25 February, 2014

Where's the Rage?

In 1517 a German priest, Martin Luther, nailed to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg a list of his complaints against the Roman Catholic Church of which he was a member. They became known as his Ninety Five Theses. They were Luther’s objections to many of the practices that had grown up in the Catholic Church over centuries – especially that of selling of indulgencies. This practice allowed the Church to raise money by selling absolution from sin. At that time the Pope was trying to raise money for the rebuilding of St Peter’s Church in Rome and over the centuries the belief had been promoted by the Church that faith alone was not enough to justify man’s actions and, hence, his sins. To be absolved from one's sins and ultimately gain entry to heaven men had to be active in charity and good works, they had to spend, as well as being simply devout believers. From this belief sprung the idea that the heavenly benefits of good work could be obtained by donating money to the Church – in other words, buy your salvation, your freedom from sin, your entry to heaven.

A contemporary wood cut
of  an indulgence seller

To this end the Church dispatched Indulgence Commissioners across Europe – their mission to be to sell indulgencies to people and thus promise them entry to heaven for their good works. In 1516 such a Commissioner, Johann Tetzel, arrived in Germany. One of Tetzel’s hard sell gambits to believers was "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory rises and to heaven doth spring" – Tetzel and his fellow indulgence salesmen were the sixteenth century equivalent of the cold caller from the call centre promising that the earth (and indeed the afterlife!) can be yours if you just get out your credit card now!  Luther was incensed, it went against everything he believed in. He insisted that forgiveness was God's alone to grant and in Thesis 86 he asked “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?" Of particular concern to Luther was that the practice hit at every level – the rich could do this and thus gain a sort of perceived moral and heavenly superiority over other men because of their “gifts” whilst the poor, who in those days were often close to starvation, were being “conned” into parting with money that they could not afford. But, most importantly for Luther, it went against all his profoundly held beliefs about the nature of worship, devotion, sanctity and the good man.
I wonder what the Barclay's banker would have to pay for salvation
after taking his "criminal" bonus and made 7000 people
redundant to pay for it?

From time immemorial there has been a close link between religion and politics – the Crusades, the problems in Northern Ireland in the latter half of the twentieth century and indeed the current war on terror bear witness to that fact. Luther’s actions in 1517, although against specific practices of his own Church echoed around Europe. Momentum gathered and what started as a single monk being angry about a purely religious matter quickly developed in to the Reformation and that, in its turn, completely altered the political make up of Europe and the wider world. No longer was the Pope and the doctrine of the Catholic Church the only game in town - kings, nations, parliaments and free men began to increasingly define action. It  brought the Protestant movement, the Church of England,  gave justification to Henry the VIII in his struggles against the Pope, spawned the later Puritan and Methodist Churches and underpinned the basic political beliefs about religious freedom, freedom of thought, wider democratic freedoms and that are today the basis of western nations. Last week, February 18th, was the anniversary of Luther’s death in 1546.

I reflected on this fact and the link between church and state several times during this past week.

Newly elected cardinal Vincent Nichols
- he upset the P.M. Must be a good guy!
In the UK of late there have been a number of comments, sermons  and articles from various representatives of the churches all on the same theme – criticism  of the UK government’s recent policy on welfare reform and the benefits paid to those in need. The Methodist Church commented "The [government] states that Universal Credit will lift hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty. However, the other changes that are part of welfare reform are likely to push these children straight back down again. Indeed, welfare reform is the driving force behind the predicted increases in both relative and absolute poverty in families with children over the next decade.....”  These comments were reinforced by the Bishop of Manchester who attacked government for creating a ‘national crisis’ and forcing thousands of British families into hunger and hardship. The bishop is among 27 of Britain’s leading Anglican clergy who criticised the government’s benefits changes for sending people “flocking to food banks”. The priests have been clear in telling the prime minister he has a ‘moral duty’ to act to stop people going hungry. And probably the most high profile comment has been from the newly appointed Roman Catholic cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster who said the Government had “decimated” even the most "basic safety net" for those threatened by poverty. The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales also said that the welfare system had become more "punitive........” leaving people with nothing if they fail to fill in forms correctly”.

On Saturday Giles Fraser a priest and former chancellor of St Paul’s cathedral wrote in the Guardian ‘The "moral" case [put forward by the government] for benefit cuts is an attempt to re-establish a culture of personal responsibility. It is an attack on the feckless....... this is now being used to disparage a whole class of vulnerable people whose greatest crime in life is to find themselves struggling to get by in the chill winds of a financial climate that was absolutely not of their making.

Since Christmas, my church has turned itself into a homeless shelter once a week. Volunteers cook large batches of shepherd's pie for hungry people who have been wandering the streets most of the day. We provide a warm bed and a safe place to hang out for the evening. Camp beds are set up in the nave of the church. And bacon rolls and porridge are provided for breakfast. Unfortunately, business is thriving. There is a waiting list for beds. Homelessness has risen 60% in London over the past two years. And half a million people now rely on food banks.

It's not just churches that are volunteering in this way. And many who help out with us are not themselves religious. But given the local nature of the parish system, and given that churches have an outpost in every community in this country, the clergy are uniquely positioned to understand the effect that financial cuts are having on the ground. And what makes many of us so bloody angry is that the reality of what is happening is not being acknowledged by politicians in government. They don't feel the need to face this reality because the war against the scroungers is so popular. So long as the right wing press keeps stoking our sense of indignation at those who exploit the system, the government has little incentive to admit the much wider reality that austerity is turning pockets of Britain into wastelands of hopelessness. The scrounger tag has become a way to blame the poor for their poverty. How convenient. Those who created this financial crisis have got away scot free, protected by their money and their lobbying power. So now we blame the poor, a much easier target”.

Fraser is correct. Sadly, too, we are governed today by politicians (of whatever party) who generally do not care. They may weep crocodile tears, they may wring their hands in mock exasperation but in the end they do nothing. They are in thrall to big business and power based upon wealth.  Even more sadly, most of us, Joe Public, are the same – we have become too comfortable. Although we know there are very great problems in the world and in our own country we are too cosy. Yes, we can pull out our credit cards for some international disaster appeal or when the TV tells us that it is the time for the “Comic Relief Appeal”  or “Children in Need” and then, having sponsored someone or donated our £10 we sit back and feel virtuous. It must have been exactly the same feeling that medieval folk enjoyed when they had bought their indulgence from Johann Tetzel – we have paid our way to salvation but changed nothing.

The right wing press  are quick to seek
out the scroungers..........
..........but conveniently forget who gets the biggest
benefits handouts in this country
And it isn’t just about the poor or the UK government policy on benefits. Only a few weeks ago I mentioned in a previous blog that the picture is the same in the USA. I copied a picture of President Obama helping out at his local food bank close to the White House. It was, to me beyond comprehension that the richest nation in the world, indeed, that the world has ever known has to feed a large portion of its population with handouts  within yards of the seat of power of the most powerful government in the world. I read, too, that despite the UK government clamp down on benefit scroungers and the growth of food banks which so concerns church leaders our financial services sector is booming and bankers have found a myriad of ways around beating any limits on bonus payments – and the government sit back and say “we can do nothing”. Just one of the reports told us that “Britain's biggest bank, HSBC......is to award more than a thousand of its top staff allowances to avoid the EU bonus cap........ HSBC is to award its chief executive Stuart Gulliver a £1.7m "fixed pay allowance" on top of his £1.2m salary to prevent his pay from falling as a result of the restriction on pay imposed by Brussels........ he will receive a minimum pay deal of £4.2m a year, up from £2.5m now. For 2013, bonuses took his total pay £8m, up from £6.3m the previous year. A letter in today’s paper refers to those bonuses: “My bank, HSBC, seems to think that it is reasonable to give bonuses worth more than I earned in my whole teaching career. Last week I received a letter telling me the bank is no longer giving interest on my account. Time to change bank, I think”. The paper translated the banker’s rise into figures that are more meaningful to the ordinary person – the CEO at HSBC will receive a bonus  rise of £32,000 per week! And even the 239 lesser bankers at HSBC who are each receiving an annual bonus of £1 million will still be earning in a single bonus payment more than a teacher could expect to earn in a career spanning 35 years. I can’t help thinking of John F Kennedy’s comment that “Modern cynics and sceptics... see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing” Clearly, the government and the public at large are comfortable with paying the people who look after their money hugely more than the man or woman who looks after their children. It says much about our society's values. And, finally, only a couple of weeks ago I scratched my head in confusion when I read that Barclays Bank has pushed up staff bonuses by 10% despite seeing both its revenue and profit falling. In the same announcement the Bank told us that 7,000 UK job cuts will occur this year. In other words some will get an even bigger slice of the pie whilst others get fired – it’s a fast track to the food bank for many. For me, what I find really offensive is that Barclays see no shame in putting out this information side by side - redundancies an huge bonuses. They have made no attempt to hide their actions. Clearly, they have no shame - or, I would suggest, no morals. It is a brazed action -  "Look at us" it is saying "we are untouchable". And they are - for no one will take action.   And in this obscene landscape were the rich really do get richer while the poor might starve I read a few days ago that the UK is the largest market in the world for Ferrari motor cars – and this in the same year that evictions from homes in this country is at an all time high. But despite all this no-one at political level bats an eye lid – they all wring their hands and weep crocodile tears but are not prepared, unlike Luther, to say enough is enough.
Ferrari sales at a record - and so are evictions from homes -
but "Hey, I'm alright Jack"

And it isn't only about bankers or benefits about which politicians wring their hands but do nothing. We, in the UK, live in one of the most unequal societies in the world – even high Tory politicians like Michael Gove accept this and profess to want to change it. In 2012 Gove said: “More than any other developed nation, ours is a country in which your parentage dictates your progress.........those who are born poor are more likely to stay poor and those who inherit privilege are more likely to pass on privilege. For those of us who believe in social justice this stratification and segregation are morally indefensible”.

Three weeks ago the New Statesman ran ran an article about the educational divide in this country and especially the power and influence of the great public schools like Eton in creating not only a governing elite but producing a skewed society rooted in that educational divide. The article (by David and George Kynaston) concerned itself with what it called the “7% problem”  the small percentage of people who dominate wealth and British public life. There was widespread approval from across the spectrum of the article and the following week a number of prominent people responded – Lord  Adonis, the Labour peer, Tony Little the head master of Eton, Antony Seldon the Master of Wellington College, Tristram Hunt the Labour party’s education spokesman. All these shakers and movers praised the authority of the article and accepted that there was, indeed, a profound problem. Last week Michael Gove responded on behalf of the government. He, too, fully accepted the article’s arguments and decried the situation in the UK. Everyone wrung their hands, everyone agreed that this cannot continue. But no one was prepared to actually do anything about it. No one was prepared to say this cannot, under any circumstances continue we must stop it now. No one whispered that it is an immoral and unethical situation which shames our national consciousness and that it must be subject of immediate legislation. No one was prepared to simply remove the problem – get rid the great public schools and close down the private education sector so that a “good” education cannot be bought. No one was prepared to stop these institutions having the dreadful and corrosive effect they have on the life and well being of the nation. No one was prepared to face up to those with power and wealth and say "Sorry, you can no longer buy advantage - educational indulgencies are not for sale any more". In fact, bizarrely and obscenely the favoured course of action from all these shakers and movers was that we can’t do away with the public schools so we’ll just have to make every school like a public school.

R.H .Tawney would have recognised all this when he commented a century ago: “The exploitation of the weak by the powerful, organized for the purposes of economic gain, buttressed by imposing systems of law, and screened by decorous draperies of virtuous sentiment and resounding rhetoric, has been a permanent feature in the life of most communities that the world has yet seen”. It was true in Luther’s time and it is still true in modern Britain. When will someone say stop?

Does no-one think that something is wrong? Is there not a Martin Luther out there to say enough is enough? It seems that the churches are trying – and so they must. In these days of corporate and global power ever ready to usurp and influence government policy for its own ends society is facing an uphill struggle. The churches have a crucial role in reminding politicians, governments and we as individuals of our responsibilities – ethical, religious, political and social. And we in turn have an obligation to listen and act. I believe that this is especially true today since, certainly the UK, there is little difference between the parties – each scrambling to appeal to an increasingly apathetic, cynical and disengaged electorate.
The Obama's help out at the local Washington
food bank. I wonder if he was squirming inside
as he served this lady. If not, he should have been.

Martin Luther stood up for what he passionately believed in. He made his feelings known and was prepared to take the consequences. Given the age and religious times in which he lived he was not only putting his physical self at risk but also his spiritual self. In 1521 he was compelled to attend the Diet of Worms on the orders of the Pope. Luther knew that although he had been provisionally granted safe passage that his life and indeed his soul was in very real danger. He was expected to recant his Ninety Five Theses under threat of possible death and certainly excommunication from the Church. In the beliefs of the time this would cast his soul into purgatory. Luther's works were placed on a table. He was then asked if they were his and whether he wanted to recant any of them. Luther requested time to think over his reply and the next day he answered with the well-known speech: "Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me, Amen!"  Does anyone in the UK today have a conscience like Luther’s? I suspect that for most of our politicians and society’s leaders conscience is a word little utilised. And, to use the words from Isaiah, “we like sheep” follow, too cosy to bother. In the words of the old saying “Pull up the ladder Jack, I’m alright.”
A local Nottingham food bank
A few weeks ago I seriously toyed with the idea of re-joining the Labour Party and perhaps even the Fabian Society who have always been very much the conscience of the Labour movement. Maybe, I told myself, I should put my money where my mouth is, try to influence policy, give Ed Miliband a chance. But on the very day I thought that I might get out my credit card and sign up I also read one of his latest policy announcements. It was the same old populist stuff: bash schools and teachers and rage against the nasty, lazy and profligate public services from whom we must all be saved, give power to the people by allowing them to take their local hospital to task.  There was no resounding strike against great wrongs such as inequality or bankers. There was no mention of the 7%. There was no mention of the obscenity of food banks in one of the richest nations on the planet Nowhere was there a rage against the City or a declaration to offend those with wealth by removing their bonuses or closing their fee paying schools. It sounded like the Conservative manifesto in a bold font from a Labour leader! I have absolutely no doubts that Miliband is a “good guy” whose heart is in the right place. I believe that he acts honestly, honourably and sincerely but when I read his “policies” I knew he was no Martin Luther. There was no rage, intent or promise to right the obvious wrongs.

In today’s Guardian Chris Huhne reflects that “It is humbling to see protesters in Kiev's Independence Square prepared to lay down their lives for freedoms we take for granted”. The situation in the Ukraine is very different from our own here in the cosy UK but I can’t help wondering whether we have the guts and the belief any more to fight for what is right. Most of us have our flat screen TV, we can afford a holiday, run a nice car (although perhaps not a Ferrari!), we can fill our supermarket trolleys, enjoy a meal out.....what is there not to like? And most of us are content, all is right with the world. We conveneiently forget those that can’t enjoy our lifestyle and need to go to the food bank. True, we might make a donation to the food bank to even use our credit card or buy our indulgence when we donate to some charity or other.  We happily tolerate and forget the skewed society caused by the unfair education system since, because like Jack, in the old saying, "we are alright". We might moan in envy, but then we go along with the bankers getting their millions because we are comfortable. And we tolerate and accept all these ills which corrode the very fabric of our society – we ignore what is wrong - because it is too much effort. In short, we and our leaders do nothing.

I was yesterday reminded of a story of Lyndon Johnson when he took over the Presidency of the USA after the assassination of Kennedy. I had first read this when I read  Robert Caro's biography of LBJ a year or two ago but it leapt out of the page at me again as I read Gary Young’s column in the Guardian. Young was asking the question “What is Obama’s presidency for” – it had promised so much and yet has delivered so little commented Young. “A few days after JFK's assassination,” wrote Young “ Johnson sat in his kitchen with his key advisers working  on his first speech to Congress. It was the evening of Kennedy's funeral – Johnson was now president. The nation was still in grief and Johnson.....was not yet able to move into the White House because Kennedy's effects were still there.
LBJ may have had lots of failing
but he got things done.

He had been a hapless vice-president; now he had to both personify and project the transition from bereavement to business as usual. In the midst of the cold war, with Vietnam brewing, the Kennedy administration had been trying to get civil rights legislation and tax cuts through Congress. There was plenty of business to attend to. Johnson's advisers were keen that he introduced himself to the nation as a president who could get things done......they implored him not to push for civil rights in this first speech, since it had no chance of passing. "The presidency has only a certain amount of coinage to expend, and you oughtn't to expend it on this," said one of the wise, practical people around the table.

Johnson, who sat in silence at the table as his aides debated at last interjected: "Well, what the hell's the presidency for."

"First," he told Congress a few days later, "no memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honour President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long." Over the next five years Johnson would go on to sign the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, launch the war on poverty and introduce Medicaid (medical assistance for low-income families) and Medicare (for seniors). That's what his presidency was for....”  The will was there and it was backed up by action.
"Here I stand...." Luther at the Diet of Worms.

LBJ grasped the nettle and so far as he was able tried to right obvious wrongs - and, I suspect,  whole generations of Americans have since been glad of it. Martin Luther would have approved. The churchmen who complained about the UK government’s actions in the past few weeks would have understood.  Things can be changed if there is a will. Unfortunately I don’t believe politicians have any real intention and, sadly, I don’t think that most of the rest of us really care. All the issues that we so often complain about - bankers bonuses, the holding of the country to ransom by global corporations, the influencing of government by the powerful, the inequalities of society caused by a blatantly unfair and skewed education system, the vilification of the less powerful and well off by right wing and other wealthy organisations are all scars on our society - but we have no real will to change them. There is no rage. Both we and they are too busy feathering our own nests happy to use our credit cards to buy the good life, to occasionally salve what conscience we have by making the odd donation to some charitable cause but not, unlike Luther, wanting our cage rattled too much and certainly not concerning ourselves with such matters as morals, ethics or eternal eternal salvation!

16 February, 2014

"Auld Lang Syne" and Empty Buckets.

The man himself
It’s a long time since I last blogged – not that there has been nothing to blog about but there have been other preoccupations. A lovely week spent in the sunshine of Tenerife, a granddaughter’s birthday party to attend, writing the minutes of meetings that I had attended have all gobbled up the time. And in what was left we have followed the tales of disaster and mayhem as floods, high seas, winds and storms batter Britain. Luckily, we in Nottingham have got off very lightly (so far!) but to see on TV places that we know well – Dawlish, the Thames Valley, the Somerset levels – under water and storm damaged has been a salutary but chastening experience - timely reminder of the knife edge that we live on. How clever we humans think we are until nature takes its course!

But this weekend I woke up to the news that one of the great sportsmen of the world – the footballer Tom Finney - has died at the age of 91. I have oft blogged about Finney – he was the name and the legend that I grew up with. Arguably the greatest footballer ever to play for England, maybe the greatest the world has ever produced. A true sportsman and a gentleman he filled my every weekend as I grew up in Preston in the 1950s until he retired in 1960. Week after week I would walk with my friend, now long dead, "Nebber" to Deepdale the home of Preston North End Football Club, each of us with our blue and white hand knitted scarves joining the blue and white throngs of other supporters filling the narrow streets of terraced houses.  Tony Clarkson or "Nebber" as we called him (because he always wore a flat cap) and I would walk the 10 or 15 minute walk from our houses in Caroline Street and along Skeffington Road with thousands of others, all going in the same direction, all of us to see our heroes but most of all  to see Finney weave his magic. Finney was a one club man – he never left his home town club. Preston were a top team in those days but no Manchester United or Arsenal. The club's story was largely one of  mid table mediocrity, occasionally challenging for honours but sometimes  struggling to stay in the top division . Finney never won any great titles or medals – he had a glittering career, but little silverware to show for it. It was the price he paid for loyalty. But that is only a small part of the story.  He was the ultimate loyal servant to both club and country. He was blessed with exquisite balance, skill and tactical intelligence, he played the game with a grace – or indeed good grace – given to very few: he was never booked, sent off or even ticked off by a referee. If fouled by an opponent – and he so often was – he simply shrugged, got up from the floor and carried on. If ever there was a career in football which proved that trophies are not the only, or even any, measure of greatness, it was that of Finney. The championship of the Second Division in 1950-51 was the only winner’s medal he ever won either for club and country and to this he added a Cup Final loser’s medal in 1954. But the admiration of numberless fans in the post-war years was of considerably more significance.
The great, the good and the not so good of the modern
game (Manchester cityand Chelsea) yesterday  pay their respects

His loyalty to Preston was tested when an Italian, prince Roberto Lanza di Trabia, made him an unimaginable offer to play for his team, Palermo, in Sicily. The Italian had seen Finney play for England while they were touring Italy in 1952, and was so impressed he offered him a £10,000 signing-on fee, wages of £130 a month plus a bonus of up to £100 a game, a Mediterranean villa, a sports car and unlimited travel to and from Italy for his family. At the time, Finney was earning £14 a week with Preston (reduced to £12 in the summer close-season) plus a bonus of £2 for a win and £1 for a draw. Finney was tempted – indeed he later admitted that he wanted to go, it was an opportunity not to be turned down – but the rules at the time allowed Clubs to retain their players and Preston refused to let him leave. Finney’s response was typical, he simply got on with life and continued to give of his best. What a far cry from today’s players who, to coin a modern phrase, "throw their toys out of the pram",  sulk, disrupt team morale, tweet, go to the press and exhibit all the other spoiled child characteristics.
Sir Tom at the side of his statue outside the Preston ground
-"the Splash" set in stone

Born within a stone’s throw of the Preston ground he was a small lad who would never have made it in today’s physique obsessed and brutal game where athleticism, power and strength rather than skill, guile and intelligence are the criteria for success.  Despite his slight stature and frequent bouts of ill health he gained a trial with Preston when he was 14. He stood just 4ft 9in tall and weighed less than 5 stone when he was offered a contract to join the ground staff, but his father insisted that he first learn a trade. How strange and unacceptable that would seem to today's young football "wannabes"! So, he signed, as an amateur part-timer, and became an apprentice plumber – an occupation that would run parallel with (and outlast) his football career and lead to his nickname,” the Preston Plumber”.

The iconic photo - "the Splash"
In one respect Finney was lucky, he joined a Preston side famed, as they had been for half a century, since they had been nicknamed the “Invincibles” for their quick skilful football. The old Invincibles had won the League and the Cup double in the late nineteenth century and been unbeaten in both these  competitions.  It made them the first team to achieve the English "double". Preston also won the Cup without conceding a goal. Of the seven teams to have since completed the double in England, Preston remain to this day the only one to have done so unbeaten. This historical and statistical fact was perhaps important as far as the young Finney was concerned for Preston, above all clubs, and since those far off days of glory, played “in the Scottish style”. The Preston team had for years been built upon Scottish players – the town was, after all the first footballing town of any significance on the road south from Glasgow  and Preston’s footballing style, developed first in the era of the Invincibles, was based upon the skilful, Scottish type of passing game where the ball was passed to feet in short sharp,movements. No booting of the ball up the pitch and chasing it! This was “football science” and it won games and won Preston a lot of fans for it was attractive to watch and brought results. It was into this footballing culture and skilful team that the young Finney came – and he added his own very great skills. Apart from his natural balance, unquestionable ball skills, intelligence, temperament, and footballing nous there was one other critical attribute the young Finney possessed - and something that not only set him apart from other great players of his generation but which would also, in the modern world of soccer, make him virtually unique and worth millions - he was two footed. And this meant that he could play virtually anywhere in the team. His natural position was outside right but, being equally skilled with both feet, could play just as well at outside left. He was world class anywhere on the forward line and for much of his later career spent his time as a deep lying centre forward. When playing for England he invariably played at outside left - the right wing position being given to the one sided Stanley Matthews. In May 1947 in Lisbon England routed Portugal 10-0. Matthews was irresistible on the right, but Finney, playing at outside left, was in such devastating form that his opponent, the Portuguese captain and right-back Álvaro Cardoso, walked off the field in the first half, demanding to be substituted. He never played for his country again!

Tom, the elder statesman in the Preston crowd.
The outbreak of war and his apprenticeship  postponed his footballing career and it was  August 1946 before he made his Preston debut as a  24 year old. Only twenty eight days later he was playing for England.The rest, as they say, is history – he blossomed to become the great player he did. He was twice named footballer of the year, was awarded an OBE in 1961, a CBE in 1992 and knighted in 1998. After his retirement from the game he built up his plumbing business and became part of the life blood of his beloved Preston North End. He became president of the club, and served his local community by becoming an ambassador for the town, a magistrate and chairman of the local health authority. One could not but feel this was a life well lived.
Am I on there somewhere? - I've certainly stood there and
watched him take a corner

His brilliance inspired and often carried the team – whether it was Preston or England. The great Bill Shankly, the famous manager of Liverpool and an established player for Preston when Finney joined the club, said of his great friend: "Tom Finney would have been great in any team, in any match and in any age … even if he had been wearing an overcoat." It was classic Shankly hyperbole, but none, like me, who saw him play would disagree. Another Shankly quote was made in the era of the great George Best. Shankly was asked if Best was a better player than Finney. Shankly’s reply, his thick Scottich accent tinged with  wry Liverpool scouser humour was spot on: “Yes", said Shankly,"Best is quicker, but then again Tom is 55 now so he has lost a touch of speed”. Shankly, like all the other greats of the game, was correct- Finney was quite simply the best. This weekend’s papers are full of comparisons – that Finney would be in any side that comprised the greatest of the all time greats, that the great Lionel  Messi is his footballing heir, that only Duncan Edwards, who died so young and so tragically at Munich, could in any way be equated with him as an England player – and so it goes on. Tommy Docherty, who played with Finney at Preston famously said a year or two ago that the great Lionel Messi is a wonderful player and he could pay him no higher praise than to say that Messi, at his very best, is a sort of immature Finney!
How many times did I lean over that wall to
shake his hand?

But all these comparisons of his footballing skills miss the point for those like me who regularly watched him. There was an extra quality that even in those far off days was unique. He was loved - not only for his football skills but for the way he played the game, for his gentleness and for his quiet humility. How many times did Nebber and I stand over the players' tunnel waiting for the team to come out lead by Finney. And, as they emerged onto the field and the scent of embrocation wafted out of the tunnel and into the crowd, people would lean forward to shake his hand and wish him well. And he always responded - not  seeking glamour or celebrity status, a thing unknown in those days,  but because it was the right thing to do. These were his people, he was their son. How many mornings in the school holidays did we stand with our autograph books or our well thumbed copies of "Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly" outside the Preston ground and wait for him to emerge after training. And he, always having the time to sign his autograph, to rub his hand through the hair of hundreds of little boys and ask if they were coming to Saturday’s game. His signature a neat script not some meaningless indecipherable scrawl scribbled down without even looking. And then he was gone, smartly dressed, suit or blazer and tie, shoes shining and his boots slung over his shoulder walking off down Lowthorpe Road and around the back of the ground and onto Deepdale Road and so home. No Ferrari to jump into, no gated mansion with high walls and security lights to hide behind. No, Finney, like other greats of the sporting world in those days, was a man of the people - someone who we recognised as one of us. For us little boys he was the perfect role model, and since he was so ordinary, he walked the same streets as us, lived in a house like ours, caught a bus like us, and had time for us he was something to which we could all realistically aspire. Unlike today's top sportsmen who are remote, who live lives alien to those of the ordinary man, who appear only on TV or who have come from far off countries to play in the local team for a year or two and then move on Finney was real and in being real, something we could imagine ourselves becoming - if we worked hard and were like him! He, and others of his kind, gave us all a dream and a compass by which to grow up. And, boy, did we want to be like him! This desire to be Finney (or one of the other top stars of the day) was not about wanting celebrity status or money for these two dimensions were largely unknown to such as footballers - indeed to anyone in those days. If fame and fortune came it was an "extra" - not the reason. It was the desire to be like him - or Lofthouse, or Trautmann, or Matthews, or Docherty, or any of the other footballing greats of the 1940s and 50s - as a person and a footballer. I have often said to younger people in more recent years that in those days (and, indeed, still today) I would have given my right arm to pull on  a Preston shirt - and I'm sure that thousands up and down the country felt the same way about their local club or sporting hero. But modern youth looks askance when I have said that - they see it in largely opportunistic, mercenary terms playing for a club for the maximum amount of money and then move on when more money or greater stardom beckons. To them it is about quick stardom and access wealth not human qualities such as pride or loyalty. 

 1956 - in Ealing London with
my dad and his friend Bert - my mother
and Bert's wife in the background. We
went to see Preston at Chelsea
on the day of "the Splash"!
I watched Finney perhaps hundreds of times, I saw some of his great goals and watched him play in different positions. I was at Chelsea in 1956 when the iconic photo “The Splash” was taken of him sliding through a puddle – but still in complete control of the ball. If you look at the photo carefully you can just see the Chelsea defender hidden in the spray trying to take the ball from Finney but such were his prodigious skills that he could control the ball and avoid the lunging tackle whilst dancing through he puddle -  a true footballing great, one of only a very small handful. The conditions that day would have meant the cancellation of the game in the modern world - modern players playing the modern kick, thump and run game are incapable of the sort of control required. Throughout his career Finney and his peers played on pitches that today's players would find unplayable and not conducive to their very limited skills. The ball that Finney magically controlled week in week out was a heavy "cannon ball" which soaked up the water on a wet pitch not the plastic covered lightweight, perfectly balanced ball of the modern game. And, not  unimportantly, it had  a lace. This meant that the ball, no matter how skilfully laced up was not a perfect sphere so it did not always roll true. If you ever went to head one of these balls you always hoped that the laced part would not come into contact with your head - it was extremely painful! Put all this together, unbalanced ball, muddy pitches, heavy ball, heavy boots and Finney's (and those of other greats from the past) skills become even more awesome.  But, on that long off day at Chelsea Preston won the game 0-1. The result, however,  is long forgotten  and unimportant – it is just another statistic. What, however, is not forgotten is Finney’s contribution  – and that photo which has become part of footballing legend and mythology.

I was only about ten when I went to that game. We were in London because my dad, occasionally, as part of his work, acted as a chauffeur for the aircraft test pilot Roland Beaumont. At that time dad’s company (English Electric) were building the P1 Lightning fighter plane and it was being tested at Boscombe Down near Bournemouth. When tests flights were taking place every few months dad was Beaumont’s chauffeur taking the pilot from his home in Chichester to the test site at Boscombe or up to meetings at the Ministry of Defence in London or bringing him back to Preston where the plane was being developed (at Wharton). Dad would often be away all week or maybe longer while the test flights were under way. In 1956, dad took me and my mother with him from Preston to London - dad was due to begin chauffeuring stint for Beaumont and we travelled in style down to London in the very posh car (a large comfortable, leather seated, Humber Hawk, I think) that was used to chauffeur the pilot. We didn't own a car so had never travelled so grandly! We stayed with my mother and dad's war time friends in Ealing in London while dad went off  to work at Boscombe ferrying Beaumont. My mother had lodged with this couple, Carol and Bert, during the 2nd World War when she and Carol were nurses at a military hospital in nearby Uxbridge. When my dad returned to England in 1943 injured with a badly broken arm he was in Uxbridge hospital and it was there he met my mother. And that weekend in 1956 I went  with dad and Bert to Chelsea. North End were in town and we went to see Preston play. I never suspected that I would witness one split second of that game on that bright afternoon that would become a footballing moment of history. Indeed, I don't remember it at all - it was a split second event - but some clever news photographer took the picture of Finney sliding through the puddle and it made instant headlines in the sporting press. I never suspected that half a century later that picture would be made into stone and stand outside Preston's Deepdale ground as an eternal reminder of this great man.

Tom's final appearance and after match speech

 I was there, too, with Nebber on that April 30th evening in 1960 when Finney played his last game for Preston -  against Luton. That end of season game was a nothing encounter – neither team had anything to play for.  But the ground was filled to capacity,  all there to see Finney’s last appearance. At the time the local newspapers showed people who had travelled from Arsenal, Newcastle, Wolves, Sunderland, Manchester  and throughout the UK to see the great man’s final game. I can still remember the coloured scarves in the crowd – not just the colours of Preston or Luton fans but the gold of Wolves supporters, the red of Arsenal, the black and white of Newcastle, the tangerine of Blackpool, the claret and blue of Burnley – all had come to see the end of an era. The Brindle Brass Band (for whom my Uncle Ken sometimes played) regularly provided pre-match and half time entertainment at Deepdale playing and marching up and down the pitch  and as always, when Preston ran out of the tunnel and onto the pitch the band struck up with the familiar strains of "Margie, I'm always thinking of you, Margie....." Preston's unofficial anthem. But then the two teams stood in a circle in the centre of the pitch linking arms. The Brindle struck up again.........and everyone, players and fans sang “Auld Lang Syne”.  Nebber and me like 30,000 others, linking arms, we two uncertain of the words, but knowing that this was the right thing to do. And at the end of the match, on that balmy April evening, we stood on the pitch watching Finney give his farewell speech, thanking the people of Preston for their support and good wishes – each of us, even Nebber and me as callow teenagers, knowing that we would never see his like again. And then, spontaneously, the crowd erupted into "For he's a jolly good fellow......." as the great man left the field.  The result of the game was totally unimportant (indeed, I have just had to Google it to remember!), nobody cared that he had never won any silverware, it was all about the man and the sport.

Nebber and I are on there, listening to Tom's speech.
We stand at the back along the top of the photo
That night, as on all the other occasions, we had watched him, in awe. When Finney got the ball the whole crowd became expectant. He had the knack of making lesser colleagues great players and it was jokingly commented that when playing for Preston or England he should claim income tax relief – for the ten dependants that he had in the rest of the team! When Finney got the ball we all knew what he was going to do – or at least we thought we did - but such was his magic that it was always a surprise and something to be treasured. He would cut in from the wing, towards the penalty area, the ball jinking at his feet, the full back, back peddling, unsure what to do. Would Finney suddenly put on a burst of speed that carried him past the full back and into a scoring position, would he find a colleague with an inch perfect pass, would he mesmerise the defender with his deft footwork and leave the poor player looking at the space where he and the ball had been a micro second before, or would he in the blink of an eye unleash a shot that would find the goal? These were all skills that Finney had in abundance. But there was one more trick up the sleeve – and something that he became a master at: he would approach the penalty area, ball at his feet the full back watching and waiting unsure what to do. Finney would hold the ball, tempting the full back to make a move, waiting, waiting, waiting as he slowly drifted closer and closer to the penalty area. Once there he would show the defender just enough of the ball to make him think he had a chance of getting it. The defender would lunge in but sometimes Finney was gone – too fast, and had left the defender standing. But, if the defender was quick his lunging tackle to get the ball would almost certainly  bundle Finney to the ground and the crowd, as one, would shout “Foul” – and the referee usually agreed and pointed to the penalty spot. We all knew what Finney was going to do, tempting defenders to foul him – and so did the defenders  - but we, the crowd were never bored with it and the defenders never learned to counter it! And as I sit writing this the words of the song we so often sang as we stood by the pitch each week springs into my mind:

The Splash decorated with marks of remembrance
on Tom's passing
‘Finney passed to Wayman,
Wayman passed it back,
Finney took a flying shot
And knocked the goalie flat!
Where is the goalie,
The goalie’s in the net,
Hanging on the cross bar
With his shorts around his neck’!

Finney was quite simply the best.

Finney, the modern Deepdale in the background
 standing in the streets that I used to walk along with
thousands of others each Saturday afternoon
And as I read of Finney’s passing in the newspaper I noticed another footballing item alongside. I shook my head with sorrow and no little anger as I read the latest utterances from the half witted and arrogant Jose Mourinho, manager of Chelsea – a boorish man who has the gall and conceit to call himself “the special one”. A man who is all that Tom Finney was not.  Mourinho’s latest offering on the subject of sporting greatness is that Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal, is a specialist in failure. Mourinho said: “......the reality is he's a specialist in failure because, eight years without a piece of silverware, that's failure. If I did that in Chelsea I'd leave London and not come back."  Clearly this man knows little about sport if he equates success with the acquisition of silverware. Of course, sport is competitive that is its essential nature but not to win is not failure, sport has many other, more important, dimensions. And, to walk away when you do not win is the action of a coward and not a sportsman. Given Mourinho’s reasoning Finney, too, was a failure – he won nothing over many years. Finney, however did not walk away, he inspired and brightened the lives of millions and he was loved for it.

We live in a world today where winning is the name of the game - we binge upon winners and losers – our schools are put into league tables recording their “success” or “failure”, our hospitals, too, are ranked  - the number of deaths, the relative costs of surgery – you name a criteria and there will be  a winner or loser for it. Our TV shows increasingly are about competition – “The X Factor”, “The Apprentice” and the rest. Our children are encouraged to scramble for top school grades. No longer is a GCSE the mark of a successful education, no longer is grade A good enough – it now has to be an A*. Our governments constantly remind us that as a nation we have to be winners and have the highest GDP or the lowest interest rates if we are to succeed. We have, in all walks of life jumped onto the winners and losers bandwagon. It increasingly defines us. So besotted are we with winning and unable to  countenance losing that I have just heard today that an English athlete at the Winter Olympics has been receiving abusive and threatening text messages because she was disqualified from an event and so missed a chance of a medal. She "failed" the nation. But not everyone can be a winner or an A*, there can only be one hospital at the top or one nation with the highest GDP or one football team to be the champions  and the rest,  the vast majority, are by definition “losers”. That is not to applaud losers – the winners should be praised – but society and sport has lost the ability and awareness that there are other factors other than winning, medals or silverware – and these things are always more important. Results are soon forgotten – other things, of more substance, long remembered.
Mourinho - all that Finney was not

I once read a quote which I liked – not about football but about teaching. It said  “Kids don't remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”  I’m sure that is right. I look back and can remember little of what I was taught at school or what I studied for at exam time - but boy, can I remember the teachers who influenced me for good or ill: Mr Seed, Mrs Barge, Mr Williams, Mr Parkin, Mr Sharples, Dr McEwan, Mr Wolstenholme, Miss Bolton, Jack Balmer, Bill Middlebrook, Mr Calderbank........ I can remember their inspirations, their idiosyncrasies, their kindness, the way in which some of them instilled fear or pride, their humour, their anger when things went wrong, their praise when things went right, their enthusiasms, their insight or apparent cleverness, their advice, and so the list goes on. They are what I remember, not the exam scores, not the certificates passed and now long lost, not the educational successes and failures of  myself and the friends who were once important to me.  And in sport it is the same, people will long remember the game or the person or the event, but the actual score or the competition will slowly slide into oblivion.

Finney's autograph - so often collected and swapped with
friends for other stars of the day
In that context two of this weekend’s comments about Finney are supremely apposite. One from Bobby Charlton, the player who perhaps, more than any other, took over Finney’s mantle as the supreme footballer and sportsman of the nation. On hearing of Finney’s passing Charlton commented that his one abiding memory of his (Charlton’s) England debut was that  "He [Finney] passed to me ......and I had never been so proud”. And Dave Whelan, now owner and Chairman of Wigan Athletic, described Finney as the perfect gentleman. He went on to explain that as the opening match to every season Blackburn used to play Preston in a pre-season game ( I remember them well!). “It was my first match back after two and a half years following a broken leg and I would be marking Finney the finest player there has ever been. He never took me on at all. I took the ball off him three times in the first half and when we were coming off I went to him and said: ‘Tom, you’re not taking me on.’ I’d played against him before and I knew he was, a phenomenal footballer. He said: ‘You’ve had some bad luck, son, and I’m not going to take you on, I want you to get through today’s game and get back into the first team.’  I’ll never forget him saying that to me. He was a total gentleman.”

There’s more to football, sport and life than winning and silverware but I do not think Jose Mourinho could understand Charlton’s or Whelan’s comments or Finney’s response to Whelan. When his time comes Mourinho will not be mourned as is Finney today. Mourinho’s medals and cups are just statistics, they are not of the stuff of legend and of great sportsmen. Finney was loved in his time and is mourned greatly at his passing because of what he was and what he represented. Jose Mourinho, unfortunately, will not be mourned and loved in the same way - his successes, such as they might be will simply be statistics on a page becoming increasingly dusty and irrelevant as the years pass. In fifty years time people will, say "Jose Who"? In listening to the man I am reminded of the old saying "An empty bucket makes the most noise".

The teams at Deepdale on the day following  Finney's death  paying
 their respects. Each Preston player has Finney's name on his back
I'm reminded also of two quotes from the famous American football coach Vince Lombardi - a man so committed to winning that he has become the icon of competitive sport. But even Lombardi knew there was more to life, sporting or otherwise, than just winning silverware:"You show me  a man who belittles another and I will show you a man who is not a leader. You show me a man who who is not charitable, who has no respect for the dignity of another, is not loyal and I will show you a man who is not a leader". Finney knew how to be a leader, he ticked every one of Lombardi's boxes; Mourinho hasn't a clue. And secondly, "After all the cheers have died down and the stadium is empty. After the headlines have been written and you are back in the quiet of your room with the championship cup in the drawer then the enduring thing is how you played the game and the dedication of doing the best that you could........" Sir Tom Finney understood this well, he let his skills, his sportsmanship and his humanity and humility talk for him. He played the game - both of football and life - supremely well.  Mourinho and others of his ilk - Alex Ferguson, John Terry, Luis Suarez, and the rest simply rattle their empty buckets in public.