Sunday, December 31, 2006

Just In Time - Good News in 2006.

Trade unions have always needed to develop contervailing powers to that of capital at the levels at which capital itself pulls its major levers. This came to be done reasonably well in Britain on the national stage, although Thatcherism as consolidated by New Labourism set the clock back.

But with the continuing growth of the power of capital at supranational and international levels, trade unionism now needs to expand to fresh levels. A great deal of dedicated work is already done in developing international links by numbers of individual trade unions in this country and elsewhere. The work of the International Committees of our own TUC and of similar bodies is to be supported and encouraged. There also already exists international structures such as those of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

This news, however, that British, American and German Trade Union are moving to create a 6.3 million strong international union helps to take us into the essential next stage.

I realise that it is easier and more effective to base such a structure initially on Trade Unions in developed nations. But as a sign that such a form of Trade Unionism will need to embrace deprived nations, I hope that thought will be given to drawing in at least one Trade Union Movement which speaks for those at the real hard end of developments.

My suggestion? Derek Simpson and others working nobley for this new project, could do worse than contact the General Federation of Iraqi Workers and the comrades who work with them in the Kurdistan Workers' Syndicates in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Everyone involved could be onto a winner.

Friday, December 29, 2006

When Is Second Best?

Anniversary Time

Whilst early forms of football were played in China 2000 years ago and in many other places subsequently, the two existing soccer teams which have the longest continuous existence are Sheffield FC (founded in 1857) and Hallam FC (founded in 1860).

As both Clubs are in the Sheffield area, they played each other in an initial challenge match on Boxing Day 1860 on Hallam's ground. Both teams now play in the Northern Counties East League, so where better to play each other in 2006 than on boxing day at Hallam itself? This splendid 146th annivery game was even played on the ground where the teams first met, for this has been Hallam's home ever since their inception.

Thanks to fellow Sheffield FC supporter Tom giving me a lift in his car, I went to see this historic contest. It was our first visit to Hallam's ground, although I used to live within a couple of miles of it at a time when I never even knew of the teams' existence.

I am now lucky enough to live only a 15 minute walk away from the ground which Sheffield FC moved into in 2001. In contrast to Hallam, Sheffield's Bright Finance Stadium (formerly the Coach and Horses Ground named after the neighbouring pub) is the first ground which Sheffield FC have ever completely owned.

Whilst 8 of my past posted items have covered reports of this season's Sheffield FC home games the game at Hallam is my first ever away visit. And what a venue.

The Perfect Setting

The ground is beautifully situated, surrounded by stone walls and with stone built houses nearbye which blend into the green of the neighbouring countryside.

The pitch is what can kindly be called "undulating" and has a significant slope from one goal to the other. You can imagine the gentlemen of 1860 trying out their newly acquired football skills on the hallowed turf. There would have been a rope for a cross bar, with the players in trousers which looked rather like the Long Johns I had put on to keep out the cold; plus at least a sprinkling of fine handlebar moustaches.

Soccer was not then what it is now - mainly a spectator sport. It was for the privileged few who could afford the fees to join a Club at which they could arrange to play football. So matches took on the form of the married man playing the single men. The 1860 challenge match (the first Club contest and the first ever derby) would set up a pattern elsewhere that would transform their initial objectives, ushering in mass working class crowds and teams of professional players normally from the same background and restricted to being paid at a maximum wage ceiling.

Today we have moved to a further stage and are dominated by Murdoch and Sky TV and (at the top end) with the millions shelled out by Abramovich and company. Unless, of course, we also discover as I have by accident, the living roots of the game.

Hallam's ground is certainly a stark contrast to Old Trafford and the like. It even has a little hillock which runs down sharply to a corner flag. The corner taker has to run down it and try to propel the ball into the danger area. It was an art which Sheffield FC (and I imagine all other away teams) have not mastered.

Hallam FC's fine web site is worth visiting here. See the link to two videos of extracts from games, which show the classic setting which I have attempted to describe.

Hitting The Bulldozer for Six

Yeovil (when a non-league team) had a famous slope on their ground as if the pitch had been tipped up sideways. Although it gave them a great home advantage and they captured some famous League scalps in the FA Cup, they eventually brought in the bulldozers to flatten it. So why don't Hallam do the same?

First, it would be an act of vandalism, for the ground is living history. Secondly, they probably can't afford it and would have to demolish high stone walls for access. Finally, it wouldn't just mess up ye olde football, there is a longer history at stake.

Hallam was first founded as a Cricket Club way back in 1804 and the ground doubles as a cricket pitch. There is a batting area neatly rolled out just past one of the football touch lines. Further over there is a score board and a pavillion. When the football season is over, the area of the football field doubles as part of the cricket outfield.

Its cricket status also accounts for the netting round the outsides of the ground. For it is much more problematic in a game if a cricket ball disappears, then if the same happens to a football.

Sheffield United's ground at Bramall Lane used to have similar characteristics. When I first saw them play in a mid-week match against Arsenal in the 1965-66 season, Bramall Lane had spectators on three sides of the ground only. There was a Hallam style score board and pavilion in the distance, but all on a grander scale. Yorkshire County Cricket Club played matches there and it had even hosted some test matches. It was only if the three sides of the ground were full, that latecomers (in the days of standing) were forced into the pavilion side of the ground.

Appropriately, George Eastham was playing for Arsenal on my first visit. He was the player whose legal action helped to smash the maximum wage provision and lead us into the modern era of the game, with sky high wages for some.

When Sheffield United modernised, they sent in the bulldozers and built their main stand on top of the wicket. I much preferred games in the atmosphere of the three sided ground at Bramall Lane and now only tend to go there if my beloved Sunderland are playing.

Sunderland's first choice strip is basically the same as Sheffield United's . Whilst when Sunderland were in the old Division 1 (then the top level of English football) they went down 2-1 on Yeovil's slope in the FA Cup in 1949. When I watched them the week before defeat Derby 2-1, (with another magical display from Shackleton) I never dreamt that a humiliation was only 7 days away. So perhaps Yeovil was a place where the bulldozers arrived too late!

The Game

350 spectators turned up for the game. This was the second largest crowd of the season so far for a Northern Counties match. The top crowd being at the equivalent fixture on Sheffield FC's ground, when 575 turned up. For my report on that one see my post of 18 October entitled "Ye Olde Footy Derby".

It was a large attendance partly because Boxing Day is a good day for crowds anywhere. Partly because Sheffield FC's leading position is adding to their following. And partly because some of us are suckers for history.

Hot drinks and food sold well, whilst the bar in the Club House was full before the kick-off and at half-time.

Tom and I tucked in overlooking the Sheffield FC dug-out near the half way line and had a fine view of proceedings. After 6 minutes James Tevendale, who played for Sheffield FC last season, broke down the slope and the left wing to put in a dangerous cross which Pete Davey turned into his own net. But Sheffield soon started to control the game.

Our Manager, Dave McCarthy played his three main strikers. Gary Townsend (as an attacking left side midfielder), David Wilkins (our recent signing, whom we all know as Wilko) and Vill Powell (an earlier signing from our rivals, Retford Town). It was Powell who had the chances. Two of them were sent wide, but he scored with a fine header and a powerful penalty.

The goal of the game, however, came from Chris Dolby. His skyward lob dropping exactly behind the goalkeeper who had only moved a few yards from his line.

A 3-1 win was was fine for Sheffield who have now won 7 League games in a row. Tom has seen the last 4 of these, his first ever Sheffield FC games.

Post Mortem

The kick off had been at noon and as Tom drove us back after the game we travelled directly past Bramall Lane where the crowd was moving in for the 3 pm kick off against Manchester City. I thought poor souls, not only did they experience a 1-0 defeat but they missed out on a chuck of the real history of their game.

For whilst Hallam are only the second oldest team in the world, they do have something that the oldest team can't brag about - the oldest ground. So they aren't only second best.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Those Were The Days

"A Love Supreme" is the award winning Sunderland Football Fanzine. In its current issue (No. 152) it has re-printed a slightly edited version of my earlier blog item which I had called
"From Beano To Keano."

It is beautifully presented, using the general title of this blog. "Three Score Years and Ten".

First, as part 1 there is a double page spread covering my first visit to Sunderland's former ground at Roker Park in 1946, headed "The Beano Years". It includes a photo of Len Shackleton, the front page of a Beano and a picture of the ground. It is given the appearance of a past old black and white film.

The part 2 double pager bursts into technicolour, with a set of equivalent photos for "The Keano Years." It centres upon my 60th anniversary visit to Sunderland's modern ground at the Stadium of Light.

My thanks go to Martyn McFadden, the editor, and his team. If my memory serves me correctly, nearly 20 years ago I addressed a meeting in Birkenhead against the Poll Tax which Martyn's father organised. So it is all power to the McFaddens.

I have had another thought about my 60th anniversary visit to see Sunderland play. If at my very first visit in 1946, a 70 year old man (the equivalent of me today) had been next to me and it was his 60th anniversary visit, then he would first have seen Sunderland play on its Newcastle Road ground in the first ever season they wore red and white stripes. The match would have been in pre-League days and would have been an FA Cup first qualifying round game against Morpeth Harriers. We were 2-0 down at half-time, but went on to win 7-2.

Those were the days.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Sobering Game

The Festive Season

Sponsors provided free mulled wine and mince pies for Sheffield FC's pre-Xmas game against Shirebrook Town. As a result, the Coach and Houses pub next to the ground did less trade than usual for this match. This was fine for those of us who prefer to select from the pub's five real ales, as we avoided the usual crush at the bar.

Our family are home for Xmas, so our son came with me for the game. The three bits of local knowledge I gave him instructions upon were all blown apart.

First, I claimed that it was inevitable that the ball would repeatedly be kicked out of the ground - into the car park, the main road, the field from which a horse normally overlooks the proceedings and the wooded area behind one of the goals. It looked like I was completely wrong, until a clearance finally made it towards the main road.

Secondly, I was adament that Dave McCarthy (the Sheffield FC Manager) would do what he always does and use all his three possible substitutions. For he likes to use as many of his squad as he can in order to keep them happy and on the books. But this also did not happen.

Finally, I said that we should slip out of a side gate to the pub for a half-time drink. The gate was sure to have been opened, as the Club now owns the pub. But when we made our way to the gate just before the half-time whistle, we found that it was still locked. We had to go the long way round. Perhaps we were expected to stay and make sure that all the mince pies were eaten up.

It was, however, a chatty Xmas atmosphere when we finally made it to the pub. I discovered a Shirebrook Town supporter who was a fellow refugee from the North East and had played for my father's old team, Stanley United.

Next I talked to a Sheffield FC supporter from Nottingham, who was on our side because his son (Jon Boulter) is our left back. Earlier Jon was a worthwhile utility player, then he started to be selected for his best spot.

Before and after the match, my son and I also met up with Tom and his wife Janet who are from Chesterfield. I had met Tom intitially at out last home game against Broddy (see my last posted item), but I didn't recognise him immediately this time, as he was wearing an Irish Football shirt. It turns out that his mother is from Dublin. My own links with Ireland are legion.

Tom is a newcomer to Sheffield FC games, but he has already chalked up three matches in a row, including a visit to the away game at Sutton. He claimed that we were lucky to win 2-1 at Sutton. They dominated the game and could have scored a few. But Sheffield moved in to steal the game with two late strikes.

I have now arranged for him to give me a lift to the Boxing Day fixture at Hallam. It is being held on the 146th Anniversary of the teams' first clash at Hallam on Boxing Day 1860. It is the oldest derby in the world and is played on their original ground , which is the oldest existing ground in the world. All of this is something that money can't buy - as long as no-one tells Abramovich.

Top Versus Bottom

Shirebrook Town are bottom of the League, having only won one match out of the previous 16. So when the game started to take on the characteristics of our last 5-0 home win over Broddy, I expected the inevitable. But I was wrong again.

Sheffield FC had the same 1-0 lead at half-time, as against Broddy. We then rushed into continuous attacking from the start of the second half and awaited the goal rush.

But Shirebrook hadn't read the script and got back into the game. Perhaps the effect of their half time mince pies had worn off, whilst Sheffield FC's mulled wine finally took its toll.

Shirebrook could well have snatched a result as the game went on. It was, however, Sheffield who settled matters with a second goal in added time and ended up 2-0 winners.

Furthermore, it was Chris Dolby who scored. I had been expecting him to be substituted by Matt Roney to fulfil my pre-match prediction. It would have been a straight positional swap. Dave McCarthy probably held onto Dolby as he had particularly impressed everyone with his first half performance. It was his cross which put David Wilkins in a position to snatch that first half lead.

The strangest thing about the game was that the crowd which I estimated was around 230 in the first half, seemed to shrink by a third or so for the second half. Had some of the spectators been attracted by the mulled wine and mince pies and then left when these were comsumed? Or was the real ale having an impact on my own perceptions of what was happening?

Whatever it was, Stephen ushered me safely home after the match - but only after the inevitable post-match celebratory drink.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Brooding over Broddy

From 1966 to 1987 I taught politics and industrial relations to trade unionists on courses run by the Sheffield University Extramural Department. The backbone of the courses were classes run for South Yorkshire and Derbyshire Miners.

One of the South Yorshire pits we covered was Brodsworth Main near Doncaster, which was closed just three years after I left the Department to go to parliament. To the locals Brodworth is known as Broddy.

I came across the Broddy NUM banner earlier this year. It was prominently displayed at the funeral service for Kevin Hughes the former Labour M.P. for Doncaster (known as Donny) North who was a colleague of mine from 1992 to 2005. I had known Kevin from 1978 when he was a member of one of the above Miner's classes and he worked at Broddy. He was a fine person and died of a varient of Motor Neurone disease at only 53.

So when Broddy came to play at the ground of Sheffield FC (which is a fifteen minute walk from my home) it was a game I had to attend. It was my first visit to see my local team since 14 October. Sheffield FC's fortunes had changed dramatically since then with 5 wins and a draw out of 7 league games, taking them to the top of the Northern Counties East League.

Poor old Broddy had dropped in the opposite direction. They started the season with two home wins. One against Sheffield FC. But in 15 League games since then, they had failed to win at all and had only managed 3 draws. Without a point away from home, their average away score was a 5-1 defeat.

As a consequence of their poor run, one of their home crowds fell to 18. And I only spotted the odd Broddy fan at the Sheffield game, where the home team's run had done little to boost the crowd beyond its normal couple of a hundred.

To be fair to Broddy, they had a massive crowd by non-league step-five standards of 1,251 for an FA Vase game. But they were playing FC United of Manchester in an all ticket match and only held onto 69 of the tickets for home supporters!

Another sign of the imbalance between Broddy and Sheffield FC is that just before the game, the latter had handed over an undisclosed transfer fee for a striker from fellow league team Arnold Town. Handing over (rather then receiving) cash is practically unheard of at this level of football.

Given the disparities between the teams, Broddy held out well until just before half-time when the Sheffield full-back, Gavin Smith, moved up into the six yard box to slot home a cross.

In the second half the flood gates could have opened; but the Broddy keeper, their rattled woodwork and missed opportunnities kept the score to 1-0 up to the three-quarter stage. Then on came David Wilkins, the new signing from Arnold Town, as super-sub. Although he missed an early chance, he soon had a hat-trick. He seemed to be everywhere in attack, but Sheffield were now in full flight.

My fellow locals, however, claimed that his fellow striker was the man of the match. He is Gary Townsend. He scored from a stunning shot from outside of the penalty area. After another crasher from him hit the post, it eventually returned for Wilkins to prod it home. Then another of Townsend's shots was a sure goal until Wilkins pounched to make it his own.

So in the end Broddy kept their unwanted record with a 5-0 defeat. In 18 league games they now have a 39 goal deficit. All that can be said in mitigation is that they were still in the game until around the 70th minute and 5-0 wasn't as bad as a recent 8-1 drubbing at Retford Town.

But all isn't lost for Broddy. They aren't bottom of the league. That distinction goes to Shirebrook Town. I also used to teach Derbyshire Miners from their local pit,
which was closed in 1993. They are due to play here on December 23rd. So with the family at home for Xmas, it looks as if we can boost the attendance.

It is beginning to look as if Thatcher's destruction of the coal industry also had a knock-on effect to Miner's local football teams. Perhaps this accounts for Sunderland's recent poor run - until Keane arrived. For it was when the North East was pock marked with pits that Sunderland was at its peak in the eras of Charlie Buchan and then Raich Carter. Sunderland were the Manchester United of those times.

No wonder Sunderland, Donny, Shirebrook and Broddy never voted in Thatcherites. In fact I can imagine Kevin Hughes standing at the Pearly Gates (which he didn't believe in) welcoming the arrival of Thatcher with the immortal words "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie. Out, Out, Out." !