Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Tribute to Eric Barker

Eric Barker was a friend of mine. He lived at Eckington in North East Derbyshire. He died six months ago and his funeral service was conducted by the Humanist Association, in line with his wishes.

On 30 July, I placed an item on this blog about the late Kevin Hughes. We had been colleagues as M.P.s and Kevin was also a humanist, but in preparation for his own funeral he opted for a Church Service as a means of saying farewell to his family and friends.

There is sharp contrast in these two approaches, both of which seem to me equally valid. As I am myself a humanist, it has made me consider which of these arrangements I should myself opt for. Hopefully, I will be given some time to give the matter further thought.

An additional connection between Kevin and Eric is that I taught them both politics on Industrial Day Release Classes run for members of the NUM. I first met Eric in a class of Derbyshire Miners in 1972 and Kevin in a class of Yorkshire Miners in 1978 .

Eric's family asked me to speak in his memory at Brimington Crematorium at Chesterfield on 10th February. I give below the tribute, I paid to him.

I first met Eric when he was already 49 - over 33 years ago. Back in 1972, he was in a class of Derbyshire Miners who were on Day-Release. I was a Politics Tutor.

Eric was in his element. He loved to study, read, investigate, write, debate and (above all) argue. Anyone who received one of his lengthy letters will know all about these abilities.

He used to pride himself on being the "old man" of the class, with experience of life to offer to the rest of us. He helped to make our meetings quite exceptional.

Let me quote from my class report of their work.

"I never met a class which worked together so well as an integrated unit. They enjoyed each others company tremendously and worked together keenly. Their enthusiasm was such that they managed perfectly with a minimum amount of formal teaching, but were able to investigate problems amongst themselves and make there own intellectual discoveries.

The class fulfilled many of the ideals of liberal adult education..... A measure of the(ir) enthusiasm.....was I experienced the most intellectually stimulating coffee breaks ever".

Eric's fatherly role in that class was essential to its success.

Eric became active as a delegate to meetings of the Derbyshire NUM and to
the NE Derbyshire Constituency Labour Party. I rubbed shoulders with him at the latter. They were days of heated debate and political turmoil. Eric was in the thick of events and he loved the dialectics of debate.

His great Labour Party success came at the 1977 Labour Party Conference at Brighton. The leadership of the Labour Party were trying to sideline a resolution from our Constituency Party, aimed at defending two teams of rebel Labour Councillors from Clay Cross.

Eric's famous white cap could be seen bobbing about the Conference floor, as he went round getting signatures for a petition to support our resolution. The same went on at a series of fringe meetings which Eric turned up at each lunchtime and evening. His cap was even highlighted on television.

I was with him as a Conference visitor. He finally won the day. The motion was debated and overwhelmingly carried. It all took a lot out of Eric as the opening of his speech indicated.

He said, "Conference, yesterday I was emotionally upset and was in the process of tearing up my card, but Harry Barnes stopped me, and you, the Delegates of Conference have restored my faith in the organisation. The bureaucracy of the machine can be moved".

Eric served actively and effectively on both the Eckington Parish Council and the NE Derbyshire District Council. In 1986 he became Chair of the District Council. This presented him with some challenges.

First, there was the Chair's Charity Appeal. He was determined to be proactive. Although he was now approaching 65, he went on a sponsored walk of the Pennine way from Derbyshire to Scotland. The Youth Service were active in his support.

My wife Ann worked for the Service and assisted. In fact Eric ended up in our native County Durham in my mother-in-law's bed. Not many can say that. She was, however, away on holiday at the time.

Eric's second challenge was what he could do about the Chair's Civic Service which was due to be held at the Eckington Parish Church. For as you see today, Eric was a Humanist and definitely non-religious. So he wrote one of his long letters to the then Bishop of Durham.

This was because the then Bishop was much more of a Humanist himself than he was a Christian fundamentalist. So the Bishop came and gave a talk that was followed by questions and answers. Eric participated. It was more like a political discussion meeting than a Service.

He next wished to go one step further. He refused to place his symbol of office (the Chairman's Chain) around his neck. He wanted to sell it off for Charity. But I think that the District Council had had enough of such independence of thought by then.

For the bulk of the second half of the time I knew Eric, I was the local M.P.

He never inundated me with issues, but he certainly knew how to make the best use of our friendship. He would send missives to the local authorities on blocked rights of way, Japanese Knotweed running wild, the swimming baths losing its water (into his cellar) and many other local issues.

He would mark my name on the letters to show that I had been sent a copy. But I did not have to respond, unless he came back to me to say that his tactic hadn't worked. But with a lot of hard work and the help of some media coverage, he normally moved the bureaucracy once more.

He also knew that an M.P. can often get to someone who can find things out for them.
So he would call into my M.P.s surgeries to set the wheels in motion for a search. When I sent him what had been discovered, I knew that some avenue of officialdom was about to receive a well argued missive and I would get a copy.

On one he added a note saying - "Just to let you know that the old dog (Barker) can still bite a little."

From l973 he served 19 years as a Labour Parish Councillor, but when he finally got round to tearing up his Labour Party Membership Card, he returned to the Eckington Parish Council as an Independent in 2001. But I could never think of him as a political opponent, only as a friend and a socialist.

Thanks to the family for asking me to speak today. The last time I saw Eric was when the Constituency Labour Party gave me a farewell evening on my retirement as an M.P. Although Eric was not in good health, he arranged for Emma to bring him and he spoke. Even though he sent me a last long and treasured letter, just in case he couldn't make it.

On such occasions there are many kind speeches, but none were more telling than Eric's. It won't be forgotten.

We sometimes say about departed friends that there will never be their like again. But the strength of Eric was that he believed that many others (even without his personal characteristics) could be just like him inside. In a world of violence, exploitation and poverty; it is with people in Eric's image that our hopes for the future rests.

Thank you Eric. We will be looking for you in the other people we love and admire.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Then & Now


50 years ago I was in Basra undertaking my National service.

Although Iraq was only two years away from its 1958 revolution, it was seen as a quiet posting. We moved about and mixed freely.

It was only as I left to be demobbed that signs of social unrest were emerging. Iraq’s Monarchical Regime was a client of Britain and our invasion of Suez did not play well.

By that time, I was in a camp 50 miles east of Baghdad which was then called Habbaniya. It is close to Fallujah. I was waiting to be flown home. The BBC (as relayed over the camp tannoy) told us that only a handful of military advisers were present in Iraq. In reality there were 3,000 of us at this one camp alone, which had a considerable aerial strike capacity which I feared could be drawn upon in the Suez conflict.

Those of us who were homeward bound were due to fly out over Syria. Permission to travel over their air space was, however, withdrawn when Britain moved to invade Egypt. We finally set off via Ankara in Turkey. At that time, all I ever saw of Iraqi Kurdistan was from the air.

It was earlier experiences in Baghdad and Basra which had a lifelong impact upon me.

When I initially arrived in Iraq early in 1955, I travelled by rail from Baghdad to Basra. The train stopped at the southern outskirts of Baghdad in the middle of what seemed a biblical scene - I hadn’t yet come across the Koran.

I was looking out on what is called a Sarifa. A living area where everything was made out of dried mud. There were mud walls, mud dwellings, no vegetation and open sewers running down mud streets. Everyone seemed to be outdoors crawling over this huge pile of mud.

Although the scene was by no means as bad as the ones we now see on our TV screens from Palestine and the Lebanon, it was a big shock to an inexperienced teenager in a pre-TV era.

My duties included regular visits to the docks and railway yards, where I always saw exploited labourers carrying huge old fashioned refrigerators and other massive weights on their deeply bent backs.

These experiences were a shock to my religious and political assumptions. I was an active Methodist and an inactive Labourite at the time. But I was soon into long discussions with Corporal Murphy who was an ex-Catholic with “atheist” on his locker where we had to designate our religion.

He introduced me to the works of James Joyce, whilst a bookshop in Basra soon became my own form of Mecca. I ordered the New Statesman on rice paper and the Indian Bookseller even had a supply of Rationalist Press Association books, which were given an added edge when the local Anglican Vicar damned them from the pulpit.

It was only when I ordered Das Kapital that this was blocked by the local Chief of Police. It was my first indication that the Iraqi Communist Party was a threat to the regime.

By 1956 I had turned to humanism and socialism and have not shifted since. It was a highly educative period. Khrushchev made his revelations about Stalin. The Suez and Hungarian crises overlapped. Tony Crosland published his “Future of Socialism” and GDH Cole countered in the pages of my New Statesman.

But nothing fed my emotions and my mind more than the daily sight of the condition of the Iraqi Working Class. Excessive toil, poverty and exploitation existed in the midst of growing oil wealth.


My recent return to Iraq was in part a mirror image of my experiences 50 years earlier. This time I only saw Basra and Baghdad from the air, landing in Iraqi Kurdistan for the first time.

I did, however, have past links with the area.

In 1991 the Kurds had fled into the mountains following a massive assault by Saddam Hussein’s forces. Many starved, were frozen and died. It is currently a matter at the centre of the trail of Saddam Hussein and others, including the infamous Chemical Ali.

The British public responded fully to an appeal by “British Aid for the Kurds”, who collected huge quantities of foodstuffs, medical supplies, blankets and clothing. This easily outmatched the Conservative Government’s efforts.

Working with Lorraine Goodchild, their organiser, I successfully campaigned at Westminster for the Conservative Government to air lift these materials to Iran for forwarding to the Kurds.

A consequence of the Baathist attacks of 1991 was the introduction of the no-fly zone over Northern Iraq, producing the withdrawal of Saddam’s forces.

At Sulaimaniyah, I visited the scene of a key conflict between the Kurds and Saddam’s troops at the blood-stained Red House which had been a Baathist military centre and a mass torture chamber in which 5,000 died in hideous circumstances.

From 1991 onwards (whilst overcoming a period of internal conflict), the Kurds set about dismantling Saddam Hussein’s oppressive structure and laws, whilst building a new life in the region.

Kirkuk and Mosul are still problem areas and even the monument to those gassed at Halabja has been destroyed , but generally at centres such as Erbil the Kurds maintain their own security and run their own democratic, economic and social structures. Yet they are keen to co-operate with and influence official developments in the rest of Iraq.

It is an area with considerable potential in oil, hydro-electricity, building, tourism and raw material extraction.

But it needs our urgent help and involvement.

I visited the area with Labour Friends of Iraq and British Trade Unionists. We met workers in factories, their homes, on a Trade Union training course funded by Unison and in their capacity as Trade Union activists.

The Kurdish Workers’ Federation were our expert hosts and Trade Union leaders flew in from the rest of Iraq. In all we met representatives of over a million organised workers. At our meeting with the wider Trade Union Movement in Erbil, I was presented with a prize possession - a certificate of honorary membership of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions.

Outside of Iraqi Kurdistan, Saddam’s Anti-Trade Union Laws still hamper
normal Trade Union activity and a recent decree has even sequestrated Trade Union funds.

After the horrific consequences of the Iraq-Iran War, the Gulf War, Sanctions,
Baathist death squads, invasion and terrorism it is fully time for those active in the wider Labour Movement to link arms with our Iraqi comrades to help them to mobilize, gain proper recognition, negotiate and build for democracy and decency.

It is now easy to assist, whatever position anyone took about the invasion of Iraq and over the question of the continuing presence of British and American troops in that troubled nation.

We only need to turn to a key book recently published by the TUC, entitled “Hadi Never Died : Hadi Saleh and the Iraqi Trade Union Movement” by Abdullah Muhsin and Alan Johnson. Hadi was a leading Iraqi Trade Unionist who was brutally murdered in Baghdad. I had the privilege of chairing a meeting in the Commons which he had addressed.

At the back of the book there is a guide to three main solidarity contacts in this country - the TUC’s Solidarity Committee, the TUC’s Aid Iraq Appeal and the General Federation of Iraqi Workers. There is also, of course, the group I am active with Labour Friends of Iraq. These avenues are all worthy of support.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Shuffling The Pack

Sheffield FC 2 Arnold Town 1

On Tuesday night, Sheffield FC progressed to the Second Round of the President’s Cup thanks to a super goal in the 62 minute by Matt Roney. His near-name sake, Wayne Rooney would have been proud of this 30 yard effort which trumped into the back of the net.

It was, therefore, a big surprise when Roney was substituted, for tactical reasons in the 75th minute. Perhaps it was done on the grounds that a lighting strike was unlikely to occur again in the same net on the same night.

As on Saturday in the League game against Mickleover Sports, Sheffield FC were the better team in the first half, then they faded before eventually running out 2-1 winners.

Sheffield only had a single goal and a narrow lead to mark their first half superiority, which happened when Lee Broster diving to save a shot failed to hold onto it and Jon Pickess nipped in to put the rebound into the net.

Sheffield’s Chris White was the outstanding player on the pitch. From the left wing he sent a steam of enticing centres across, especially when his team dominated in the first half.

It was, therefore strange to hear the Sheffield players behind him giving him a alternative stream of instructions as he went into action, just as is he were a novice. Perhaps he was quick witted enough to act on these instantaneously, although I suspect it was water off a ducks back. Just like the stream of instructions coming from Arnold coach to “hold the line”.

After Roney’s effort, we nearly had another miracle goal when Rob Ward, Sheffield’s striker had his back to goal and took the ball on his instep at knee height whilst pirouetting to place the ball just over the bar. Yet there is no-one who look less like a ballet dancer.

But then Ward and the two goal scorers were all substituted in a small spell. Yet 15 minutes remained and there was still a real possibility of extra time being played. Sheffield had no substitutes left on the bench. The same happened at Saturday’s League game so that when Paul Smith was injured, Sheffield played 20 Minutes with ten men. Luckily for Sheffield the match did not go to extra time and penalties, as Peter Smith one of their substitutes ( and one of three Smith’s on the books) went on to miss from the spot shortly after he came on.

The reasoning for these moves can been discerned from the Manager notes in the official programme. Dave McCarthy points out that he needs a big squad of players to cover the season, yet he has lost three players to Belper FC in the past week as he could not find places for these on the team sheet.

In the first two games of the season, he has used up all his substitutes, seemingly to give as many players as he can a game. This means that he has played 19 players; although two changes have resulted from inquiries.

Furthermore, McCarthy is no friend of the President’s Cup. This trophy involves teams from the Premiership and First Division of the Northern Counties East League. He feels that the competition “should be scrapped” or played pre-season or restricted to the 8 bottom teams in both divisions, whose lack of success may mean they have less games to play over the season.

The lack of enthusiasm for the President’s Cup seems to be shared by the spectators. The crowd dropped from 160 on Saturday to what seemed to be just over 100. Yet the club plays in Dronfield which has a population of over 23,000 and it has a set 6 teams, plus admirable charity and network activities. So its potential support is considerable.

A successful fight for promotion this season, plus publicity around its coming 150th anniversary as the oldest club in football, could tap into its potential support. The only problem is that it will lead to an awful crush at the club’s pub bar once the final whistle blows - and I have to dash there with my walking stick!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Have Speech, Will Travel

I have started addressing meetings about the role of Labour Friends of Iraq and its links with the Iraqi Trade Union Movement. To date, I have discussed the issues involved with the Derby Fabian Society and with the General Committees of the Constituency Labour Parties at Wyre Forest and Fylde. As an ex-student of Ruskin College, I am also due to address the Ruskin Fellowship next month.

If anyone represents a group in the Labour Movement that would like me to address them on the above topic, then please contact me using the comments section below.

I am grateful for the Wyre Forest Labour Party for letting me post the following extract from their Minutes and for their kind comments. The meeting took place on 22 June, 2006.

O606.3 Speaker : Harry Barnes, Joint President of Labour Friends of Iraq (LFIQ) and former M.P. gave a stimulating and informative overview of the efforts being made to encourage trade unions in Iraq. Whatever our position on the war, Harry encouraged us to look forward and to support efforts to promote the Iraqi Labour movement.

Iraq is a country where there is much division along ethnic and religious lines - the Shia and Sunni Arabs in the south and central areas , with the Kurdish Sunnis in the north. Following the imposition of the no-fly zone in the north, the Kurds used their greater freedom, even in Saddam's era, to exercise a modicum of self-government. This has been developed further since the invasion and includes the recognition of trade unions and their positive role in the community. Elsewhere, the delay in forming a stable, effective government means that laws prohibiting trade unions in the public sector remain in force. Also, the Transitional Government had frozen and sequestrated the funds of the unions until the newly elected Government is in a position to legislate on the State/Union relationship. Trade unions have not had a positive image in the past as they were either banned or controlled by Saddam’s regime.

There are about 1 million union members across Iraq. Given that unemployment rates are up to 50% this constitutes a significant proportion of the working population. The General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) is part of the Arab Federation of Trade Unions and is in receipt of practical help from Britain, including the TUC, UNISON, FBU and the National Union of Journalists. What they require from trade unions here is help “to stand on their own feet and reconstruct Iraq.”

Given its recent history, it would be challenging enough to develop trade unionism if there was an effective government in place. But current efforts are being hampered by the lack of sympathy from the USA and the opposition of Islamic fundamentalism. About 2000 union members have been killed , such as workers on oil pipelines and civil servants, who are regarded as legitimate targets by terrorists. Not all trade union members in voting have supported non-theocratic politics but there are countervailing factors which may lead to changes in the long run.

Harry distributed copies of a report from LFIQ following a recent visit by them to Iraqi Kurdistan which included an appeal for old mobile phones and chargers to be sent to the ‘TUC Aid for Iraq Appeal’. The session concluded with questions and answers. Topics raised included whether it is right to try to impose a western-style democracy; the likelihood of independence for Kurdistan given the potential impact on surrounding countries upon this; the potential for a secular state emerging and the role of women.

Harry concluded with an appeal to delegates to find out what practical steps their unions are giving to the GFIW. Also, we were encouraged to have a balanced picture of what is happening in Iraq. In response to a question about corruption, Harry reminded us that the introduction of “ the principles of democracy is the way corruption and dictatorships are constrained.”

Having thanked Harry for his thought-provoking contribution. The Chair asked for a follow up item on next month’s agenda.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sheffield Leave It Late

Sheffield FC 2 Mickleover Sports 1

Someone said that we were into the seventh minute of inquiry time when Darren Holmes rose to a centre in the far side of the penalty box to head the winner into the net.

On their home ground in the opening game of the season in front of just under 200 spectators, Sheffield FC has stolen the game 2-1 against Mickleover Sports in this Northern Counties East League game.

The end of the first half had been just as dramatic. Sheffield FC had dominated the first 45 minutes, except for a 10 minute spell when Mickleover took over. But it had looked as if the half would be goalless.

Then Gavin Smith, the Sheffield FC right back had a crazy attacking spell in the last three minutes of the half.

In the 43rd Minute, he hit the post. In the 44th Minute, he scored a goal that was judged to be offside. In the 45th Minute, he put his team 1-0 ahead and there wasn't even time to restart the game before the half-time whistle.

Yet the second half wasn't Sheffield's at all, until the end. Mickleover dominated and their captain Pat Lyons scored with a fine free kick.

In desperation, Sheffield FC made all three substitutions in a short spell. Then Paul Smith was taken off injured and they were down to 10 men. With no other hope they had suddenly gone on the attack, just as if someone had pulled a switch.

Darren Holmes is Sheffield's player of last season, but until he grabbed the last gap winner he had had one of his quietest games.

Sheffield fielded several new players, including Andy Brownrigg in central defence who showed the dominance you would expect from someone who had been on the books of several League Clubs, including Norwich City. Pat Lyons marshalled the game for Mickleover.

The match against Mickleover proved to be no knock over, yet Sheffield had finished 24 points ahead of them last season. In mitigation, Sheffield had a powerful Andy Townsend effort disallowed because the referee had blown too quickly for a Sheffield free kick. Whilst Sheffield FC spectators were convinced that Mickleover should have had two players sent off.

Tuesday's opposition on the Sheffield ground is Arnold Town in the League's President's Cup and it looks like a tough test as the two teams would have finished level last season, but for three points which Arnold had had deducted for an infringement. Sheffield will do well not to depend upon last minute smash and grab raids on that occasion.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Killing Fields

Can you envisage a crowd of 25,000 turning up to enjoy themselves at a fun event in Baghdad ? It happened in June at the Al-Shaab Stadium for a football match between Al-Zawraa and Al-Jawiya.

It should be no surprise. It is amazing how the people of Baghdad go about their lives and work in such dangerous conditions. Their commitment to soccer is widespread and it cuts across the religious and ethnic divides.

The Iraqis picked up their love of football from British occupiers a long time ago. It is rather like the legacy of cricket throughout the former British Empire, except that Iraq was a 20th century creation when the British Working Class were going football crazy. The game was introduced into our RAF camps and at the oil companies we ran.

The Iraqi national team has recently been training at a stadium I kept passing when in Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan in April. They have been preparing for the qualifying games for the Asian Cup. They are a fine team and have recently defeated Syria in a couple of friendly matches. They even have a game scheduled to meet a team from another would-be nation in turmoil - Palestine. The match is to be played in Amman in Jordan on 17th August.

It is a game that deserves to be beamed across the globe, just like the World Cup was. For when that contest took place, adults and children huddled around TV sets in Iraq.

Indeed the children were encouraged to take an interest by UNICEF who saw football as being a universal language which could help to break down barriers and advance every child’s right to live in peace.

The only thing that could stop masses of Iraqi people watching soccer on TV was the regular break down in their electricity supplies. But terrorists don’t like anything which brings people together on a cross-community basis. So they have moved in to attack the people’s game.

Whilst young men were playing football in the District of Amil in western Baghdad, two bombs buried in a field exploded and killed ten of them, aged from 9 to 20. There were another 15 casualties. In a nearby area, two mortar shells hit children, some of whom were playing football. Three were killed. And at Al-Hadhar in Nineveh Province, 160 miles north of Baghdad a suicide bomber ploughed in a police post at a football match, killing 3 officers and 7 civilians.

All above three attacks have occurred within the past fortnight.

When the military Junta smashed democracy in Chile in 1973, they took over the National Stadium and crowded 40,000 people into it, many of whom were tortured and disappeared for good. Terrorists in Iraq can’t operate on such a large scale, but they follow a similar pattern. Last year, the bodies of 19 Iraqis were found in the football stadium at Haditha, north of Baghdad. They were in civilian clothing and the Ministry of Defence stated that they were fishermen from the south of Iraq.

Nor is the national team free from pressures. Recently, 60 year old Akram Ahmed Salman (their coach) was forced to resigned following a second death threat. His assistant, Rahim Hamid also resigned after similar threats which he said arose because of his links with the Iraqi Sports Federation. The terrorists who threatened him don’t like the Federation, which they see as attempting to integrate those they wish to separate.

Sadiq Alwohali, an Iraqi football coach living in London, has set up a body called “Football For A Change”. When he recently arranged for a group of 12 year olds to visit this country to play games in Stoke Newington and Brighton, he faced considerable difficulties. An Iraqi Olympic official helping him with the finances back in his home country was kidnapped on 15 July. Then the authorities would not waive any of the £1,000 fee for visas, which can only be obtained at great inconvenience from the British Embassy in Jordan.

It is hoped to extend the project to cover girls and to alter the organisations title to “Sport For A Change”. The difficulty of women and girls being footballers and fans in neighbouring Iran was shown in Jafar Panahi’s fine film “Offside”, when a handful of women unsuccessfully attempt to attend the Iran v Bahrain World Cup qualifier and join the equally illegal mixed celebrations afterwards in the streets with their male counterparts. Needless to say, the film is banned in Iran itself.

For their love of football, many have to pay much more than the price of a ticket. In Iraq some are paying with their limbs and their lives. Only when peace comes to Iraq can they ensure that their playing fields will not double as killing fields. All of us should be keen to help them, not least those who are eagerly awaiting the start of our own Premiership season.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Football Crazy, Football Mad

Retired people are often seen as trying to recapture their youth. I am no exception.

When I was a youngster, I used to watch a great deal of football. At 15, I clocked up over 40 top flight League and Cup games involving teams from the old First Division of the Football League, the equivalent of today’s Premier League. This was in 1951.

Half of these were at Roker Park, watching my team Sunderland in the days of the great Len Shackleton. When Sunderland played away from home, I divided my time between watching matches at Newcastle and Middlesbrough.

As Wor Jackie Milburn played for Newcastle and the highly skilled Wilf Mannion played for the Boro, you will see why I feel that I shall never see their likes again.

I was much younger when I started going to local Wearside League matches at the ground of Easington Colliery Welfare. Sometimes dashing up after the end of a junior school day to catch the end of a mid-week match (there were no floodlights in those days).

When I was 12, I managed to be at 4 matches in 2 days. The first, was a footy knock about as a physical education lesson. I then met my father for a visit to an evening kick off at Roker Park for the final of the Shipowners Cup between Sunderland Reserves and the locals, Easington Colliery Welfare. It was now light nights near the end of the season.

It is the only time I ever went to Roker Park to support anyone but the home team.
Easington had just won the Wearside League and had two star players at inside and outside left: Drake and Wake. This was long before these positions began to be called that of an attacking mid-field player and a left-side striker.

Easington were awarded a penalty at the Fulwell end of the ground. Drake moved up to take the shot. He was on the verge of the peak of his career. All he had to do to put the ball in the back of the net and score the match winner, in order to capture the top local trophy for the Colliery. On what was then, one of the nation’s top grounds.

But as his foot dug into the ground, the ball trickled into the goalkeeper’s hands. Sunderland then scored, and won the cup 1-0.

The next morning, I went back to my Secondary School ground to see our school lose to Eppleton’s 4-3. I then dashed with my mates to see Sunderland draw 1-1 with Birmingham City at the last game of the season. Our goal was scored by Jackie Stelling from the same penalty spot where Drake had drawn a duck.

Whilst I haven’t recently equalled this record of 4 games in 2 days, I have just made it to three games on three consecutive evenings. All of these games, were at a ground which is 15 minutes walk from my home.

It is the ground of Sheffield FC who are the oldest team in the world, founded in 1857 and reach their 150th Anniversary next year.

When I was the local M.P. I was rather jealous of those M.P.s who were lucky enough to have a League team’s ground in their Constituency, none more so than Bill Etherington who first of all had Roker Park in his constituency, then Sunderland’s
new modern ground called the ‘Stadium of Light’ (which is next door to where my wife used to work at Edward Thompson’s up to our marriage.)

Then in 2001, Sheffield FC moved into the old Coach and Horses ground near me in Dronfield. They even took over the Coach and Horses pub. Under a sponsorship deal, the ground’s name changed to the ‘Bright Finance Stadium’. Which is known to some of us as ’The Stadium of Bright’ !

Although Sheffield FC only play in the Premier Division of the Northern Counties East League (which is at Step 5 of the Non League Pyramid, with more than 200 other Non League Clubs playing in higher divisions), they are the originals. Where else could you have an FA Cup game between the oldest team in the world and the original winners of the World Cup ? It happened when Sheffield FC played West Auckland Town 4 years ago.

What World Cup was that ? It was the first international trophy ever. Supplied by Sir Thomas Lipton and won twice by West Auckland in 1909 and 1911. The second time they defeated Juventus 6-1 in the final.

It is often asked; if Sheffield FC were the first team in the world, then who did they play against, before Hallam FC broke away from them and formed the second team in the world? This is to misunderstand what a football club was in those days.

It was initially a Club where the members could play football. So games were organised between married and unmarried men and between those in professional occupations and the rest. Above all it codified the rules, which form the basis for the modern game.

As other Clubs were established they began to play each other . So Sheffield FC vs. Hallam FC isn’t only the oldest derby in the world, for when the match is played at Hallam (who still operate on their original site) it is the oldest derby in the world on the oldest ground in the world.

Sheffield FC are also founder members of the Football Association.

But when they held onto their amateur status, they were outmatched by the professionals, including Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday and even Hartlepool United. These full-time professionals were the three opponents I saw over three evenings at my Stadium of Bright.

A Sheffield United XI including members of their Academy Team and a sprinkling of
Reserves won 6-1. Sheffield FC’s only goal was a fluke. A ball was cleared from a corner and it came out to Darren Holmes (Sheffield FC’s player of last season) who mishit it and it trickled to our striker Rob Ward who was near the goal and only had to prod it into the net.

Tuesday’s match was between Sheffield FC’s under 19s and Sheffield Wednesday’s under 18s. It was a much more even game and it wasn’t until 5 minutes from that end that Wednesday’s best player Todd Wood scored past Sheffield FC’s best player the goalkeeper Will Burkin, to clinch the game 2-1.

Next evening, we were back to another drubbing for the first team, 5-1 against a Hartlepool XI. This was less one sided than the Sheffield United match and three of Hartlepool’s goals came in a rush in the last 20 minutes. The Hartlepool team was again a mixture of Youth and Reserves, with the odd player having first team experience.

I was keen to see Hartlepool, as my father was on their books as a goalkeeper back in the 1932-33 season. He played games in the Reserves and in what used to be termed “Practice Matches”. Teams in the pre-season preparations didn’t play friendly matches, but would play a match or two in public in which (say) their first team defence and their Reserve attack played an opposing mix.

I hold a faded newspaper cutting from the Hartlepool Football Mail saying that “Joseph Barnes, Hartlepool’s new amateur goalkeeper displayed good form in today’s practice match”. Some day it will end up with my grandson, who is also called Joseph.

Hartlepool wanted to sign my father as a professional, but I doubt whether the wage would have been much different from that he earned at the pit. But before he could become a professional, Stanley United (who held his registration) wanted a transfer fee of £20. Hartlepool would not meet this. At today’s prices this would still only be about £800. But if you consider the difference in the transfer fee structures between then and now, then it was as if Stanley United were asking for the equivalent of £40,000.

The game of his life came afterwards when Stanley United played the Army at Catterick. The Army dominated and won 2-1. But my Dad saved two penalties and umpteen shots and was chaired of the field at the end by the troops who packed the ground.

As a boy I once went with my pals to see Easington play the neighbouring Colliery team at Horden in a cup tie. Horden were in a higher league and their goalkeeper (who I have reason to believe was the Jack Dormand, who was later the constituency’s Labour M.P. and then a Peer) had not turned. So my Father was signed up for the game. Who on earth was I supposed to support - our Colliery or my Dad?

I used to watch my Father near the end of his football days playing for Easington Village Rovers. In fact, out of more than 60 years of watching football the most goals I have ever seen a team score is nine. This was Deaf Hill United at home against the Village, with my Dad in goal. Yet he saved a penalty (which was his speciality) and the Hartlepool Football Mail said he had played well ! Heaven knows how many Deaf Hill would have scored otherwise.

When it comes to Sheffield FC, I am concerned about its pre-season programming. Playing friendly matches against full-timers (especially at the start of a season) shows up a fitness gap and the resulting heavy defeats can lead to a loss of confidence. It seemed to happen last season and to lead to a poor start to the League season. We then recovered and just missed out on promotion. A few more early season points would have clinched it.

On the other side of the coin, games against tough opposition provide a big test and these pulled in reasonable total crowds of over 700 for the three games. It also lifts the Club’s profile.

But the proof of the pudding will be seen in its early League performances. I have a season ticket and well normally take that short walk to the ground. The only problem will be the alternative attractions of Sunderland playing in the area at Derby, Leicester, Barnsley, Leeds and Sheffield. After all as much as Sheffield FC help bring back my youth, I can’t avoid the attractions of my first love. I will just have to hope that as with any football philanderers, not too many dates clash.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Oh, My Daddy is a Left-wing Intellectual

Oh, my daddy is a left-wing intellectual
He supports the Co-op Movement do or die
We must nationalionize, he cries
Down with private enterprise
But his divi comes from shares in ICI

Alex Glasgow - Oh, My Daddy is a Left Wing Intellectual (The Songs of Alex Glasgow Vol 1)

Apart from its introductory material and a postscript, The Intellectual by Steve Fuller, consists of two essays and a dialogue, with an additional relevant preface to the paperback edition.

The dialogue is in the form of a fictional argument between a Philosopher and an Intellectual. Although the author accepts that philosophers can sometimes also be intellectuals, he feels that too few professional philosophers reach such heights.

The mixture of a dialogue with essays, presents problems for the reader. How are Fuller’s views on intellectuals being reflected in the dialogue? Is Fuller himself to be seen in the guise of the dialogue’s Intellectual who has various deep disputes with the Philosopher? Or are Fuller’s views to be seen in the interplay between the arguments of the two characters? After all he believes (obsessively) in the power of dialectical discourse.

When the above problem is resolved, there is still the question of trying to fit the other two essays in with the dialogue. This isn’t easy.

Fuller would probably argue that my above questions don’t matter as long as he makes the reader think about the issues raised. But the problem for the reader is that the views of intellectuals presented in the essays are often at variance with those of the Intellectual of the dialogue. Such confusion might actually hinder the development of a Socratic discourse in the mind of the reader.

One area of distinction between the Intellectual of the dialogue and the intellectuals of the essays is that the former is much more dismissive of philosophy itself (as you would expect in the drama of a dispute; but it is still a poor fit for the reader.)

Surprisingly, the essays give a chuck-on to a whole host of Philosophers to whom he grants the accolade of “intellectuals”. But this is partly due to the fact that Fuller is given to a form of name dropping. For Philosophers alone, he includes Protagorus and other Sophists, Erasmus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Russell, Sartre and Heidegger. Yet is only part of a small book of around 35,000 words.

It should be noted, however, that the Greek Philosophers who are closer to Fuller’s paradigm for intellectuals were universal “lovers of wisdom”. Generalists and not specialists. He only grants Bertrand Russell the title of intellectual once Russell had graduated from being a mere logician !

Whilst the Intellectual in the dialogue does recognise that philosophers can reach his own lofty status, he is extremely grumpy about four areas of Modern (i.e. post-Descartes) Philosophy. And these feelings do impact upon Fuller’s approach in the essays.

(1) Continental Philosophy is criticised as being given to closed systems, which override both questions and challenges by reverting inward to their own pre-programmed systems.

(2) Analytic Philosophy (the sort I studied in the 1960’s) is mainly seen as being involved in knit-picking ways of avoiding significant questions, by centring upon the meaning of the use of words - hence this knit-picking review.

(3) Science is often seen as a mixture of the too low or the too high. Either as low level theorising operating within specific and restricted areas, or as a form of non-cashable Philosophy of Science. The latter is seen as either involved in unfathomable jargon or (like Analytic Philosophy) acts to close down its investigations. Hence Karl Popper’s theory of “falsification” (that a scientific claim is only meaningful if presented in a way that in logic it is open to a possible falsification), is dismissed by the Intellectual in the dialogue.

(4) Metaphysics is also slated. Whilst it can escape the knit-picking arguments used against it by Analytic Philosophy, it falls (as with Continental Philosophy) into the trap of employing closed, immovable systems. On this matter, Fuller is now on the side of Popper and he calls for the use of open reasoning in an Open Society.

There seems to me to be two problems about Fuller’s approach. If we dismantle all of the above, we seem to be left empty handed. Whilst it also seems to be unfair to Popper. Clearly there is an intellectual connection between Popper’s call for an Open Society (which Fuller accepts in 4 above) and the open minded nature of his test of falsification (which Fuller rejects in 3 above.)

Yet Fuller’s attitude on Popper does not arise from a lack of knowledge, for he is also author of another work entitled ’Kuhn vs. Popper’ ( 2003, ICON books.)

In the 115 pages outside of the dialogue, Fuller is much more generous in granting his accolade of “intellectual” to philosophers and others. Fifty people are given the title. Ten of whom I grant, I had never heard of before. Most of those I had come across fit my own (admittedly analytic usage) of the term. They are thinkers who are highly skilled, widely knowledgeable and use reasoning and detailed empirical research in ways that the rest of us (in our critical and reflective moments) find to be innovative , informative and telling.

But Fuller reduces the scope of my above categorisation by continuing to exclude those he sees as specialists, advocates of closed systems and manipulators of ideas. The problem here is that Fuller is seemingly looking for idealised intellectuals, rather than human intellectuals with warts. Yet this is strange given his feelings for the importance of arguments and disputes, which leads him to say that it is better that we criticize him than that we report what he says uncritically. I should be in for some Brownie points.

On Fuller’s criteria we should really delete some people from his own list of intellectuals. Galileo should go as a specialist. John Gray when a Thatcherite should go for advocating a closed system. Whilst most of us would expect the Sophists to go as manipulators. Fuller does however defend the Sophists, whom he claims are misunderstood.

Noam Chomsky makes the list. But on Fuller‘s terms should he? When Chomsky produced his work on linguistics he was in a specialist area. As a political pundit, he clearly reveals a closed mind operating in a closed system - or so Oliver Kamn insists.

On the positive side (when he isn’t doing his own weeding out), Fuller sees intellectuals as having an interest in meta-politics. So as some-one with a joint degree in Politics and Philosophy (and an interest in their synthesis), how can my biases not be appealed to?

To give meta-politics its place, he says we need to look for independence of thought, rejection of personal interests, a search for truths and a “democratic sentiment” which leaves people to decide on matters for themselves.

Ignoring the question of how far we can tolerate the intolerant, he feels that we should exclude nothing from our agenda; even forms of racism, creationism and sexism should be investigated on their own terms as they might contain truths. What we find worrying about them are best grappled with through his beloved avenue of dialectical reasoning.

After the first publication of the hardback edition of his book in 2005 ( and as outlined in the Preface to this paperback edition), he went on to give evidence in defence of the teaching of creationism alongside Darwin’s theory of evolution in the Kitzmiller Vs Dover Area School District case in Pennsylvania. He felt that both positions (and those investigating them) would benefit from the interchanges.

As I am myself given to listening or reading Wagner (a racist), St Augustine (philosophically, a form of pre-creationist), and Schopeneur (a misogynist), I don’t necessarily disagree with what he is after; although I am more than sceptical of his Pennsylvanian hopes. But in the context of this book, it is clear that his willingness to make such concessions to strongly anti-social ideas, enables him to grant the title of “intellectual” to many who fall way short of his otherwise perfectionist criteria.

The paradox is that under my own above criteria, I am more than willing to designate, say, Schopeneur as an intellectual. But I don’t think that Fuller should via his own (mistaken) criteria. This is because Schopeneur’s use of his concept of “the will” is a closed and circular one.

In his book, Fuller is described as “a trainee Multi-media public intellectual”. I presume that he feels that in his academic work, he has already established his credentials and he is now training to adapt his skills to a post-modern canvas.

I hope that, within his own standards, this works. For as a self claimed socialist he comes up with a couple of telling points on New Labour and on a 36 year olds perception of the meaning of socialism. See the final paragraph of page 135 and the overlapping paragraph on pages 159/60.

A final word on dialectics. I am all for its use in the Socratic or educational sense, as I tried to pursue such avenues for 27 years as a tutor in Adult Education. I don’t, however, want people to be carried over into Hegelian Idealism or into the worst bits of Marx and Engels which is their Historical Materialism. Neither does Fuller, as these approaches are clearly part of Continental Philosophy and Metaphysics.

Yet, Fuller is such a strong advocate of dialectical reasoning that, he should really be more open minded about Empiricism, Logical Analysis, Metaphysics, Continental Philosophy and Scientific Methods.

It is a pity that he downgrades all these, whilst giving a boost to the anti-social theories of racism, sexism and creationism which thrive on non-intellectual techniques.