Thursday, 27 August 2015

Time wasting, faking injury and bad refereeing are ruining football

Former West Ham captain and manager Billy Bonds was a recent guest of the club at the home game against Bournemouth. He received rapturous applause from the crowd, many of whom saw him in his hay day as a player. An all action player, who gave everything when he walked out onto that pitch. The same commitment was evident when Billy became manager of the club in 1990.

Some words of Billy's from that time struck home today. Just after being appointed manager in 1990 Billy underlined the importance of giving your all for the spectators who come to watch. “There are people who will be going to factories on Monday, so that they can earn money so they can come to see us on Wednesday,” said Billy. “It’s a game of football. It’s West Ham United. We won’t let them down by just going through the motions.”

Billy’s words came to mind, having watched several recent games, where teams have blatantly time wasted. West Ham’s first home game this season against Leicester City was a case in point - the visitors seemed to start time wasting from the kick off of the second half. This involved taking onordinate amounts of time over goal and free kicks. Substitutions were made, with the maximum amount of time being taken over each operation.  Then a real favourite the substitution in injury time, used to maximum effect to run down the clock. The referee was aware that time wasting was going on, repeatedly pointing to his watch. However, he failed to book anyone and little time was added.

The problem of time wasting can be dealt with by referees booking the players committing the offence. Also, it would be a good rule change to say that there can be no substitutions during injury time. Substitutions made during injury time are invariably done simply to waste time.

Managers claim running down the clock is a legitimate part of the game. This is nonsense. Those people who work all week, pay £40 to £50 to come through the gates, do so in order to be entertained. Time wasting and so called gamesmanship are not entertaining. Football is first and foremost an entertainment, it is not war, it is not a battle of attrition and for those coming through the gates, it is not simply a business.

The words of Billy Bonds some quarter of a century ago in many ways summarise the attitude of West Ham down the years. Not to say ofcourse that there have not been West Ham players who have wasted time (or some might even say been a waste of time).

During the managerial years of Ron Greenwood and John Lyall the prime concern was entertainment. Indeed, many look back on those halcyon years, particularly when the club had three players in the World Cup winning side of 1966, questioning  whether had there been a less entertainment and a more results orientated approach whether more trophies would have arrived in the Upton Park cabinet. But in those days you could go to West Ham and always be sure of being entertained – West Ham may not  have won but the spectator would have seen a good game of football.

It is this philosophy that now seems to be sadly lacking in the Premier League. In fact that nonsensical much quoted comment of former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly that football is more important than life and death really does seem to have become the ruling mantra. It is nonsense because football is not more important than life and death. It is 22 men kicking a ball around a field for 90 minutes, thereby entertaining those who come to watch – the day it ceases to be entertainment is the day it has lost its heart and soul, as well as reason to be.

Ofcourse the drift from entertainment to life and death billing has been accompanied over the years by the huge increase in money flowing into the game. Sky in particular have pumped in billions. The price has been the relegation in importance of the fan in the stand with the most influential voice now being that of the TV scheduler. So the fixture list is put out at the start of the season, after which it is dramatically changed with games being rearranged to suit TV schedules. Television has put a huge amount in but certainly demands its pound of flesh in return.

There are other things about the once beautiful game that could do with changing. Players feigning injury as a key point in the play simply to halt the game. This can be another form of time wasting or gamesmanship but whatever the context it needs stamping out.

Then there is the overall quality of referees. There seem to be so many key decisions in a game that are wrong nowadays. Technology has gradually been taking more of a role over recent years but more needs to be done. Managers have generally stuck with the line that these key decisions tend to even out over a season but some are beginning to wonder if that is now true. Some of the games almost become a lottery due to the referee in charge. Indeed, refereeing is a key matter regarding football going forward. Better referees equipped with technology and certain rule changes, such as the no substitutions in injury time, could iron out many of the problems.

In terms of attitude to the game, there just needs to be a bit more perspective – a move toward the Greenwood, Lyall and Spurs old manager Bill Nicholson’s view of the game and away from the silly life and death scenarios conjured by Shankly and those seeking only to sell the product.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

On the Buses at Our Lady of Lourdes

Parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in east London could be forgiven for feeling a little confused last week. On Tuesday there was the funeral of much loved actor Stephen Lewis, who played Cyril Blakey in the 70s comedy On The Buses. Lewis died in a nearby nursing home. Forward to Saturday, time for a double take with an old double decker route master bus  parked at the front of the church. The bus though was not late for the funeral but waiting for a wedding taking place on Saturday. The bus had congratulations on getting wed on the destination panel. No doubt a bit of divine intervention from above.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Challenges facing Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader..not least Europe

Jeremy Corbyn will face three major challenges if elected leader of the Labour Party on 12 September.
The challenges will come from the Parliamentary Labour Party, a hostile media and the Conservative government. Ironically enough it is the third of these that may prove the easiest to fulfil.
The opposition of so much of the Parliamentary Party is a real problem. There is the party within a party known as the Progress group, which seeks to keep the flame of Blairism burning bright. This group, represented by Liz Kendall in the leadership election, are likely to oppose much of what Corbyn will try to enact. Leading Progress supporters, such as Chuka Umuna, have already said they will not serve under Corbyn in the shadow Cabinet. Tristram Hunt joined with Umuna starting the so called "Resistance" group, aimed at opposing a Corbyn leadership. Hunt lest anyone forget is the man who declared that there should be "a celebration of Tony Blair." The Progress MPs seem the most likely to cause strife, maybe even leaving the party like the SDP did in the early 1980s. Others could coalesce around the rebels.
Among other MPs there will also be opposition, though this may be more easily dissipated. The MP is first and foremost a creature driven by the need for self-preservation. As such, many MPs will be willing to give the Corbyn agenda a chance just to see if in the long term it might profit their own personal position and ambitions. Some no doubt will make a miraculous conversion to left wing politics almost overnight.
Then there will be the left of the party who have backed Corbyn. They should be the ones taking up shadow cabinet positions, moving the agenda forward.
The second problem area will be the media. The hostility to anything other than the mainstream neo-liberal orthodoxy has been clear for all to see over the period of the leadership election. Corbyn has received virtually unanimous hostility from across the mainstream media. Even the Guardian, which many expected to at least operate a level playing field has done its best to give voice to opposition to Corbyn. In the end the paper – not a Labour supporting publication over the years – felt the need to guide its readers by backing Yvette Cooper for the leadership. The Mirror has backed Andy Burnham, whilst the Independent has not made a recommendation.
The old mantras about the 1980s and such like are likely to continue with the media. Where things may change is if the transition from simply a leadership campaign for a left candidate continues to become a mass movement for an anti-austerity agenda. So if the 600,000 eligible to vote in the leadership election morphs into a couple of million or more, enthused further by what it sees from a Corbyn led Labour Party then some of the media – particularly on the liberal side of the market – will start to change their hostile position.
The Conservative Party may not be as happy as some in the media have prophesied with a Corbyn led Labour Party. It is not difficult to imagine David Cameron being rather non-plused by Corbyn at Prime Minister Questions. A man failing to rise to person vitriol, attacking from a position grounded in social justice and socialist based principles.
The sort of dilemmas that Corbyn could face as leader with all three of these challenges could come together on the subject of the European Union. So far he has declared that he would campaign to quit the EU if Dave Cameron's renegotiation is about "trading away workers’ rights, trading away environmental protection and trading away much of what is in the social chapter."
The EU as presently constituted represents the embodiment of neo-liberalism. Indeed, if Corbyn wants to achieve many of his policies, such as renationalisation rail and the utilities, then remaining in the EU probably won’t be an option. The country would need to get back control over its own sovereignty.
But what if Corbyn were to set a steady ant-EC course putting himself at the front of the no vote campaign come the referendum. It would cause consternation amongst the Tories who are already split on the issue. In the country, it would help bring back the Labour core vote that has deserted to UKIP. Such a stand would not be popular with the SNP in Scotland but again would set Labour out as distinct and apart from the Scottish nationalists and their version of anti-austerity politics.
The biggest problem Corbyn would have would be with his own party who are overwhelmingly pro-Europe. It could be another cause for splits. So a policy that could really appeal to the wider electorate in the country and split the Tories may founder on the need to keep the Parliamentary Labour Party unity. So the issue of Europe nicely illustrates some of the problems Corbyn would be likely to face moving forward.
What does seem for sure is that winning the leadership of the Labour Party is only likely to be the start of the challenges facing Corbyn. The need to square the circle of keeping Parliamentary party unity and opposing the Tories whilst winning support in the country will be the real challenge. But if the left agenda that Corbyn leads continues to draw in support across the generations then dealing with all the issues will become a lot easier. 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Time for a one day migrant strike

Migrants are getting extremely tired of contributing to British society, whilst at the same time being vilified for their very presence in the country.

Talking recently to a migrant worker, who has been in this country for 10 years, the growing sense of exasperation and anger became quickly apparent.

A 32 year old Polish woman, Edith (not her real name), worked first in care homes on the south coast. She worked long and hard, whilst also picking up other cleaning jobs to help make ends meet. Edith took English reading and writing classes in her own time.Throughout this period, she was paying taxes, while getting little back in return.

She then moved to work as a cleaner at a hotel.  A keen worker she soon advanced to become a supervisor. At the moment she is also studying accountancy at college in her spare time. She hopes one day to qualify as an accountant. “We are here, we contribute, we pay our taxes.. I do not understand why there are these constant attacks on migrants,” said Edith, who has become so exasperated that she believes there should be a migrant strike. “Then people would know exactly what we do.”

She is not wrong. Migrants have always played a key role in keeping the wheels of the British economy turning. Some 26% of doctors in the NHS come from other countries. The NHS is also regularly seeking to poach nurses from other countries. Britain’s schools and colleges are packed with teachers from across the world. The transport system has been a ready employer of migrants, since London Transport went out in the 1950s to the West Indies looking for workers. The care sector would come to a halt if it weren’t for migrant workers.

What of catering, where in many parts of the country it is unusual not to be served by a migrant worker.

Then there is the construction industry. It is a source of constant bewilderment to hear individuals rail against migrants, whilst employing Polish workers to put up their extension or loft conversion. The phrase double standards was made for this scenario.

Migration is good for the economy. The government's own figures show, that net migration of 250,000 per year boosts the annual GDP by 0.5% (source: Office for Budget Responsibility). This growth means more jobs, higher tax revenues, more funding for schools and hospitals and a lower deficit.

A study by University College London in 2009 that looked at the fiscal impact of the migration of recent eastern European migration found that migrants contributed 37% more in taxes than the cost of the public services they consumed.

Migrant numbers go up and down generally according to the well being of the economy. This is because, in the main, they come to work, not as popular myth would have us believe collect benefits.

The economic reality of the UK is that the population is ageing, with people living longer. At the same time fertility rates are falling. Not enough children are being born to replace the current population. Today there are three people of working age for every one over 65, by 2060 the ratio is expected to change to 1:1. Academic David Blake estimates that for the state pension to remain viable, there need to be 500,000 immigrant workers coming to the UK each year.
These migrants are needed if the wealth is to be generated to sustain the present ageing population.

Yet despite all these positive elements about migration, the public discourse is dominated by politicians promising to cut the numbers. Indeed, the political discourse has become so distorted that the value and need for migration is rarely ever raised. The departure point of debate is always the need to cut immigration.

A migrant one day strike would really bring home to the population just how much those coming from other countries do contribute to this country. If all the migrants withdrew their labour then so many of the daily services that people take for granted would grind to a halt. A migrant strike would be one way that this vilified group of people could make their point most powerfully.

The growing ferocity against migrants will in the long term lead to them not coming to this country. Who wants to come and work and pay taxes in a country where you are not appreciated and actually condemned for contributing. Why not go to a country that is more welcoming?

The arguments for migration are many and varied. There are the economic positives outlined, as well as the rich diversity that different races bring to our country. London is in many ways a multicultural oasis due to the way that people from countries across the world live and work peacefully together. Business knows that the economy requires the skills that migrant workers bring.

The way that migration to this country has been managed over the past couple of decades has helped to build many of the present resentments. Migrant workers have been brought in often to undercut the indigenous workforce  on rates of pay. The construction industry provides a particularly clear example of these practices.

There need to be minimum standards of pay and conditions upheld, so that there is no such undercutting. There also needs to be proper public service provision, including house building, merited by the taxes that migrants pay.

Veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner makes a good point as to how many different migrants settled without problems in Britain from countries like Poland and the Ukraine after World War II. Skinner pointed out how there were strong trade unions during these years, the incoming workers joined the unions and there was no question of being used as a cheap labour force. “The key to improving community relations is to guarantee everybody is on a good wage and nobody is undercut,” said Skinner. “If trade unions were stronger, the friction would be reduced and the gains enormous in terms of harmony between people from various countries.”

So there are many ways that migration can be better managed. This ageing country needs migrants to keep it going. Migrants also add incredibly to the diversity and culture of the country. Maybe people need a reminder of all these positive factors – a migrant strike would provide just such a wake up call.  Failure to heed the present warning signs will no doubt in the long term result in fewer people coming to a country where at present they feel vilified not valued. If that happens, everyone will be a loser.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Why Cathoilics should back Jeremy Corbyn's leadership bid

The policy positions outlined by Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn seem to have much in common with the recent utterances of Pope Francis and the social teachings of the Church.


So, just as Pope Francis has emphasised the importance of the human person as opposed to the accumulation of profits, so Mr Corbyn has called for people based policies grounded in the common good.


His support of trade unions resonates with Church teachings regarding the right of individuals to become members and the need to rebalance the otherwise unfair workplace indices of power.


Mr Corbyn also reflects Church teachings in the international field, particularly in relation to peace. He opposes military action against Isis, opposed the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and would scrap the Trident nuclear weapons system.


On the question of the environment, there is little if anything that Mr Corbyn would disagree with in Laudato Si. He favours renewable energy development over nuclear and fracking. More widely on energy he has called for the renationalisation of utilities like electricity, water and gas, as well as the railways, so that these services can serve the common good of people rather than the interests of shareholders.


Mr Corbyn also gives profound personal witness to his beliefs in a similar way to Pope Francis. So just as the Pope has embraced a humble lifestyle within the trappings of the Vatican, so Mr Corbyn lives frugally, cycles and maintains his own allotment.


The parallels between Mr Corbyn and the Pope can though be taken too far, there are many differences. Mr Corbyn is for instance pro-abortion and contraception. He is also not a particular fan of faith schools, though has no plans to dismantle them.


However, Mr Corbyn does have much Catholic support, particularly among the social justice fraternity. At the recent National Justice and Peace Network conference, Professor of Peace Studies  Paul Rodgers addressing the challenges of climate change and the growing  inequalities in the world, suggested that Mr Corbyn was the politician suggesting the most appropriate solutions.


My first contact with Mr Corbyn came 20 years ago in relation to a miscarriage of justice case involving two Catholic Tamils Prem Sivalingham and Sam Kulasingham. The two men had been convicted of murder, serving eight years for the crime they did not commit. The campaign to establish their innocence, included many from the then recent Guildford Four and Birmingham Six campaigns. Mr Corbyn made representations to the Home Office, which together with the efforts of the campaign and most importantly solicitor Gareth Peirce led to the two being cleared at the Court of Appeal.


Mr Corbyn has played such a role in many Catholic causes, not least of which was laying the ground for the peace process in Ireland. In the 1980s he was one of those who invited Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams to London to speak. There was much vilification in Parliament and the media at the time, but the dialogue was opened that help lay the way for peace a decade later.


It has been Mr Corbyn’s principled stand on matters of social justice - which also resonate with the teachings of the Church - that so appeal to Labour Party members and the wider public. He has stood by his principles, whilst so many others appear ready to trade just about anything in the interests of political expediency. Whether the principled stand will be enough to win him the leadership remains to be seen, what is for sure is that his candidacy has opened up a whole new seam of hope amid what has become a pretty moribund political scene
 
see - Jeremy Corbyn is the Labour leader for me - Tablet - 7/8/2015

Thursday, 6 August 2015

What can West Ham supporters expect from the new season?


West Ham United supporters must really be wondering what to expect come the new season.

The club over the summer replaced manager Sam Allardyce with former West Ham centre half and Croatian team manager Slaven Bilic. A series of signings have arrived, with others - most notably one of last seasons success stories - Stewart Downing heading in the opposite direction.

The club qualified for the Europa League courtesy of heading the fair play league last term. As a result the fans have had an early sight of what might be expected in the coming season. Thus far, few will have been impressed, with West Ham creeping through the first couple of rounds against very low level European opponents.

First, there were the Andorrans Lusitans who were defeated 3-0 before a full house at Upton Park in early July. The Hammers then won the away leg 1-0.

Then came the Maltese side Birkirkara who proved a rather tougher nut to crack. West Ham won by a 90th minute goal at home, then managed to lose the away game by the same score. In the end, the Hammers won 5-3 on penalties.

Manager Bilic revealed little of his hand in either of these games. In the first, the fans got a chance to see the likes of 16 year old Reece Oxford and other development squad players, whilst in the second the side resembled more the side of last season. Many fans will have been surprised (if not dismayed) to see Kevin Nolan starting both games against Birkirkara.

However, the new signings made by the club over the summer have been notable by their absence from the European games – this may suggest that Bilic has totally different ideas as to how he is going to approach the Premier League.

Over the summer, West Ham have bought quality in Angelo Ogbonna for £10 million from Juventus, midfielder Pedro Obiang for £4 million from  Sampdoria, Dimitri Payet for £10 million from Marseille and Argentinian Manuel Lanzini on loan for the season from Arab Emirates team Al Jazira. Arsenal full back Carl Jenkinson has also returned for another season long loan.

All the players though will know things will be different under a new manager. Players who previously were in, could now be out and via versa. The past fortunes of centre back Winston Reid provide a good example as to how things can change. Bought by then manager Avram Grant in 2010, Reid was quickly frozen out and saw little playing time. Then Grant leaves, being replaced by Allardyce in the summer of 2011. Allardyce likes Reid, who becomes a stalwart of the team over the next four seasons. There will no doubt be similar twists and turns for other players under Bilic. What now for Reid with the signing of Obanna?

The European question though is one that must be causing some head scratching at Upton Park. If the club progresses to the group stages, then there will be the need for a much bigger squad. If it does not the opposite applies. On the basis of the Birkirkara performance, maybe that big squad will not be required.

On the playing side, the indications so far also suggest the team will be reverting to more traditional West Ham style of play or put another way not the aerial bombardments favoured by Allardyce sides.

The owners have left Bilic in no doubt about what is expected from him. A top eight finish has been set as the target, with relegation resulting in dismissal without compensation. It must be the latter horror scenario that keeps some in the boardroom awake at nights. Moving into the Olympic Stadium as a championship side is not what the owners or any other West Ham fan expects.

The new manager though starts with an immense amount of goodwill behind him. He was a much loved player at the club, despite only playing for a couple of seasons in the mid-1990s. He is already far more popular with the fans than poor old Allardyce was even when things were going well during his time in charge.

Fans though are fickle creatures and can quickly turn. Expectations are high but on present showing West Ham will do well to make the top eight, with possibly a similar placing to last year being more realistic. A cup run, whether European or domestic could raise spirits dulled by over expectation in the league.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Time for a one day migrant strike

It must be time for a one day migrant strike. Then the people of this island could see just what migrants contribute. The health, education, transport and the care sectors would grind to a halt.
What would the populace do with no one to serve their lattes let alone build their house extensions. Such an action would bring a dose of reality to the immigration debate. Some might begin to realise the net benefits (that is taxable income incidentally) that migrants bring to the British economy.

Independent letters - 5/8/2015