Wednesday, April 30, 2008

All Roads Lead To Nantwich

Vill Powell - Loan Ranger Against Stocksbridge

From the Sheffield FC Programme - "Vill is a product of the Sheffield Wednesday Academy, leaving the club as a teenager and spending time with Irish Team Derry. Vill has also starred for North Ferriby United, Stocksbridge Park Steels, Denaby United, Grays Athletic and Havant and Waterlooville. Signed in September 2006 from Retford United after an impressive performance against Sheffield in the FA Cup. Top scorer last season."

To date, he is also top scorer this season.

Crunch Game

It was well worth the wait. At last I was able to make it to the Stadium of Bright to see Sheffield FC for a semi-final promotion play-off game against Stockbridge Park Steels. You could tell that it was a special occasion from the sizable queue at the only turnstile that was open. Stockbridge had held us to a 1-1 draw last Friday in our penultimate League game of the season and also beat us 4-1 on their own ground. We had also met in this needle match as some teams played each other three times in this season's League programme.

I entered the ground just as the teams were running out onto the pitch. There was only time to grab a programme and say a quick hello to Tom. Our team had a rather odd formation due to the fact that this was our 14th game in a month between 29 March and 29 April (Won 8, Draw 3, Lost 3). Rob Ward our third highest goal scorer was regularly tucked into a central defensive role and Jon Boulter who was a regular left-back before a long term inquiry was also a central defender. But Jon was able to slip over to the left-back position whenever Smudge (Paul Smith) with No 3 on his back went foraging forward.

Loud Speakers

The first half was keenly contested. Although I never counted, the corners' count was clearly in the favour of Stocksbridge. But after 8 minutes, Vill Powell broke through to score, although it looked as if the goalkeepers dive to his left should have parried the ball. We then had an announcement to tell us that Manchester United had taken the lead against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final. I wondered if the Old Trafford crowd had been told about Vill's achievement.

We went 2 up after a great move down the left enabled Smudge to send over a fine cross which Stewart Copnell drove home. Luckily, Stewart's regular rabbiting at the referee hadn't led to him being disciplined.

I wasn't going to budge until the half-time whistle went. But as soon as it blew, I dashed off to the Coach and Horses. Given we had a crowd of 430, I was surprised how easy it was to get to the bar. I then met up with Dave, who had found out about the match by reading this item I had posted - so there is an encouragement to me to carry on blogging.

Backs Against The Wall/Best Foot Forward

When we returned to the ground for the second half, Stockbridge threw all caution to the wind. Under constant attack, our tactic was to boot the ball up the field for Vill Powell as our loan striker. And it worked. Within 10 minutes of the restart, Vill burst through and put us 3-0 in the lead.

But 5 minutes later, Stockbridge's threat re-emerged. They were given a penalty for something-I-know-not-what. Indeed only the referee moved into position before it dawned on the rest of the players as to what was up. The penalty made the score 3-1 and we began to wonder if a two goal lead was enough. Yet Vill was still creating havic with his solitary runs. Then in the 80th Minute it was Stewart Copnell's turn to capitalise on such a break and we were 4-1 up and victory was assured.

Jam Today And Tomorrow

Full-time was celebration time at the Coach and Horses. Dave contacted his wife on the mobile and Janet joined us and provided the welcome car journey home.

The news came through that Nantwich Town had won the other play-off 2-1 against Grantham Town. As Nantwich finished ahead of us in the League, they have home advantage. So for the decider we play them away from home at 3pm on Saturday. The prize is a place in the Unibond Premier League at Step 3 of the Non-League Pyramid. Furthermore, I will be travelling to Nantwich with Dave and Janet where I expect to be in good voice with Tom and the other regulars (including these) in marking a famous victory - even though Nantwich have beaten us three times this season. Revenge will be sweet.

Added 5.15pm

Nantwich Town have averaged home League crowds of 507 with a top crowd of 927. These are the highest in the League. Sheffield FC are the League's second best supported club, with an average home attendance of 336 and a top crowd of 647. For the play off final at Nantwich on Saturday there could be a crowd of up to 1,000.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Must For Any Socialist

Dan Glazebrook has undertaken this first class interview with Eric Hobsbawn (see left). At the age of 92, Eric provides socialists with as much to think about as ever. Below is the final question and answer. The interview is not to be missed. It appears in today's "Morning Star" on the Arts page!

Dan: How do you view the prospects for the revival of socialist movements in the 21st century and what do you see as the conditions for such a revival, both in the West and in the Third World?

"Eric: I don't see much prospect of a revival of the classical socialist and communist movements of the 20th century.

In the West, their basic constituency, the industrial working class, which they saw as the main agent of social change, could no longer play this role even if labour movements wanted to.

"Their basic form of political action and mobilisation, the mass-membership party of the social-democratic type and the vanguard party of the Leninist type, have not survived the old century.

"What survives of such movements in the West must work as part of new, wider political and social movements and find new forms of action, notably transnational ones.

"Some such movements are coming into being, generally as a succession of ad hoc campaigns, but, as yet, they show no signs of being capable of changing society.

"At the same time, the idea of socialism as a 100 per cent publicly planned collective economy has not survived the end of 'really existing socialism' and will not return.

"Twenty-first-century socialism will be an economy combining the public and private, non-market and market elements, but one whose object is not maximising economic growth and profit but the survival of the planet and the reconstruction of a human society battered and increasingly disintegrating under the impact of the past half-century of capitalist development. How this is to be achieved is the big question for this century's socialists."

Also see Eric's "Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism" Abacus Books, paperback £8.99.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Long Time - No Sheffield FC

Never mind all that hype over whether Manchester United or Chelsea will win the Premiership, below you will find the final league table for the UniBond First Division South.

Unfortunately, the runaway Champions Retford Town will not obtain promotion to the Unibond Premier League because their ground does not match up to the grading conditions. As a consequence the second team Cammell Laird have been given the automatic promotion place, leaving the teams between the 3rd and 6th positions to compete for a second promotion place via play offs. This means that tomorrow 3rd placed Nantwich Town will play at home to 6th placed Grantham Town, whilst my locals' Sheffield FC play at home to Stockbridge Park Steels. The winners of these games then play each other on the home ground of whichever of them finished highest in the league. So if Sheffield get to the final play off, I will be hoping that Grantham defeat Nantwich so that the final ends up a 15 minute walk from my home.

Each team played 42 games. These are the League placings and the points. For full details see here and trawl down.

1...Retford United 99
2...Cammell Laird 86
3...Nantwich Town 79
4...Sheffield FC 76
5...Stocksbridge Park Steels 72
6...Grantham Town 70
7...Colwyn Bay 65
8...Belper Town 64
9...Goole AFC 64
10..Carlton Town 59
11..Gresley Rovers 59
12..Quorn 53
13..Warrington Town 47
14..Alsager Town 43
15..Shepshed Dynamo 38
16..Brigg Town 36
17..Kidsgrove Athletic 31
18..Spalding United 19

With 17 teams to play, you might have expected each team to play a total of 34 games. But that would have left us with a thin season on the terraces, so each team played 42 games meeting 8 of their opponents on 3 occasions.

Due to a series of postponements and having to fit in a run of cup games and all those celebratory games in connection with our 150th birthday celebrations, Sheffield FC were pushed to complete their programme in time for the Saturday dead-line. It meant that (with the extra commitment of a Cup Semi-Final Game), they had to complete 5 games within 8 days. Furthermore one of the home games scheduled for last Thursday evening was itself postponed and had to be played on the Friday. But they finished the rush of games in fine form, with 3 wins and 2 draws.

Unfortunately, I missed the lot due to a severe cold. But I intend to make tomorrow's play-off semi-final - except that it has been raining heavily, so we could be in for a further postponement.

Then there is the final of the Sheffield and Hallamshire Senior Cup (founded in 1876) to look forward to at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsbrough on 8 May against Worksop Town who finished in the middle of the league which we are seeking promotion to. We won this Cup in 2004/5 and 2005/6. Whilst Worksop have won it a record 11 times.

It could yet be a great season, with Sunderland also having avoided relegation. I am due to make my annual pilgrimage to the Stadium of Light for our final game of the season against Arsenal. In the meantime, I should finally make it back to both Sheffield FC's Stadium of Bright and to that game at Hillsbrough - it will be my first visit to the latter since 1992 when Sunderland defeated Norwich City in the Semi-Final of the FA Cup.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

All Our Yesterdays

I have just discovered that back in 2004, Francis Bennion (on the left) ended this item posted on his blog with the following words "Now there is no proper Lord Chancellor, who is to keep Mr Blair's government in line with the law? Harry Barnes can't always be around". I can't, however, ever remember any successes I had on this matter when I was around on those green benches.

Besides even Tony Blair's Government proved to be mortal.

Francis Bennion was a Lecturer in Law at Oxford University from 1984-2002 and a leading Barrister. His entry by Wikipedia includes the following -

"In 1972, Bennion brought a private prosecution against the young Peter Hain for criminal conspiracy, in relation to Hain's activities as chairman of the Stop the Seventy Tour Campaign which took direct action to disrupt sporting events involving participants from South Africa in 1969 and 1970, as a protest against the apartheid regime. During the ten-day trial at the Old Bailey Hain dismissed his defence team, which included barrister Geoffrey Robertson, before being convicted and fined £200."

In those days I joined a demonstration organised by Peter's campaigners. I see no inconsistency in arguing that Governments should stick to the law, whilst (in certain circumstances) arguing that demonstrators can be justified in seeking to bend and change laws. Which is why we finished up having the bailiffs sent to our home in 1973 arising from opposition to a Housing Finance Act, which was directed against Council Tenants. I suspect that puts me outside of Francis Bennion's frame of reference. But it was nice of him to give me that pat on the back 4 years ago.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Return Ticket To Euston

Today Alan Johnson (the academic and editor of Democratiya, not the Government Minister) has this pro-Euston Manifesto article in "Comment Is Free". I don't go all the way with Alan and stand by the letter I had published in the "New Stateman" on 8 May, 2006 just after the launch of the Euston Manifesto. It was used as the tester when my son set up this blog for me. It went -

"Would it be possible to be categorised as a Euston fellow-traveller? After all I was active in the socialist Campaign Group for 17 years while being semi-detached from the main activists on Northern Ireland, the EU and, eventually, Iraq.

I can't sign up to the full Euston Manifesto because I have reservations on two important matters. First, it could do with recognising that when America steps over the mark, this is more serious than when other western nations make blunders. C Wright Mills's "Power Elite" is still relevant 50 years on.

Second, the manifesto must seek to find a democratic and humanitarian formula to determine which acts of military intervention are acceptable when seeking to liberate people from mass acts of internal oppression. In the meantime, interventions can be argued for only case by case, and should be accepted only in the most exceptional circumstances.

If my concerns had been met, I would have signed up - but then fellow-travellers are much more reliable than signatories. They don't resign; they only fade away."

Friday, April 18, 2008

Understanding Gwyneth

Gwyneth Dunwoody has died. I liked her as an individual and came to admire her politics. This came as a surprise to me. For as a Labour left-winger I had at one time dismissed her as being just another hard-line Labour right-winger who was part of the Party's establishment. The fact that her father was the General Secretary of the Labour Party from 1944 to 1962 and her mother was a life peer, seemed to confirm my prejudices.

When I became an MP I was surprised to discover that I normally supported her efforts and liked her personality. She always brought a mixture of expertise, common sense and compassion to the issues she pursued. She was also that form of workaholic which comes from having a firm political commitment.

She had been a Member of the European Parliament from 1975 to 1979 and was a Euroseptic who tested out Government Ministers fully in a mainly unpublicised European Standing Committee which I also served upon. It did not matter to Gwyneth whether she had an audience or not, she knew the importance of using the parliamentary and other avenues available to her.

She was a forceful defender of MPs' rights (and hence of voters' openings) in an era when too many MPs were willing to surrender their avenues of influence for an easier life of short hours and quick, whip-controlled and unreflective decision-making.

She spoke regularly in the Commons using the opportunities available to long-serving MPs. She was listened to carefully, for she always made serious and well-expressed contributions and did not need to use notes.

Her contributions went well beyond the Transport topics she covered with such care as Chair of the relevant Select Committee. Yet the effectiveness of her work in Transport was seen in the attempt by Labour's parliamentary leadership to remove her from her position. Luckily, the Labour back-benchers knew something of her worth and rebelled within the Parliamentary Party to ensure that she retained her post.

When New Labour took over, Gwyneth did what she always did - she stood her ground. Her traditional Labourite values meant that she found an even greater need to articulate her belief in the need to further the rights of ordinary people in their communal and trade union activities.

Thanks to Gwyneth, I came to realise what it was that the traditional right-wings and left-wings of the Labour Party held in common. We will all miss her.

ADDED : 8.50pm

These are Gwyneth's final and typical words from Hansard of 1 April -

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that Ordnance Survey is not only one of the oldest but one of the most efficient Government services? Other Departments depend on it, quite apart from local authorities and other institutions in need of accurate information. Will he urgently come up with an agreement that does not—as usual—lend some agency the extraordinary honour of a totally unworkable private finance initiative? This trading fund works, and we ought not to disturb it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Destruction of Adult Education.

Adult Students.

Without having or needing educational qualifications, I attended a two year full-time course in economics and politics at Ruskin College from 1960 to 1962. It supplied me with the educational transformation of my life and gave me access to University.

From 1966 to 1987, I taught at Sheffield in Adult Education mainly to classes of Trade Unionists and on Access Courses. Many of students (who themselves had no relevant qualifications) went on to study full-time at Adult Education Colleges and/or Universities. They invariably used their final qualifications in ways that were a positive value to society. Those entering Sheffield University obtained better than average degree results.

I always considered that I shared in our studies, learning from students and thus benefited as much as anyone. Yet I never set any exams for anyone, apart for some exam practice for those required to sit an entrance exam for (of all people) the Philosophy Department at Sheffield University.

The form of education I was involved with (as student and tutor) for 23 years of my life has virtually been destroyed in a process started under Thatcherism and being completed by New Labour.

Any adult without relevant formal qualifications, wishing to benefit from higher education now has to jump through a number of early hoops to pick up qualifications mainly via a series of modules. It is the early hoops which deter many. This even impacts upon the work of today's Adult Education Colleges.

Furthermore, adults are likely to be pushed into avenues of part-time education. For (often with family commitments) they are put-off by the operations of the student loan system and by finding that the education that is available is increasingly being determined for them by their employers. Education in which adults can develop their interests, widen their horizons and to help contribute to a more vibrant democracy is being swept aside. Unfortunately, the Government doesn't have the wit to realise that the form of education they are attacking is also the best way to equip people to take up valuable employment.

A body I worked closely with was the Workers' Educational Association. The latest attack on their work is highlighted here.

Hat Tip "Fat Man On A Keyboard".

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tribune 1977

A slightly edited version of the following letter appears in this week's "Tribune" -

I was one of those people Robert Pandy describes (Tribune 4 April) who heckled Peter Hain at the Tribune Rally which was held during Labour's 1977 Conference. Peter had just defected from the Liberals and I felt that he first needed to earn left-Labour credentials before being invited to address us.

If my memory is correct, Neil Kinnock had an article in a subsequent issue of Tribune which criticised those of us who booed. I responded with a letter which defended the rights of the "little man" to heckle. (What would now be considered to be the use of a male chauvinist term, tended in those days to be seen as a generic term which covered women as well as men. I would be careful nowadays to talk about the "little person".)

When Peter first appeared for Business Questions as the new Leader of the House in the Commons on 19 June 2003, I added the following introduction to the question I asked him on a local Constituency matter - "May I welcome the new Leader of the House to his post? I have obviously changed my opinion since I heckled him at a Tribune Rally just after he had moved over from the Liberal Party."

Peter started his response by saying - "First I thank my hon. Friend for his historical reference. It was 26 years ago, if I am right, in September 1977 and, as I recall, it was a very friendly heckle."

He was only a month out, but the heckling was far from gentle. I then came to have a great deal of sympathy for what at one time were Peter's regularly expressed libertarian socialist views. I even ran a one-person campaign on my blog recently to try and get him to stand for the leadership and not just the deputy leadership of the Labour Party, as a feasible left-wing standard bearer. Such an approach is seen in the views he expressed in his latest Tribune article about Zimbabwe. Let us hope that he once more starts to apply these values to the internal British political scene, otherwise I will have to go back to heckling.

Harry Barnes, Dronfield.

Democracy Gone Wrong

In Zimbabwe and Iran.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Zimbabwe's Trade Unions

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) is a major force of opposition to Mugabe's massive abuse of power in their country. Together with the Congress of South African Trade Unions they have issued this statement about the current political crisis in Zimbabwe. It is gathering widespread support throughout the international Trade Union movement, including our own TUC. Here is a small extract -

"The ZCTU salutes the people of Zimbabwe, especially in the rural areas, for overcoming all the obstacles to prevent them exercising their vote. These included the chaotic state of the voters' roll, restrictions on the media, the cancellation of some political meetings, the denial of access to opposition parties into certain rural areas, village headmen calling people to the polling stations brandishing the voters' roll in order to intimidate them, statements by Generals that they would not salute any opposition party leader, and by President Mugabe that he would not accept defeat".

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Zimbabwean

This is Wilf Mbanga, the editor of "The Zimbabwean" who has produced a fine article on the current crisis in Zimbabwe which appears here on the "Open Democracy" Web-site. He concludes -

"The Zimbabwean people have spoken - and Robert Mugabe has refused to listen. Now, under circumstances of extreme and dangerous pressure, they are being asked to raise their voice again. It is an occasion for the world to stand with Zimbabweans in what is for them both a moment of democracy and a time of trial."

In the latest attempt to add to Mugabe's unannounced Presidential vote, the Zimbabwean police have now arrested five election officials claiming fraud.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Solidarity With Iranian Trade Unionists

Mahmound Salehi (right) released. Mansour Osanloo still imprisoned.

Good news from the TUC's International Web-site, but much more needs to be achieved. They say -

The TUC has welcomed the news today (Sunday 6 April) that Iranian bakery workers' leader Mahmoud Salehi was released from the City of Sanandaj‘s central prison at 3pm. He had completed a one-year jail sentence for trade union activities nearly two weeks ago, but the authorities had refused to release him. The TUC reiterated its call for the Iranian Government to release bus workers' leader Mansour Osanloo from the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, to free all jailed Iranian trade unionists, and to abide by international labour laws.

For the full TUC Media Release, see here.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Well, It Worked For Bob Piper

See Bob (trawl upwards), or is this more arty? Source Warholizer

Will Quentin Davies Now Leave The Labour Party?

Gordon Brown and Quentin Davies.

The Observer reports that a government-commissioned review of civil and military relations which was led by Quentin Davies (the former Conservative MP who defected to Labour last year) has expressed alarm at the number of school children who have no idea about military life. He is said to want secondary school pupils to receive basic military training as a means of developing greater affection for the armed forces. A key element of current cadet's training is the mastering of shooting and the undertaking of military drill. Davies is said to believe that the virtues of discipline, physical exercise and team spirit outweigh any concerns we might have about children using firearms.

The impression is given that Gordon Brown supports this typical right-wing Tory non-sense. However, Des Browne the Minister of Defence (who for some inexplicable reason appointed Quentin Davies to undertake the review) has merely used diplomatic language to state that whilst he can not comment on Gordon's position, the Government "are waiting to see the recommendations with interest".

It would be good to see Gordon booting out the above proposal, by pointing out that a good way to ensure that schoolchildren will not involve themselves in anti-social behaviour is to provide them with an education system which extends their horizons and encourages them to think about, question, investigate and discuss the mysteries and excitements of life.

If Gordon kicks Quentin's views into touch, will the ex-Tory then desert us? I can only hope that both Gordon and Quentin act in these ways. If Gordon backs Quentin, then where do Labour Party socialists defect to? The problem for us is that in British circumstances, we only really have the Labour Party or nothing. Unfortunately, the latter is increasingly becoming attractive.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

An Unanticipated Treat

We were just starting our evening meal at 6.50 pm last night, when Ann ask me if Sheffield FC were playing at home during the week. It suddenly dawned on me that the kick-off was less that an hour away. I made the terraces with 5 minutes to spare.

It was a fine evening. No wind, no rain and a reasonable temperature. Unfortunately, the pitch had soaked up earlier rain and was covered with a great deal of sand to make it playable. Yet there were still areas of mud, where the club must have run out of sand and our opponents from Colwyn Bay hadn't brought any with them. When the ball was booted in the air and landed in the mud it came to a stop with a sudden "plop". It was like watching a game on the telly from that peculiar pitch at Wigan Athletic.

But it was still a lively contest. Eventually after 25 minutes Smudge (Paul Smith) took an impressive "bend it like Beckham" free-kick on 25 minutes to put Sheffield FC ahead. He is a first class act having over 200 League games under his belt.

We did not, however, deserve a 1-0 half-time lead, with Colwyn Bay having a sure goal unknowingly deflected past the post by a defender, rattling the bar and missing a sitter.

When Tom asked me what my estimate of the crowd was, I came up with a figure of 150 which is under half our average attendance. But my estimate of the small size of the crowd meant that I could leave it until about 10 seconds before half time to slip out of the ground for a pint at the Coach and Horses, yet still make it back in time for the ref blowing for the start of the second half.

The pattern of play was similar to recent home games. Sheffield FC struggled in the first half, but came to dominate the longer the match went on. Jamie Smith, a recent signing from Gainborough Trinity came on as substitute and settled the result 2-0 in our favour with a goal in the 85th minute. That puts us 3 points clear in a play-off position with between 3 to 6 games in hand of the teams ahead of us. Our record is very similar to that of FC Manchester who operate in a parallel league and (like us) are seeking a play-off spot to try and make it to the Unibond Premier League.

In April (home and away) we have to fit in a minimum of 12 games. Ten in the League, a friendly at Bramall Lane against Ajax as part of out 150 year celebrations and a cup semi-final which could lead on to a final and game 13. For the home games, we need to order more sand as we can't afford more postponements from a waterlogged pitch.

At the moment, the Unibond web-site claims that we had 363 at last night's game. So had I miscalculated? Not when having to calculate the best time to leave for a half-time pint, whilst missing as little as possible of the game. It is the web-site that is wrong, for it also shows that the game listed above ours at Hednesford had a crowd of 363. There were not two identical sized crowds. It is a typing error.

We could only have achieved a crowd of that size if 200 more spouses had asked their partners when the next home game was. I am pleased Ann reminded me. There is nothing better than a last minute dash for an unanticipated match - providing, of course, it turns out to be a victory. Of course, I still had the washing up to do when I got back home!