20 March, 2013

"1066 and all that"!

The reflections of the stained glass at
Durham Cathedral - taken as I sat on the
wall seat. I wonder how this view might
 be costed when our educational
nirvana is reached?
A week or two ago Pat and I spent the weekend in the lovely old city of Durham. We were lucky – the weather was cold but glorious, indeed on Saturday afternoon we sat on the front at Seaham looking out to sea, the sun shining down on us. We had spent the morning wandering Durham’s old streets and especially enjoying the beautiful and ancient cathedral. As we wondered the cathedral I sat down to rest on the low stone “seat” that is built in the full length of each wall in the nave – a feature of many cathedrals. As I sat there I mused on the old saying “the weakest go to the wall” which is said to originate because of these cathedral wall seats. It dates from  mediaeval days when there was little or no seating in great churches and when the church might be used as a place of safety when danger threatened or as a meeting place for markets and fairs. In those days it is believed the old and infirm would seek rest and safety from the throng and sit on the seats by the wall – hence “the weakest go to the wall.” I thought about this when I read in the paper a few days ago a variety of articles and comments about the teaching of history on our schools.
Apologies - It's that man again!
Our Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has published his proposals to introduce a new history curriculum. His action has generated comment, debate and criticism from teachers, eminent historians, politicians, newspaper editors and others with an interest in this issue. My own view is that the curriculum he proposes, once again, reflects Gove’s total misunderstanding of the world of education, children and schools and is simply a set of deluded ramblings of what Mr Gove would like the world to be like rather than  what it actually is. 

Eighty years ago in their iconic parody “1066 and all that” Sellar and Yeatman poked a telling finger at the teaching of history and Gove, I firmly believe, would like the teaching of history to reflect the glorious subtitle to their great work:  "103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates". Sadly and worryingly I don’t think that our esteemed Secretary of State for Education actually realises that Sellar and Yeatman were satirising the school history curriculum because he has clearly modelled his curriculum upon theirs! That, however, is not the point of this blog.
I loved the tales of Roundheads and Cavaliers
Whatever the short comings of Gove’s proposals I am, however, with him on the general premise that history is important and something that all children should be exposed to. This, of course, is where the problem lies – what history should children be exposed to! Who in history is important? How should it be studied? Is important history about knowing a few dates of great battles or is it about the life of a people? The world has seen on many occasions that those who would exert power over people often start be re-writing history – look no further than communist Russia or China to witness the truth of that. But we need not look only at regimes of which we might disapprove – it happens to a degree everywhere; the great leader of one generation might be judged differently by another, countries across the world conveniently air brush out darker aspects of their past and, as Churchill famously said, “History will be kind to me – for I intend to write it!”  Gove is right, history of some kind is important.
I'm not an American but can still quote huge
chunks of this great story as told in the
wonderful poem by Longfellow. Won't be
worth much  in our  "know 

the cost of everything world" though!

Whatever the educational and academic shortcomings of Gove’s proposals I can’t deny that as a child (and still today) I was enthused by the famous stories, events and personalities of history.  Knights in shining armour, battles, Roundheads and Cavaliers, the Battle of Hastings, the Great Fire of London,  cave men making the first fire, Alfred the Great, the French Revolution, the midnight ride of Paul Revere and the rest. Yes, their provenance might be questionable and it probably wasn’t like that at all. The heroes might well have been villains, stories about the great and good might not be "real history" when set aside the daily life of ordinary people but the whole thing lit a flame in my young mind and as I grew up I have retained that enthusiasm. I may now disparage many of the heroes I worshipped as a child; I now know that Clive of India was probably a very unpleasant and cruel man or that Richard III may not have been quite the black hearted knave that Shakespeare painted him. I know that the expansion of the British Empire was based on dubious motives and actions which with the passing of time and on reflection bring shame onto us as a nation. I am very aware that what were once seen as glorious and justified wars might not look so glorious or justified when the guns are silent, the flag waving over and history looks  back on them. But all that is not the point. In educational terms – my interest in history was awakened and still remains.  And, having spent my life in the classroom, that is ultimately what all education must be about – the awakening of interest, enthusiasm and ultimately understanding. As Socrates and others since have said: “Education is about kindling a flame and not filling a bucket” - and that is the point of this blog!
Yep! the tale  of old Archimedes inspires kids
 to investigate scientific  phenomena - 
and they laugh at  the rude bits 
when he runs down the street naked! 
(And, as a result they remember the science).   

Whenever I see my granddaughter, Sophie, she invariably has home work to do. Sophie is almost 10 and is given homework each week by her school – English, maths and science are the usual requirements. My classroom experience makes me question the reason for and the validity of homework but leaving that aside I seriously ask what should constitute “homework” if it has to be imposed at all. There has been a huge emphasis in the UK in the past twenty years or so, by politicians of all persuasions to emphasise the importance of the 3Rs – reading, ‘riting a ‘rithmatic. Children are tested and judged on their success in these, schools and teachers are similarly judged, head teachers and school governors can be fired if a school fails to come up to scratch, billions of pounds are spent annually on testing, monitoring and inspecting - indeed, the whole UK education system is geared to promoting and “raising attainment” in these areas. To that degree it is not surprising, therefore, that these items form part of the required homework that Sophie does each week. But here lies the basis of my concerns. The information given in, for example, the science homework text book, and especially, the tasks required, are futile, uninspiring, frequently confusing and guaranteed to remove any kind of scientific enthusiasm or inquiry.  They are simply not very good “crammers” intended to stuff bits of scientific information into the heads of children so that the school can “tick the box” and prove to inspectors and the like the high value the school places on science and homework. The activities set do not, nor do they intend to “kindle a fire” – they are the scientific equivalent of writing lists of meaningless historical dates rather than generating a life time interest and desire to know more - as, many years ago, school history and its tales of glory and excitement once did for me. Sadly, Sophie’s school is not alone – many schools use the publications and indeed my own school did so when I was still working there. I can still remember the unease I felt each week when I set the science homework from these awful texts. But to my everlasting shame  I can also recall the "warm glow" when the completed books rolled in on Monday morning. Oh! what a good teacher I was!  I could tick the children's responses in the spaces provided in the books, bountifully give out gold stars to the virtuous and admonish others for their lack of diligence. And, best of all, feel that quiet satisfaction of a job well done as I sipped my morning coffee. Homework done, all correct and those who couldn't be bothered  suitably shown the error of their ways.  Surely, I was producing a class of future laboratory "boffins" and maybe even a future Nobel science prize winner!  The whole thing is and was a nonsense and an act of educational vandalism on a preposterous scale. It was one of the many things that convinced me in the end that I should retire from the profession. What I increasingly saw being thrust down throats of children as i walked around my school in the mistaken name of modern education was not what I came into the job for. Nor was it remotely to do with "education" as I understood it - in the final analysis it boiled to down to passing tests and jumping through hoops whilst completely devoid of understanding or enthusiasm.   I and my school were simply "filling a bucket" and "dousing any fire" that the child might have once had - the very antithesis of Socrates'  definition.. Sadly, since politicians discovered this sure fire way of boosting their ratings and dreamed up the National Curriculum, OFSTED and all the other panoply of testing and assessment criteria in the latter years of the twentieth century  things have only got worse with each year that has passed - and now my granddaughter is "enjoying" more of the same!
Looks just like me and Sophie doing
our science

Leaving aside my beliefs and all this other "baggage",  however, I am prepared to accept that the 3Rs are vital and must be promoted at every opportunity and that includes homework.  Indeed, it would be difficult to over-emphasis the importance of basic literacy and numeracy skills in any generation but especially ours. But, I would add it is right they are emphasised not to the exclusion and detriment of other areas of learning. This over- emphasis on the 3Rs and on testing is at an increasing educational and, I would argue, social cost. School timetables, the education system as a whole and, sadly,  the mind numbing science homework that Sophie wades through each week means that increasingly other aspects of the curriculum are sacrificed and marginalised. Such has been Michael Gove’s and his predecessors’  zeal in promoting a curriculum that reflects preparation for employability, the needs of technology and the rest that school subjects such as history, geography, art, music and the rest of the humanities  have become ever more the poor relations in the school curriculum. And at university level “wishy washy leftie” subjects such as medieval history or philosophy are increasingly declining.
The battle for the history curriculum and the
hearts and minds of future generations.

This skewing of the curriculum means that for children up and down the land, including Sophie, horizons have been increasingly limited in terms of curriculum breadth and depth and what has been studied has been reduced to its lowest terms - that which can be  easily assessed and tested. Investigative maths, scientific inquiry, a rich diet of literature and the creative use of language, an opportunity to develop skills in and an understanding and enthusiasm for the humanities and the arts have all been largely sidelined and replaced by a meagre diet of facts, the filling in of blank spaces in photocopied worksheets and preparation  for "employability" and life in a modern economy. At  Sophie's age science, maths and the rest should be about inspiring her to want to learn more – finding out, for example, about the thrilling story of Jenner’s discoveries about small pox two centuries ago, Isaac Newton and the fabled apple story, Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, Archimedes and the famous Eureka story of the golden crown, Davy and the invention of the miners’ safety lamp.........! The list is endless and tales such as these are the essence of what underpins science – ideas, imagination, discovery, creative thinking, observation. And each can generate simple tasks or observations or experiments that could easily form the nucleus of a homework activity to develop scientific skills of observation, recording, hypothesis and the rest - so that the child gets a “buzz” – a bit of “awe and wonder” - and learns something of the excitement of scientific discovery...... and, as a result says “I want to know more!”  But no, awe and wonder, discovery and enthusiasm are long dead in many of our schools. It’s hard to measure awe and impossible to  give a mark to wonder and testing a child’s enthusiasm or interest level is an unexact science. Much better to go for the easy option – learning facts and lists and fill in the blank spaces and then test, test, test - then pick  up your gold star if you got them all right! The educational tread mill keeps turning.

A few years ago a school governor wrote to the Guardian complaining that the amount of testing that the children were subjected to was damaging their education. I will never forget his main point: "I am" he said "a pig farmer and I know that I don't get healthy fat pigs ready for market by weighing them every day - I do that by providing them with a healthy pig diet. And that is what school should be doing - providing a rich educational diet not continually "weighing" children" . But sadly current government (and for several years now) is not about providing "education"  it is about weighing children - indeed look at any accepted definition of education and what goes on in schools is not education - at best it is training. The word "education" rarely comes out of Michael Gove's (and his predecessors') mouth - instead they talk of school "raising attainment" or of the government/teachers/OFSTED "raising standards" - not educating.

In the end we come back to a report in yesterday's papers by a group of eminent academics commenting upon Michael Gove’s ideas: “A group of academics have warned that Michael Gove's national curriculum proposal will severely erode educational standards by "dumbing down" teaching and learning......100 experts say the education secretary's new curriculum consists of "endless lists of spellings, facts and rules" that will not help to develop children's ability to think or solve problems.......Children, they say, will be forced to learn "mountains of detail" for English, maths and science without understanding it.” Couldn’t have put it better myself! It speaks volumes that in today's paper our Education Secretary has responded by telling these eminent experts that they are "bad academia". Hmmmm! 
Not many teachers go a bundle on Michael Gove
their "boss"

But, when we have killed off "education" in favour of continual "academic weighing" and we put out the fire of enthusiasm, when we have filled young minds with soon to be forgotten facts and we have ground the arts and the humanities into the dust what will be left? When Sophie has had any enthusiasm she might have had for science snuffed out by her homework what will she do? When we have produced a nation of engineers and technocrats who can use binary code to produce ever more powerful computers and clever technology that increasingly makes people redundant, worthless  and dehumanised what will fill their empty hours? When we have a world full of hard nosed but accomplished number crunching accountants and scientists who perform their experiments and calculations with no ethical code or humanitarian perspective on life what will our society be like? When we have a population that is able to spot a split infinitive or a subordinate clause at a hundred metres but has not the imagination or literary creativity to become the next Shakespeare, Dickens or Lawrence or Orwell what will we find to enjoy? When we have a population that enjoys the songs and praises the film or the stage show of “Les Mis” but knows nothing of Victor Hugo or the tale’s historical perspective will all be reduced to simple "entertainment" like some vast virtual reality computer game? Or, when we have produced a population who think that a great cathedral like that at Durham is a sort of historic Disney theme park and has no understanding of its history and place in our cultural, historical and linguistic heritage – will, then,society have any sort of awareness or vision or understanding of how we got to where we are or indeed where we should go from here? When we have a produced a population that will read, uncaring about the invasion and bombing of Iraq (ten years ago this week) but not know of the rich historical and cultural  heritage of that part of the world – the cradle of civilization - and not understand that much of our own scientific and mathematical knowledge is based upon great truths discovered in those middle eastern regions many hundreds or thousands of years ago - then will we next turn on other great cultures to brutalise nearer to home? When we have a world filled with tourists who will pay their fare and fly off to Australia or Italy or Spain but know nothing of their history or geography and so may not understand much of what their eyes light upon, will all that is left to them and us be sun, sand and sangria? When we have a national psyche underpinned by “never mind the quality feel the width” doctrine and that values only things that can be costed and proved to be a good buy or of economic worth then how will we judge quality or put value on things that cannot be costed -  a piece of music, a state of mind, a noble or ignoble action? When we have ensured that the world’s musical and artistic heritage is enjoyed only be a privileged few what will “the rest” do? When we have finally succeeded in making our schools and universities places where only the utilitarian is valued and can be studied and where there is no place for learning for its own sake where and to whom will we turn for our great leaders, our inspirations and aspirations?
Isaac newton "doing science"  and discovering
gravity!- bet he's glad he
didn't have to do Sophie's homework!

The  outlook is bleak indeed. When we have run down and mutilated the arts and humanities and when we have denigrated ideals, imagination, dreams, aesthetics and mankind him/herself  and reduced all to its lowest common denominators and sublimated all to  the needs of the economic monster that we all feed - then, will we look at the wasteland we have created. When every child has passed every test and achieved 3Rs perfection, when he or she has GCSE and A levels in abundance and the great educational  nirvana envisaged by  successive governments has been attained then what will he or she have to sustain and nurture them as human beings. Then, we might look in vain for something else that we once had - imagination, creativity, inquiry  empathy, ethics, humanity, an appreciation of others and their views. Maybe then we will once again seek and value an understanding of the world and a desire to comprehend who we are, why we are and where we are. And, maybe, if we are very lucky, through that educational, social and cultural wasteland there might shuffle forward through the ruins a vision of what we once had before the brutalisation of English  education in the latter years of the twentieth and early twenty first century. Perhaps then - using the pig farmer's analogy - we will see a generation of scrawny, often weighed and tested, educationally starved scrawny piglets creep forward and ask why we did not provide the rich educational diet that they needed to make them grow into healthy and fat grown up pigs!   And then, and only then, might we realise and understand what we have lost.  We will be able to write wonderful shopping lists all correctly spelled and punctuated, we will be able to record our lists on wonderful spreadsheets spot a mathematical error in the twinkling of an eye. We will be able recognise value for money and the main chance to get the best deal as we do our on-line shopping. We will be able to spot the value of this loyalty card over that and probably sustain and give meaning our shallow lives by worshipping daily at the altar of retail therapy - the new religion and focus of the "good life". We will be full of hard facts and awash with qualifications. But we will, too, have lost our creativity, our imagination, our ability to question or to be inspired. And worse, we will have little or no understanding of the world, of others or the context in which to live our shallow lives. We will have lost our basic humanity - that which separates us from the animals - the ability comprehend the past and the future and to know our place and role in it.
Durham Cathedral on a beautiful Spring morning

Michael Gove is wrong on just about everything educational that he touches and his History curriculum is  badly flawed. He is a fool and because he holds power a dangerous fool  – but I’m with him on the importance and value of history. History and all the other elements of the humanities and the arts curriculum are too important to marginalise – in the final analysis they are infinitely more important to us as human beings than his beloved 3Rs. In the end maths and science might be good for the economy but it is the  arts and the humanities that are good for the soul and which  preserve our humanity and, dare I say it, make us better people

06 March, 2013

The Theatre of Broken Dreams

When I posted my previous  blog yesterday afternoon I did not consider that I would be posting  another in less than 24 hours about broadly the same subject – the decline in sportsmanship and sporting conduct especially in football.

The "Theatre of Broken Dreams"
The scenes at Old Trafford when Real Madrid defeated United  last night, I think, proved precisely  the many of the points that I made in my previous blog. The anger and behaviour following the sending off of the United player Nani was offensive to all who love football but more important deeply worrying about what it says about sport in general and wider society's response.  What would the footballing genius and gentleman Bobby Moore have thought? What would Pele think? – when he witnessed the behaviour of allegedly top players like Rio Ferdinand sarcastically clapping the referee or poking an accusing finger at him. How does that square with Pele’s assertion that he (and by association other top players) have a responsibility to show youngsters “how to be like a man”?  Where does  Alex Ferguson’s thrusting of people out of the way as he charged from his seat to shout and scream at match officials  fit in with Ferguson’s great predecessor’s (Sir Matt Busby) comments about  arguably United's greatest player Duncan Edwards – that he was always very calm and his temperament was perfect? Ferguson showed no capacity to be calm or be of even temperament. And  in the end all the anger and lost tempers came to nought - the general feeling in the aftermath of the events is that as a result of their anger United lost concentration – they fell apart when, to use Kipling’s words, they failed to “keep [their] head when all about them were losing theirs”.
United players harass and try to intimidate the referee after
the sending off of Nani

It reinforced my increasingly held view that Old Trafford, the “Theatre of Dreams” as it has long been rightly known is now rather the “Theatre of Broken Dreams. The dreams are broken not because United lost a match and failed to progress further in the European Cup – that is unimportant, it is simply a game of football lost – but because what was once the proud epitome of all that was good in football and sport is no more. Instead of skill, graceful football, sportsmanship and proud tradition being what Manchester United and Old Trafford represented we now have aggression, anger, vitriol, mob rule and lack of sportsmanship in command. Of course, this is true at many great stadiums up and down the country – but none have the glamour and with that the worldwide fame of Old Trafford.

The whole situation was compounded and made worse by the refusal by Ferguson, a man paid huge amounts of money and at the peak of the footballing world, to speak after the game – he was, we understand, so incensed at the sending off of his player that he refused to speak to reporters.  Thank goodness United’s second in command Mike Phelan showed a little more dignity, professionalism and calmness on behalf of the Club and his unsporting and aggressive master when he explained: "I don't think the manager is in any fit state to talk to the referee about the decision. It speaks volumes that I am sat here and not the manager of this fantastic football club. We all witnessed a decision that seemed very harsh, possibly incredible at that moment in the game."
The tackle that caused it all

Phelan was correct – the decision was controversial but that doesn’t make it wrong nor does it, therefore, give free hand to players, managers and so called fans  to behave in the way they did. Indeed, it didn’t stop there; Roy Keane – the ex-United Captain and ex-club hero - had the temerity to suggest on TV that although the sending off was controversial he thought it was the right decision by the referee.  He has since been howled down and vilified by all and sundry.

When people start losing their heads then the mob take over - and the mob can change on a whim. No one is safe when the mob rules.

Old Trafford once was  a place where some of the very great of football – Edwards, Charlton, Best, Busby, Law, Cantona and others wove their glorious patterns and provided some of the very greatest moments of the national game. It was a place to aspire to, a place where footballing dreams might be realised – a Theatre of Dreams. Sadly, no more. It seems, with one or two notable exceptions such as the ever calm Ryan Giggs, it has become a place permeated with an undercurrent of violence and aggression. Any decision or act  that goes against United is immediately the subject of the manager’s rage. Any dubious decision or act that United commit is above the law. Alex Ferguson is famed for what is called his “hair dryer treatment” when he angrily,  aggressively and, some say, violently castigates his players. Any referee who has the temerity to raise Ferguson’s blood pressure will be subject to his bile. And if the leader can be so easily aroused why not the players? Why not the Old Trafford faithful?  Is that the root of what has happened at Old Trafford – anger, aggression and violence ruling rather than sportsmanship, skill and gentlemanly conduct? I fear so and last night proved the point. It is perhaps not surprising that today I read that over a hundred miles away from Old Trafford, an eighteen year old in my area of the country, was so incensed at the sending off of Nani and so caught up in the aggression and controversy that he saw on his TV screen that he actually rang the local Nottinghamshire police to complain that the referee was a criminal! One might laugh at this - except that it is not  funny. It is what happens when aggression, anger and the mob take charge - unthinking, immature people do stupid things - even when they are a hundred miles away - when they have been egged on by rabble rousing leaders like Alex Ferguson or Rio Ferdinand. What is not funny is that the referee has received many death threats today on Twitter - presumably all from so called football fans who agreed with the anger and abuse on display and masquerading as football and sport at Old Trafford. Pele was right - those involved at the pinnacle of sport and football in particular have a huge responsibility to show a  lead on matters of behaviour - and "how to be like a man" . There was a complete abdication of this in Manchester last night and sadly, this has become  common place at the Theatre of Broken Dreams under Alex Ferguson's stewardship.
Alex Ferguson wades in

The sending off of Nani may, or may not, have been the correct decision. As I watched it last night my immediate reaction was that it was not a particularly  bad tackle nor was it  intended to be so. Like many others I was a little surprised when the referee judged it a sending off offence but I could see where he was coming from. Football is littered with similar situations and, as Roy Keane correctly observed, if you raise your boot to the height that Nani did then you must expect that there might be repercussions.But my opinions, the opinions of the crowd, the opinions of Roy Keane, the opinions of other players, the opinions of managers are irrelevant. The point is that  it is the referee's opinion that matters and he judged it to be a sending off offence. And in any sport the referee must be the final arbiter – not some hi-tech TV camera, not the howls of the crowd, not the abuse of other players, not the aggression and vitriol of a highly paid manager who should know better.  For when players, spectators and the manager lose the ability (as it has increasingly been lost at Old Trafford) to accept  a decision calmly and sportingly then sport has gone and we simply have a battle – the mob rules. As George Orwell noted seventy years ago – “..... sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will.......  Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.........There are quite enough real causes of trouble already, and we need not add to them by encouraging young men to kick each other on the shins amid the roars of infuriated spectators.......” Orwell’s comments seem peculiarly resonant in the modern football world and not inappropriate when considering Manchester United’s response last night. What would Orwell think today?
Game over and Rio Ferguson sarcastically claps
in the face of the referee

I wonder, have United and does Ferguson ever consider the great responsibility they hold as allegedly the country’s and one of the world’s premier clubs? Did Ferguson wake up this morning and feel just a small pang of guilt for his childish behaviour – and if not why not? I have seen many examples of behaviour like Ferguson’s and Ferdinand’s over the years – always on the school playground with immature 9 year olds bullying others and then sullenly refusing to speak when questioned. I have seen the mob on the school playground baying while the bully lashes out at some victim or at someone who is brave enough to challenge him. I saw that, too, last night in the crowd and in the papers this morning when I read of the vitriol poured on Roy Keane and the referee. How quickly the mob can change. Once Keane was the embodiment of all that United worked towards – his presence, his commitment, his skills, his drive could win a game single handedly – he was glorified by the United faithful. But now, because he expresses a point of view that the mob disagrees with, he is scorned and vilified. In the papers this morning one reporter commented that the referee's name will go down in Ferguson's "little black book" - where he allegedly writes the names of those with whom he has to settle a score. Mmmmm! - that sounds exactly like many of the playground bullies that I have known in my life - the little boys who, having had an altercation with another child, will mutter, as the teacher walks away "I'll get you on the way home". It sounds exactly like the teenage gang leaders who rule parts of our inner cities streets and estates and carry out vendettas against other gangs and individuals when they are not shown "respect". What is even more unsettling is that in accepting either as fact or repute that Ferguson keeps a "little black book" and that some sort of future revenge might be exacted we are, as a society, legitimising it -  revenge, violence and mob rule are acceptable when Alex Ferguson does it so it's acceptable for the rest of society.

The unpleasant face of  Old Trafford football - where does
sport as an enjoyable activity fit in?
No, had United had a Bobby Moore on the field last night they might not have lost their heads but kept their concentration when a single decision went against them. Had they had a manager capable of controlling his anger and his aggression then common sense might have prevailed and he might have guided his team to success. The referee may have made a questionable call – what he cannot be held responsible for is the inability of United to overcome the problems, to show some kind of maturity, to control their emotions and to act as the very highly paid professionals they are reputed to be. 

As Martin Peters said of Moore “......you would know what you had to do........ he wouldn't shout at anyone, he wasn't like that, he was calm and collected. The quality of him, you just knew by the way he played and the way he acted that he was a quality man not only in football but in life as well”. But then United didn’t have a Bobby Moore. Their response, (unlike what Moore’s would have been) was to shout, scream, finger jab, clap sarcastically and lose their concentration and that is what mobs and the not so great always do - because it hides their failings, the deficiencies in their arguments and the paucity of their skills. And that is why United lost the game and why football and sport once again takes another step into the abyss. Alex Ferguson, Rio Ferdinand and the rest should be ashamed.  

05 March, 2013

“Those whom the Gods love.........”

I’ve been away from blogging for a week or two, my time being taken up with footballing matters. In my other life I am secretary of an under 19 football league in this area of the country and this time of year is busy – getting ready for next season - although we are only just over half way through this one! But, now, as they used to say on TV in the 1950s and 60s, “Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible” - back to blogging – but with a football theme!
Bobby Moore with his adoring fans - he had it all!

Last week my daughter in law rang to discuss what birthday present would be suitable for one of our grandchildren. Sam is five in a few weeks time and it was agreed that we would buy him the football kit that he wanted. So Ruth was off down to Reading Football Club – the local team – to buy the said kit on our behalf. Sam, I knew, would have the “real thing”, bought at the stadium and complete with his name emblazoned on the back of the shirt. I know that he will be delighted!

My hero, Duncan Edwards and the
picture I showed to my mother
 - not knowing that in a week
or so he would be dead.
And as the matter was discussed my mind went back over half a century. I can still picture exactly the pride I felt when I was about thirteen and I walked down the street in my Manchester United shirt. Of course, it wasn’t the real thing – this was before clubs began selling their own merchandise – my mother had made it on her old Singer treadle sewing machine with a bit of old red material she had. It wasn’t even the right shade of red – maroon rather than the vibrant United red. It didn’t have the white trim that the real thing had – just plain red. But, and this was important, it did have a “V” neck and short sleeves – even back then Manchester united were style setters - and it was just like (at least to my eyes) the one worn by my hero Duncan Edwards. My mother had cut an old piece of white material (probably one of my dad’s shirts!) to make a number six which she had stitched on the back – just like Duncan Edwards! I know that for a few weeks at least I was envied by my friends. Of course, I didn’t have the rest of the kit there was no way we could have afforded that, but that didn’t matter – the red United number 6 shirt was the thing!
Edwards the hope of a generation

I know that I was thirteen when I walked proudly down the street in my home made shirt because I know it was 1958 and the great “Busby Babes” were becoming footballing legends. The team of Charlton, Taylor, Colman, Edwards, Byrne, Whelan, Pegg, Foulkes. Viollet. Scanlon and the rest . The talented young team “home grown” by manager Matt Busby , not bought superstars, were fast being recognised as the greatest team produced in England . Each month I pooled any pennies and bought a copy of the football magazine popular at the time Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly and in mid February the March edition came out. On the front was a picture of my hero, Duncan Edwards, in the new kit. I showed it to my mother and asked if she could make me a shirt – I knew that buying one was out of the question. Little did I know as I walked down the street in my home made shirt that within a few days it would all end in tragedy – the plane carrying United home from a game in Belgrade crashed at Munich and many young men lost their lives. I can still remember the night dark tea time when the news came through and people stood on their doorsteps talking in whispers as they listened to the radio or the few that had a TV watched it for news. The greatest of the Babes, the young Duncan Edwards, my hero (and of thousands of other little boys) - survived the immediate aftermath of the crash but died a couple of weeks later of his injuries. What a strange and dreadful irony that Edwards should appear on the cover of the March edition of the football magazine but by the time March came he was dead.
The stained glass window in Edwards'
 church in Dudley

I had seen Edwards play only once – these were the days before wall to wall TV coverage of games – but Edwards’ reputation was going before him by word of mouth and newspaper reports. I can still remember the day when I saw him play in November 1957 when almost 40,000 squashed into Deepdale, Preston’s ground. United were already top of the Division and would go on to win the Championship. Preston finished third that year and on that day the game ended as a 1-1 draw. The local paper had been full of it for days – the Busby Babes were coming in a top of the table clash between United and Preston. But there was probably even more press coverage given to the fact that Duncan Edwards was expected to play – he was the player everyone wanted to see – and play he did. I remember going to the game with my friend Tony Clarkson. We pushed our way to the front to sit on the cinder track in front of the great crowd and on the very edge of pitch (as was the fashion for children in those days). I don’t remember much of the game – it was Duncan Edwards that I had come to see. I was not alone – I’m sure that the majority of the Preston fans there had come to see this young colossus. At the end of the game at 4.40 pm (in those days there was only a 10 minute half time and 4.40 was when games finished – none of the nonsense of today when they can drag on and on because of stoppage time)  we both ran. We had newspapers to deliver at 5 o’clock. As I collected my Saturday evening “first post”/early edition round from Joe Unsworth’s newsagents (and got a telling off from Joe for being late!) the headlines were still of the upcoming visit by United and Edwards – they had been printed prior to the game. But by the time that I took my second round – the “Football Post” - just after 6 o’clock the match report was there and the photograph on the front of the paper was not of the goal scorers it was of Duncan Edwards! I walked around the streets reading the report and knowing that I had seen what we would call today a superstar – but to me, and thousands like me, he was a true hero. Everyone, then and since, were united - this young player (he was 21 when he died) was the greatest ever produced in this country and would be a future England captain. Sir Matt Busby, the United Manager said of him ‘I rate Duncan Edwards the most complete footballer in Britain – perhaps the World.’ He was a Colossus. Whatever was needed, he had it. He was immensely powerful. He was prodigiously gifted in the arts and crafts of the game. His temperament was perfect. His confidence was supreme and infectious. No opponent was too big or too famous for Duncan. A wing-half, he could have been a great centre-half, or a great forward striker. He would have been one of the great leaders with his sheer inspiration. If there was ever a player who could be called a one-man team, that man was Duncan Edwards. His death, as far as football is concerned, was the single biggest tragedy that has happened to England and Manchester United. He was then, and has always remained to me incomparable.
Edwards' grave - still
visited today
We looked at Duncan right from the start and we gave up trying to find flaws in his game. (Remember – this was Edwards when he was just 16 years old). Nothing could stop him and nothing unnerved him. The bigger the occasion the better he liked it. While other players would be pacing up and down the dressing room, rubbing their legs, doing exercises, and looking for a way to pass time, Duncan was always very calm. He was a good type of lad too – polite, well mannered, never flashy, never needing to be disciplined. Duncan didn’t want to know about the high life. He just wanted to go home or to his digs. He just lived for the game of football – that was his real strength taking it all calmly and sensibly. He was what every father would want for a son......’

I can still remember that February teatime - Gary Clarkson, Tony Clarkson and I were playing football in the dark street, our game lit by the street lamps – me shivering in my short sleeved home made shirt. Front doors opened and the news of the crash began to leak out and our game ended. Tony and Gary's mum, Marion, told us of the air crash and we asked just one question as tears filled our eyes: "What about Duncan Edwards? We sat round our little TV and watched as, over the next few hours, the names of the victims and survivors slowly came through. Edwards seemed to cling to life but in the end he succumbed - I can still remember the lunch time fifteen days later when Mr Bamber, the PE teacher at school, stood in a hushed dining hall and spoke just four words to us “Big Duncan has gone”, and I remember well the tears that were shed that hour. Today, those of my generation, when asked who is or was the greatest footballer ever, will unhesitatingly respond “Duncan Edwards” . Many, like me, through rheumy eyes will follow this by quietly and proudly saying “I only saw him play once – but that was enough to know”. And all who saw Edwards play would agree with that and the verdict of Edwards’ playing companion Bobby Charlton: “He was incomparable, a colossus .....If I had to play for my life and could take only one man with me, it would be Duncan Edwards.” Truly, "they, whom the God’s love, die young!”

The Fib!
As I listened to Pat discussing Sam’s birthday present with Ruth I idly thought how times have changed over the years – today a home-made shirt would, I suspect, be a source of fun and ridicule for any child. Of course, it has always been so to a degree. Whilst thinking about my shirt and that February night in 1958 I thought back to the vast number of times over the past 40 years when I have read to children the wonderful George Layton short story “The Fib”. Anyone who hasn’t read this has missed a treat – one of the great “growing up” stories. It tells of the young George who grows up in Manchester at the same time I was growing up. He is useless at football and dislikes it but has to take part at school. He wears an old kit , far too big for him – his mother cannot afford anything else - and is ridiculed by the other boys because of his lack of skill and his old fashioned kit. In desperation, he tells a “fib” – that the kit once belonged to his uncle – who, he says, is Bobby Charlton the great Manchester United and England footballer. Of course, as the tale goes on the “fib” begins to unravel – but it all ends happily when Bobby Charlton turns up and rescues George. It’s a tale of growing up, of doing the right thing (as Charlton does in the story), of hero worship and of the need to be recognised and valued amongst your friends. It is, in short one of the tales I would hope every child will read – boy or girl. Sam will get a copy when he is a little older!

Moore with the World Cup
And, as I thought about all this, I flicked through my newspaper – and on the sports pages there was a report on a big game that had taken place the previous evening – West Ham United against Tottenham Hotspur. Although the report of the game was full an equal amount of column inches were devoted (as it was on the TV and in other newspapers) to something else that took place at the game – the commemoration of West Ham’s greatest player and the England captain Bobby Moore who died 20 years ago last week. In the crowd his name was picked out in huge letters “Moore” and underneath it “6” – his shirt number. In his memory West Ham no longer use the number 6 on their shirts – only the great Moore was entitled to it. Number six – the same shirt number of Duncan Edwards!

Moore was England’s captain when we won the World Cup in 1966. He was, like Edwards, a colossus on the field of play. Not only was he the consummate footballer, he was good looking, gentle and a gentleman. He was all that so many of our sportsmen today are not. We have heard so much in recent years and weeks of the failings and lack of integrity of so many celebrity sportsmen that we hardly now notice it and worse forgive their crass attitudes and behaviour simply because they are, allegedly, "sportsmen". I can only assume that these people simply would not have understood Moore or Edwards and their outlook on life.
Moore shakes hand with the
Preston captain Nobby Lawton
before the 1964 Cup Final.
I was in the crowd

Like Duncan Edwards I saw Moore play only once in real life – in the 1964 Cup Final at Wembley when West Ham played my team Preston. As with Duncan Edwards that one opportunity to see Moore was enough to know that here was a player who was on a different level not only as a player but as a human being.  Many say that Final was one of the great finals and West Ham broke Preston hearts when they scored their winner with what was virtually the last kick of the game. Despite being bitterly disappointed – we had matched them throughout the game and the result could just as easily been a victory for Preston – I also knew I had seen a great team and a very great player. A year later I watched our little black and white TV as West Ham won the European Cup Winners Cup beating TSV Munich 2-0. I can vividly remember being overawed at Moore’s command – he was, it seemed to my 20 year old eyes almost god like. A year later, as England captain, he proudly lifted the World Cup for England as they beat Germany in the Final at Wembley – he could, it seemed almost walk on water.
Moore shakes hands with the Queen
- having wiped them on the table cloth!

It was at the end of that Final that one of the great footballing and sporting moments of history occurred - and which gave an insight into to the man. Something, which, I believe, players of today would have difficulty with. In the heady excitement of the victory, with a hundred thousand people in the stadium and millions throughout the world shouting and cheering, when Moore, like every other player in the pitch, was exhausted and on a high he climbed the Wembley steps leading his team to receive the Cup – the greatest footballing trophy in the world. As he approached the Queen and held out his hands to receive the Cup he stopped momentarily. He noticed that the Queen was wearing white gloves – immediately, he bent down and wiped his muddy hands on the table cloth so that he did not dirty her gloves. Such was the man – the perfect embodiment of Rudyard Kipling’s “If”: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs..........If you can walk with kings and not lose the common touch......” What a far cry, indeed, from the obscenities, anger, scowling faces and mindlessness that occurs on Premiership pitches today.

One of the other members of the World Cup team and a fellow West Ham player, Martin Peters, said of Moore "He could do anything........He got a few goals every now and again, and he was a great defender. He knew exactly what he wanted to do,......He was just a wonderful, wonderful player....... I never saw him lose his temper or really have a go at anybody. If he wanted to say something, he'd take you to one side and have a little chat in your ear. Then you would know what you had to do. But he wouldn't shout at anyone, he wasn't like that, he was calm and collected. The quality of him, you just knew by the way he played and the way he acted that he was a quality man not only in football but in life as well. He'll never be forgotten."
Twenty years after his death - he, and his shirt,
 are still remembered

Moore was universally adored – not just because he was a great footballer – which he was – but because of what he represented – he inspired others to be like him. He didn’t play for the greatest team in the land – West Ham were a pretty average side, he didn’t make headline news on a continual basis, he didn’t appear on every TV show to be interviewed – but he was loved and seen as something to aspire to. He showed us the best of what we are capable. Like the great American golfer Bobby Jones he was idolized by people who had no interest in sport – because of the person he was not what he did. Like Jones in golf, Moore became, and remained until the day of his death, the “First Gentleman of Football'. He was the sort of sportsman, hero and celebrity that we have lost. Alistair Cooke described Jones as '...kind and genial, without affectation to friends and strangers; and always looking out for the shy one in the corner.' One could write the same words about Moore - he was loved, admired and respected firstly for his qualities as a human being and only secondly for his sporting prowess – people wanted to be like him because of the virtues he displayed not for his stardom - a very far cry from how we perceive our heroes today. Every mother, I am sure, hoped her daughter would marry a Booby Moore; every father wanted his son to grow up like Bobby Moore - not because he was a great footballer but because he was a great man. Duncan Edwards was developing the same reputation when ice covered an aeroplane's wings ended his life.
West Ham win the Cup Winners'
 Cup in 1965

But for Moore, in footballing terms maybe the best was to come – not in terms of winning more trophies, for Moore that was largely over, but in a split second in 1970. In that year England again played in the World Cup Finals – in Mexico – and they played the mighty Brazil – who probably had the finest team the world had ever seen – before or since. It was the team of Carlos Alberto, Pele, Gérson, Jairzinho, Rivelino, and Tostão. Apart from being a wonderful game in which both teams were superb it is remembered for two moments that became football history. One, was the save that England goalkeeper Gordon Banks made from Pele – the world’s greatest player - and which is often referred to as the greatest save ever made. And the other event was Bobby Moore’s tackle on the Brazilian forward Jairzinho as he broke thought the England defence. Again, like the Banks' save, regarded as the finest ever made. It was a defining moment for Moore, it had such precision and cleanliness that it has been described then and now as the perfect tackle. It sealed his place in footballing history – the colossus who will calmly, coolly, skilfully and honestly step in and rescue you. Brazil deservedly won the game 1–0 and as the final whistle went Moore swapped shirts with Pelé the world’s greatest defender and the world’s greatest forward together in mutual a respect.
Moore and Pele at the end of the
great England  v Brazil game in 1970

On Moore’s death the great Pele said this: “Every kid around the world who plays soccer wants to be Pelé. I have a great responsibility to show them not just how to be like a soccer player, but how to be like a man. Bobby Moore — he defended like a lord. Let me tell you about this man. When I played, I would face up to a defender, I would beat him with my eyes, send him the wrong way; I would look one way and then go the other. Defenders would just kick me in frustration. They would foul me because they couldn't stop me, or because I would confuse them with my movement. I would move my eyes, my legs or my body, but not always the ball. They would follow my move, but not Bobby, not ever. He would watch the ball, he would ignore my eyes and my movement and then, when he was ready and his balance was right, he would take the ball, always hard, always fair. He was a gentleman and an incredible footballer”.

I have a great responsibility to show them not just how to be like a soccer player, but how to be like a man” - sadly, I cannot think of one single sportsman or woman – and certainly not a footballer – who could or would use Pele’s words today! Bobby Moore, like Pele, lived up to his image, responsibilities and role every day of his life.

Duncan Edwards' statue - and
the number six shirt again 
Bobby Moore died of cancer twenty years ago last week – at the young age of 51. He epitomised all that was best in sport and in football – not what passes for these two things today. He, like Duncan Edwards before him, made real to the old saying from the Greek myths “Those whom the gods love die young” – the gods take them to live amongst them in heaven! On 28 June 1993 his memorial service was held in Westminster Abbey, attended by all the other members of the 1966 World Cup Team. He was only the second sportsman to be so honoured, the first being the great West Indian cricketer Sir Frank Worrell.

And, as I thought about Moore, I thought about how our heroes have changed. I thought about what Pele called his great responsibility (a thing that Moore would have understood completely), about how Moore displayed himself on and off the field, about his number 6 shirt, about my home made Manchester United shirt, about Duncan Edwards, about the oft quoted view that had Edwards not died at Munich then he would have captained England and picked up the World Cup rather than Bobby Moore. I was reminded of Moore’s England manager, Sir Alf Ramsey, when England won the World Cup saying of Moore “My captain, my leader, my right-hand man. He was the spirit and the heartbeat of the team. A cool, calculating footballer I could trust with my life”. And, I thought of another comment – that of his manager at West Ham and the man who coached his young talent - Ron Greenwood who said of Moore: “Ask me to talk about Bobby Moore the footballer and I will talk for days. Ask me about the man and I will dry up in a minute – he was what you wanted all men to be and what we all want to be." And, on the plinth under the statue of Bobby Moore at Wembley stadium are inscribed the words: “Finest legend of West Ham United. National Treasure. Master of Wembley. Lord of the game. Captain extraordinary. Gentleman of all time."

"Gentleman of all time"
The fact that Moore’s death is still remembered, as it was last week, is undeniably because of his characteristics as a person as well as a footballer – he engendered huge respect from ordinary people. He was looked up to as a person. It was the same with Duncan Edwards – his early death denied sport of a huge talent but it denied sport and ordinary people, too, of a model to aspire to. Maybe that is why Edwards’ grave in his home town of Dudley is still visited by people wishing to pay their respects to a twenty-one year old who died well over half a century ago – he, like Moore, was the person we would all like to be.

Guardian sports writer Hugh McIlvanney said this of Moore on the announcement of his death: Amid the coarsening of spirit that has been manifest in this country over the past couple of decades, there is a measure of reassurance in finding so much of the nation so deeply affected by the death of Bobby Moore. It is impossible to doubt the spontaneity of grief felt by millions whose intimacy with the man was no greater than could be developed through watching him from the terraces of a football ground or on a television screen. Wherever people gathered  there was a pervasive sense of loss, an unforced emotion that suggested many had been taken unawares by the depth of their feelings. It was exactly the same when Edwards died so young and so tragically - the wider world not just the world of football grieved, for everyone knew that we had lost more than a footballer we had lost a great human being -  someone who had all the human qualities  that  we would all like our sons and daughters to have.

And I thought about this as I thought on Sam’s birthday present. I don’t expect Sam will be another footballing great – a Booby Moore or Duncan Edwards – but we can always dream! I’m tempted to give Ruth a ring and tell her to get a Number 6 printed on the back of the shirt – that would be a bit of nostalgia and sentimentalism for Grampy! But whether or not Sam turns out to be a good player (as his Dad, my son John, is) is totally irrelevant. Much more important to me is that he turns out like Moore and Edwards - as Pele said “a man........a gentleman” - someone that as Ron Greenwood said “we all want to be”.