Remember, sport isn't a special case when we honour our heroes
23:00 GMT, 11 November 2012
From Home Park, Plymouth, Saturday, to St James' Park, Newcastle, Sunday, they remembered. They stood in silence, heads bowed. Did you In your home, out and about, wherever you happened to be at the appropriate time, did you pause to remember the fallen
For all its flaws, for all its trespasses, when it matters most, football usually does the decent thing. Players’ shirts are embroidered with a poppy motif, managers are careful to wear the symbol on their lapels for television interviews.
There was no minute of silence before the school games on the playing fields of Eton on Saturday, and no judgment is intended over that, but imagine if football had stuck rigidly to the parameters of Remembrance Sunday for its ceremony, too
Tribute: Manchester City's team lines up for a minute's silence at the Etihad on Remembrance Sunday
There would have been outrage; the sport would have been accused of colossal disrespect. Mourning is almost competitive these days. Australia once brought the remembrance ceremony forward to before the start of a first Ashes Test in Brisbane, just in case the match did not last until Sunday.
Still, for some, nothing is ever enough. So a think tank called British Future is proposing that Remembrance Day be left free of sporting fixtures in 2014 to recognise the special responsibility the industry has in commemorating the start of the First World War.
They cite the number of sportsmen killed in the conflict — Scotland’s rugby team alone lost 30 internationals — as if this makes sport a special case. No doubt a lot of greengrocers were killed, too. Plenty of train drivers, and journalists, also. Yet British Future is not suggesting the shops stay shut, the newspapers don’t publish or the trains don’t run. Only sport. Always sport.
Freedom: Phil Neville (right) had a poppy on his shirt but James McClean (left) exercised his right not to wear one
Nobody has to boycott Robert Mugabe’s
corrupt regime in Zimbabwe other than England’s cricketers; the
Government will not regulate pay-day loan companies but Newcastle
United should not accept their sponsorship. Now this. There is nothing
our moral guardians enjoy more than obliging sport to behave in a way
that is not expected of the rest of society.
British Future feels sport can raise awareness of the sacrifices made in 1914. You might think that is what history GCSE is for. Teach the subject properly and nobody would need footballers to have an afternoon off to remind generations of the horrors of the Somme.
History should not be hard to explain in a country full of memorials and museums. Ceremonies at the Cenotaph and Westminster Abbey, exhibitions at the Imperial War Museum or the National Maritime Museum should be considerably more meaningful than pushing Chelsea versus Liverpool back to Monday.
Symbol: Poppies adorned the shorts of City's Pablo Zabaleta (above) and Spurs' Emmanuel Adebayor (below)
Symbol: Poppies adorned the shorts of City's Pablo Zabaleta (above) and Spurs' Emmanuel Adebayor (below)
Indeed, there is a stronger argument
for maintaining sport’s Remembrance Day presence on the grounds that
50,000 people standing in silent reflection prior to kick-off captures
considerably greater emotion than an individual kicking around at home.
Clear message: Stoke City's Peter Crouch
Some of the greatest gatherings of
remembrance took place at sports venues this weekend. There were 60,000
at Arsenal on Saturday; 80,000 at Twickenham. They were not there just
to commemorate the fallen but did so anyway. Did you
British Future argue that instead of
playing matches there should be a series of commemorative events, such
as a battlefield visit by the England and Scotland rugby squads to mark
the 11 players from the Calcutta Cup fixture in 1914 who died on active
A YouGov poll found 54 per cent supported a sport-free Remembrance Sunday in 2014. Were they active supporters, though It doesn’t say. If not, few among them would appreciate the noble duty sport performs at this time.
Sport is so uniformly respectful of our historic legacy these days that when James McClean, a Republic of Ireland international playing for Sunderland, refused to wear his poppy-adorned shirt on Saturday it became national news.
Yet if we fought for anything in the last century — and, admittedly, this is a woollier concept when applied to the motivations behind 1914-18 — it was freedom. And that includes the freedom not to wear a poppy, and the freedom to attend football matches. Even on Remembrance Sunday.
Especially, in fact, on Remembrance Sunday.
Drive-past makes a mockery of St George’s
The inspired siting of the Football Association’s new home at St George’s Park, Burton-on-Trent, will hit home this week when Roy Hodgson and his England players fail to venture within 75 miles of it before flying to Stockholm.
The squad will train in Manchester on Monday before departing the next day. Team members based in the south will as good as drive past St George’s or fly over it to meet up. The complex will play host to the Under 19 squad who will have the run of the place before their match against Finland in Telford.
The previous six Under 19 home fixtures have taken place at Preston (twice), Rochdale, Leyton Orient, Brighton and Hove Albion and Chesterfield, yet now the squad have been relegated to the backwaters of the Conference.
Why Have a look at a map. The New Bucks Head ground is one of the few venues that make St George’s Park appear relevantly situated. Next stop: Yoxall Rangers.
Olympic Stadium a scandalous shut-out
The athletes are not the only ones who have been on a lap of honour since the London Olympics. Lord Coe has a book out and everyone connected with the staging of the Games has been basking in the reflected glory. Meanwhile, the plebs are supposed to ignore the growing scandal around the centrepiece of the event, London’s Olympic Stadium.
It has been empty since the Paralympic closing ceremony and has an uncertain future, and now we must politely overlook the fact that 486million was lavished on an arena that is basically unfit for purpose. It does not work as an exclusive home for athletics without being criminally underused and it does not completely work as a football ground because of the track.
The other sports that have expressed interest — from rugby union to cricket and American football — still need a football anchor to guarantee numbers. The Formula One plan overlooks a 17-year contract with Silverstone signed in 2009.
Days of glory: But London's Olympic Stadium is gathering dust as it is not fit for football
Here's how to do it: It took American investors to transform the Millennium Dome into the O2 Arena
It did not take a business genius to foresee this crisis. Sir Steve Redgrave was talking of the need to embrace football long before the first brick was laid.
Now it is said the stadium could be shut for another three years while deliberations over tenancy continue. Dennis Hone, the chief executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation, has ruled out a 2014 reopening. His earliest hope is for 2015, but maybe a year later.
Far from capitalising on London’s Olympic spirit, by the time anybody sets foot in the venue again, the real Olympic Stadium will be in Rio de Janeiro.
This could only happen here. What is now the O2 Arena sat idle costing 1m per month in maintenance as the Millennium Dome, while the greatest minds the Government could muster failed to find a use for it. AEG, an American entertainment company, turned the Dome into the successful hub we know today. We weren’t bright enough to think of that ourselves.
So it is with the Olympic Stadium. Nobody with direct influence over the process — not Lord Coe, Tessa Jowell or Ken Livingstone — anticipated this mess. Theirs was a staggeringly ill-conceived plan from the start, yet also wholly preventable. Someone should write a book about it.
Tevez v Neville
rather bizarre feud between Carlos Tevez and Gary Neville continues.
Tevez says Neville should be watching games as an England coach, rather
than watching games as an analyst for Sky television. Strange. One
would have thought it was the watching that mattered, rather than a seat
in the directors’ box or media suite.
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And while we’re at it…
Mary Whitehouse did not win. As her calls for censorship and sanitisation grew more shrill and extreme, so she was marginalised. It is the same for Peter Herbert and the Society of Black Lawyers. Having placed his organisation in the middle of the racism in football debate, Herbert’s sensationalist tactics are quickly eroding his credibility.
This is not to say, however, that he does not have a point about the appropriation of the word Yid by Tottenham Hotspur fans. Several decades of gangsta rap, stand-up comedy routines, Jackie Brown and the films of Spike Lee have not made the N-word any more acceptable when said to a black person. So the idea that a racist term can be seized by those it targets and removed of its sting remains pretty dubious.
Lenny Bruce was a brilliant comedian but life never panned out as he envisaged. He would up the house lights, round his audience verbally into niggers, kykes, wops and spics and then conclude that it was the suppression of the word that gave it the power. He suggested President Kennedy use the N-word to every black man he saw. ‘Until nigger didn’t mean anything any more; then you could never make some six-year-old black kid cry because somebody called him a nigger at school.’
It’s a wonderful ideal. But people have tried it. And here we are nearly 50 years later and abuse is still powerful, even with a black man in the White House. It might be simpler to just stop saying the N-word instead.
So there are better ways of repelling the anti-Semitism directed towards fans of Tottenham than having a largely gentile crowd chanting ‘Yid Army’. David Baddiel’s articulate dissection of the issue in these pages, his appeal to reason, was a considerably more effective way to go than the threat of a report to the police filed by Herbert’s Society of Black Lawyers. Do that, and hear the loudest, longest, most inappropriate chants in the history of White Hart Lane.
Brady shows the way
Karren Brady of West Ham United was this week deservedly voted CEO of the Year at the Football Business Awards. Famously, in the masculine world of club football, Brady employs a lot of women in her team because she instinctively places more trust in them than a male would.
Get a wider ethnic presence in at board level, as Charlton Athletic are close to doing with Paul Elliott for instance, and evolution will follow with more black managers being given an opportunity.
Brady’s example shows how much more effective this would be than the much-championed Rooney Rule.
Howley’s postcode punt doesn’t deliver
Mike Phillips has been the best scrum-half in Britain for close to five years now. His size challenges our preconceptions about the position; his attacking threat challenges those who stand in his way.
But Phillips is now with Bayonne in France and was unavailable for Wales’s training camp in Poland this autumn: so interim coach Rob Howley dropped him. It was seen as a warning to all Welsh players looking to make a career elsewhere. Tavis Knoyle of Llanelli Scarlets played in Phillips’ place. It made Wales seem a little like the Royston Vasey XV: a local team, for local people.
A class apart: Wales scrum-halfs Tavis Knoyle (left) and Mike Phillips (right)
On Saturday, the value of worthy training camps versus true international class became apparent, as Wales were soundly beaten at home by Argentina. Knoyle wasn’t the worst of it, but he wasn’t Phillips, either.
Rugby in the 21st century must decide what it wants to be. If it seeks to emulate the global sweep of football, then certain accommodations must be made. Whatever message Howley had hoped to send, the one that echoed loudest across the valleys was that Welsh rugby will travel backwards very quickly if selection is based on postcodes.
Training camps are important, but picking the best team matters more.
The true cost of Watford's loan rangers
Some might think that because Watford scored six against the nine men of Leeds United on Saturday, the Pozzo policy of flooding the club with loan signings is working.
Sadly, results are immaterial. It is not a good project if Watford win, or bad if they lose. To field a team that is passing through is wrong, whatever the scoreline, particularly when this is replacing investment in local youth.
Watford have downgraded their academy from category one (costing 2million annually) to category three (costing 250,000 to 500,000). The odd good day just isn’t worth it.