitions by the sport’s governing body. The International Olympic Committee may have taken away the rights of Russia and Belarus to host sporting events, but initially allowing the nations to compete in Olympic tournaments under a ‘neutral’ flag received such severe criticism that the IOC has now announced the two countries will not be participating in the upcoming Winter Paralympics. In the arts, a prominent scalp came in the sacking of Valery Gergiev as conductor of the Munich Philharmonic; Gergiev, known to be favourable towards Putin, failed to condemn the invasion of Ukraine and after the orchestra was confronted by a string of cancellations, the Mayor of Munich fired him from his position.

Unlike the usual suspects of ill-informed Hollywood halfwits queuing-up to signal their virtue, the cultural boycott when applied across the board has a habit of hitting the target where it hurts. It can’t stop a war, but it can rob those in whose name the war is being fought of all the things that can truly enhance life. It’s worth a try.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294


GreavsieI can’t say I’ve noticed policemen are getting younger, though the fact they’re certainly fatter than they used to be is perhaps the contemporary pointer to a generation gap between them and me. If anything, the passing of years seems more accurately measured by the passing of childhood characters that once personified the physical benefits of the sporting life and are now either withered old men diminished by dementia or have already sunk six feet under. Barely a week goes by without one former cover star of ‘Shoot’ magazine in the 1970s being revealed as struggling in the early stages of Alzheimer’s; recently, the likes of Denis Law and Gordon McQueen have joined the lengthening ranks of former footballers who illuminated the game during my formative years and are now feeling the belated after-effects of all those seasons heading heavy balls into the back of the net decades ago. But even more unsettling than the sad, shambling squad of ex-players reduced to shrunken shadows of their past healthy selves is the expanding roll-call of footballers to have had their boots hung up by the Grim Reaper of late. The latest casualty of an alarming list is someone whose time as one of English football’s all-time great goal-scorers predates my memory, yet whose unexpected second shot at fame turned him into a household name all over again.

Every once in a while a prodigious footballing talent emerges whose skills appear to belie their tender years; the teenage sensation appearing out of the blue and unleashed on an unsuspecting opposition like some secret weapon launched without warning is a recurring story in the sport and in 1957 its representative was 17-year-old striker Jimmy Greaves. The press wasn’t averse to generating hype even back then, and the success of Manchester United’s ‘Busby Babes’ inspired the less-well remembered ‘Drake’s Ducklings’, a tag coined to described the young players under the management of Ted Drake at Chelsea. Greaves made the biggest impact of all the Ducklings, scoring on his debut (as he did at every club he turned out for) and ending his first season as Chelsea’s top scorer. When a generation of English football’s bright young things were cut down in their prime by the Munich air crash of 1958, Greaves then became the focus of the future, though he was plying his trade in a team unworthy of his talents and at a time when the fruits of his labours were limited by a maximum wage and the status of virtual serfdom where football’s governing body was concerned.

The exodus of top British footballers to the riches of Italy’s Serie A at the end of the 1950s was robbing the Football League of its brightest stars, so it was perhaps inevitable something had to give. The abolition of the maximum wage was lengthy and hard-fought, but by the time Fulham and England captain Johnny Haynes became Britain’s first £100-a-week player in 1961, Jimmy Greaves had already been sold to A.C. Milan. It was an unhappy move for Greavsie and he played barely a dozen games for the Italians before Milan accepted a bid from double winners Tottenham Hotspur to bring him back home. The sudden improvement of a top footballer’s financial lot in England also affected transfer fees, though Spurs manager Bill Nicholson spared Greaves from the burden of being the country’s first £100,000 player by signing him for the unusual fee of £99,999.

Bill Nicholson needn’t have worried that the big bucks spent to sign Greaves might affect the player’s performance. Greavsie carried on at Spurs where he’d left off at Chelsea, but playing in a far superior side; he ended his first season at White Hart Lane by lifting the FA Cup and his second saw Spurs become the first British team to win a European trophy by beating Atlético Madrid in the Cup Winners’ Cup Final. He scored in both Finals. By this time, Greavsie was well-established at international level as England’s first choice striker and his tally of 35 goals in an England shirt, reached in 1964, set a new record; he played in all four games England took part in at the 1962 World Cup in Chile, and with his domestic goal-scoring remaining amongst the best in the League, his was one of the first names on Alf Ramsey’s team-sheet for the 1966 World Cup. Indeed, he played up front in all three of England’s group games at Wembley and understandably imagined it was his destiny to win the competition on home soil, a crowning glory written in the stars. Alas, an injury ruled Greavsie out of the Quarter Final, and his replacement Geoff Hurst kept the job thereafter; although Greaves was fit for the Final, Ramsey decided to stick with the same side and as this was an era before substitutes, Jimmy Greaves played no part on the pitch, forced to sit and watch from the sidelines with no prospect of participating.

Greaves himself often denied his descent into alcoholism was a consequence of the immense personal disappointment he felt at being denied his destiny in 1966; but by the time he joined West Ham in 1970, his enthusiasm for the game seemed to be waning as his fondness for alcohol appeared to be on the rise. Temptation was hardly hard to come by, however. Off the field of play there was a long-standing, hard-drinking culture within English football, and it was only really with the advent of the Premier League in the 1990s – and the new strict fitness regimes introduced via the influx of Continental coaches – that excessive boozing gradually began to be frowned upon. The rise and fall of George Best is routinely highlighted as football’s cautionary tale when it comes to alcohol, though Best’s pop star profile kept him in the public eye even when he prematurely retired. After Jimmy Greaves quit in 1971 and quickly slid from post-match boozer to professional pisshead, he vanished from sight for several years, only occasionally surfacing to turn out for non-league teams in the mid-to-late 70s before finally slipping out of the game.

Unlike George Best – who never really conquered the bottle – Jimmy Greaves did eventually succeed where Best couldn’t and overcame his demons in a remarkable fashion. By the beginning of the 1980s, Greavsie had become permanently sober and this was the point at which his second career began to take off. After impressing viewers as a pundit on ATV’s regional soccer show on a Sunday afternoon, he was recruited to the ITV team for the station’s coverage of the 1982 World Cup, introducing the whole nation to a sharp-witted middle-aged man at odds with the sad drunken has-been who’d periodically popped-up in the Sunday papers throughout the previous decade. In today’s media landscape of post-modern punditry, where a light-hearted and jokey approach to discussing the game is commonplace, it’s easy to forget how stiff and formal football presentation on television often was at the time Greavsie gatecrashed it in 1982. It could be argued he singlehandedly changed the way in which punditry was presented as an ingredient of the formula, and when he began to appear alongside ex-player Ian St John in the ‘On the Ball’ segment of ITV’s ‘World of Sport’ every Saturday lunchtime, the spark between the two prompted a spin-off.

For seven years, ‘Saint and Greavsie’ was a lynchpin in terrestrial TV’s football schedule, though it’s telling the ending of the series coincided with the arrival of the Premier League and Sky coverage. Perhaps it did seem a bit tired by then, and Greavsie himself was regularly ribbed on the far hipper likes of ‘Fantasy Football League’ from the mid-90s onwards. Nevertheless, the resurrection of Jimmy Greaves remained one of football’s true success stories from an era when there were few – if any – safety nets for players who’d fallen on hard times; he clawed his way back without the aid of any high-profile programme or campaign backed by the virtuous signalling of the FA, and a generation who’d never known him as a player came to know him as an entertainer. A funny old life when all’s said and done, but an admirable victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294


BorisThe Bank Holiday Monday that never was – not unlike the airport that never was or the garden bridge that never was; it’s not as if Boris Johnson doesn’t have a history when it comes to grandiose promises he fails to deliver on. I suspect his numerous wives and mistresses could testify to that. Mind you, in this particular case his promise proved to be wishful thinking, probably made when he slipped an England football shirt over his normal clothes – as you do. This was a promise dependent upon England winning Euro 2020 and, as everyone no doubt knows by now, we didn’t. I suppose it could be seen as an addition to the ‘we’re all in this together’ narrative that has run through the government response to the pandemic ever since the PM’s historic television address to the nation. Incidentally, that particular broadcast famously gatecrashed the long-held list of most-watched TV broadcasts ever in the UK when it was seen by almost 28 million viewers in March last year, and it’s now been joined in the top ten by the Euros final, coming straight in at No.4 with only the 1969 ‘Royal Family’ documentary, Diana’s funeral and (of course) the 1966 World Cup Final ahead of it. Seems the boys of ’66 will forever be the unsurpassable yardstick.

As every politician does when seeking to be seen as being at one with ‘the people’, Boris enthusiastically embraced the excitement stirred by Gareth Southgate’s team going one step further than any England side in 55 years. And who can blame him? It was the briefest of breathers as society came up for air before resuming the drowning-by-division that has characterised the past five years. And, as crassly opportunistic as Boris’s attempts to exploit a rare ‘feel-good factor’ have been, he was beaten to the finishing post in the toe-curling stakes yet again by the hilariously hapless Keir Starmer. The leader of the Opposition posed for several photos where he was pictured ‘enjoying the match’ with a pint strategically placed in front of him; the pint had been initially absent, then mysteriously appeared, and then when Starmer’s aides belatedly realised it was full, one of them no doubt took a sip (probably provoking the same appalled expression a child wears when given its first taste of bitter) and placed it back on the table to prove what a real man Sir Keir is. Mate, you’re a middle-class London lawyer who’d much rather be at Glyndebourne than Wembley; pretending otherwise just makes you look an even more disingenuous prat than you already are.

The fragile sense of togetherness marked by a great sporting occasion that captures the public’s imagination is never destined to last, and the swift resumption of where we were following the defeat of England by Italy on Sunday was swift even by the low standards we’ve come to expect. General Southgate’s baffling tactical decision to send the youngsters over the top at the climax of the penalty shootout was especially strange considering his own youthful exposure to the pressure of the spot-kick; but the way in which the failure of the trio in question to convert the vital penalties then saw the deflation of some manifested as depressingly predictable racist abuse aimed at the players has been exceptionally unpleasant. Of course, it has also curtailed the suspension of hostilities towards football’s fan-base from the chattering classes; quietly genteel empty stadiums, knee-taking and rainbow flags created the perfect environment for the middle-class dilettante to pose as a lover of the beautiful game, but then the barbarians that were greeted with similar horror when they descended on the Oval for the very first FA Cup Final in 1872 were let in again and look what happened!

Those that are fond of bracketing all genuine working-class football fans as frothing-at-the-mouth racist bigots and Brexiteers had the perfect excuse to rant as a tiny handful of brain-dead trolls took out their frustration on England’s black players. There has always been a small section of football followers who think this way, though let’s not pretend football has the copyright on them. Grafting the ideological cancer of Identity Politics onto the sport, with its incessant emphasis on race as the single most important characteristic of any individual, is something that stokes instant division by highlighting a factor that most decent people don’t even think about. In the build-up to the final on Sunday, social media was awash with statements pointing out how many members of the England team had ‘immigrant’ backgrounds, as though this not only somehow vindicated the divisive immigration policies of the past 20 years but was also responsible for the players being able to kick a ball in the first place; as long as the latter skill is good enough to warrant selection for the team, that’s all that matters. Attempting to portray a football team as ambassadors for free movement within the EU is hardly something that will inspire unity; the Left once again turning on the daughter of immigrants who has actually achieved her own success story by becoming Home Secretary just seems to show the hypocritical cant at the heart of this mindset is as toxic as any online racist halfwit throwing a virtual banana in the direction of Marcus Rashford.

So, ‘unity’ via an impressive run in a football tournament is over, so where does that leave us? Well, whilst there may have been a brief moment of genuine unity amongst the population when the first lockdown took place – back in those innocent, halcyon days when we trusted our elected leaders to do the right thing in a situation few of us then understood – that unity has subsequently dissolved and dissipated as warring factions and rival camps have asserted their opposing stances on the Covid issue. Pro-vaccine/anti-vaccine, pro-mask/anti-mask, pro-lifting of restrictions/anti-lifting of restrictions – the new frontline causes stepping into the space temporarily vacated by the Leave/Remain debacle. The Covid unity – if indeed it can be called that – fractured fairly early, probably at the point when lockdown was breached by BLM marches that seemingly had cart-blanche to break all restrictions without any of the over-officious response from the police that ordinary law-abiding folk were being exposed to on a daily basis.

The hypocritical activities of Dominic Cummings, Neil Ferguson and Matt Hancock lifted the lid on the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach to restrictions by the powers-that-be as much as the supine reaction by the forces of law and order to rule-breakers sharing the same ideology as them. As the restrictions that came with the initial lockdown have been extended way beyond the projected timeframe we were originally promised and the goalposts keep being moved in a manner many wished had been the case on Sunday night, people’s frustrations with the situation are perfectly understandable. Earlier on Sunday, I watched the men’s singles final at Wimbledon. After winning before an audience of non-socially distanced and largely unmasked multitudes in the stands on Centre Court, Novak Djokovic was then interviewed by Sue Barker, who appeared to be standing half-a-mile away. I couldn’t help but think of the Python sketch when a TV presenter interviews someone on the street with a hand-held microphone, pointing the mic at the interviewee when asking a question and then pointing it at himself when receiving the reply. Am I the only person whose increasing exasperation with the ludicrous rules and regulations still governing interaction with others makes me feel as though I’m now living in a permanent Python sketch?

Despite desperate pressure from the SAGE soothsayers and their media cohorts, the PM is to be commended for standing his ground and insisting all restrictions will end as of next Monday. Even if caveats keep being inserted into the promise – whether pub passports intended to coerce the young into submitting to the vaccine or the threat of continued mask-wearing – this is still the one promise Boris cannot shirk from delivering. If he doesn’t deliver, the fear is we’ll be living this way forever – and, let’s be honest, some have been so successfully conditioned they’d be quite happy with that. When divisions over the vaccine and mask-wearing run so deep that they are creating schisms between families and friends reminiscent of the Miners’ Strike, you know it’s time to curtail this social experiment. If only it were that simple to do so just by ending restrictions. They may think it’s all over, but sadly, it isn’t.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294


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

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294