Yesterday, I read Maybe I Don’t Belong Here by David Harewood. There were other things I meant to do but I didn’t do them; I became absorbed in the book and read it.
It’s about his life and his experience of psychosis, when his two halves, the black half and the English half, seemed to split. He wrote that at times he was able to fuse the two halves together but occasionally the gap between them was just too big. He discusses how this was related to the racist abuse he’d received. Black men in Britain are ten times more likely than white men to be diagnosed with a psychotic illness and four times more likely to be sectioned.
David Harewood was twenty-three when he had a psychotic breakdown. His friends decided that he needed to go to hospital; he was restrained by six police officers and transferred to a locked ward. A couple of years ago, he took part in a TV programme, Psychosis and Me, about what happened to him. And this year, thirty years after the psychotic episode happened, he has published this book about it. In it he writes, “Writing this memoir has meant taking a hard look at my deepest, darkest moment, understanding my vulnerabilities and being honest about them.” I’m glad he did that as it helped me understand some of the abuse that black people have endured in this country and still have to endure.
The first time I went to watch football on a Good Friday was in 2015 and I was in two minds about going. I wrote about that in a post on this blog; I said,
“However, I have decided to go and, on reflection, it doesn’t seem so inappropriate. Good Friday commemorates a public execution where the condemned were mocked as they died. The atmosphere on that day was probably a bit closer to that found at football matches than to the quiet, reverence of Good Friday services. So I’ll be remembering the significance of the day in two contrasting settings: on a prayer walk round Harborne in the morning and in among a less reverent crowd in the afternoon.”
There will be no crowd this evening and this time without crowds has underlined just how important they are to me. I have realized that being part of a crowd is one of the things I enjoy most about going to a football game. I do not understand much about tactics; I can tell when the team are playing well or badly but I cannot analyse why. What I like best about watching is being part of the crowd, feeling that just by being there I am doing my bit to support them. Watching online or listening on the radio just does not give me that feeling.
If you want to know why Good Friday is important for me, then you can read a post that I published in 2013.
While I was listening to Birmingham City’s game yesterday evening, it felt as though football was the most important thing in the world. But when I calmed down after the terrible 0-4 loss, I knew that football, for me, is just the most important of the non-important things. I hope that, if I was able to choose between Birmingham winning the Premier League or Covid‑19 being abolished, that I would choose to end the pandemic rather than put Blues on the pinnacle.
Sooner or later the Covid-19 pandemic will end but when it does there will be many people left burdened by debt. I’ve just read Bank Job by Hilary Powell and Daniel Edelstyn, which is about debt. They explain why they feel the system is unfair. When banks got into trouble in 2008, the government bailed them out. But people who get into debt do not get bailed out
The book describes how they moved into an old bank in Walthamstow and printed their own bank notes, which they sold to collectors. They raised £40,000, gave half to local causes and used the other half to buy local debt on the secondary debt market. They then abolished that debt and, to symbolise this, they blew up a transit van containing some of their bank notes.
It is an interesting, thought-provoking book. It includes a quote from Fanny Malinen describing the Covid‑19 pandemic as a dress rehearsal for the future. That made me wonder what the post pandemic world will be like. It could give us an opportunity to change some things, but will we?
There is a film of Bank Job, due to be released next spring. Click here to read more about it. There is also a Guardian article with a picture of the van being blown up.
Whether or not you have a happy Christmas depends on what you base your happiness. If it depends on Birmingham City doing well then it may be time you changed your allegiance to a more successful team. One thing I have learned in over 70 years of supporting the Blues is how to recover from defeats and not to base my feelings on football. Though, I must admit that recovering from the defeat by Middlesbrough took longer than usual.
If you were happily looking forward to a family reunion and your plans have been cancelled due to the change in what is allowed, then you have my sympathy. I hope that it won’t be too long before you can spend time with family and loved ones.
As a Christian, my happiness at Christmas is based on celebrating the coming of Jesus to earth. I can celebrate Christmas regardless of any restrictions. Whatever you believe, I hope that you can find something to be happy about now and that you still have hope for a better year in 2021.
I have just read Project Restart: From Prem to the Parks, How Football Came Out of Lockdown. It includes case-studies of how nine teams fared during lockdown: Burnley, Swansea, Tranmere, Forest Green, Solihull Moors, Royston Town, Northumberland Park, Stonewall and St Albans City Girls. These were chosen to represent a spread of clubs from the Premier League down to grassroots football. They were also chosen from the clubs that the author could get information on; many football media teams were inaccessible.
He writes about the contrast between communicating with people at the higher levels of the game and those lower down. Attempts to talk to those at higher levels usually came to nothing. But when it came to Zooming and phone calls to those from lower levels he says, “my only function was to sit back and listen as they told me about their achievements, plans and ambitions . . . what they had in common was an enduring love of the game and what it can do for people.”
The author, Jon Berry, is a Birmingham City supporter so he mentions that club too. In the chapter on Solihull Moors he writes about Darren Carter and his decisive penalty that took Blues up to the Premier League. Jon Berry believes that football is one of the most important of the unimportant things. Reading his book is like chatting to another fan and it is a good book to read if you are missing football conversations.
Jon Berry writes about hope; hope for next season; hope that the Covid-19 restrictions will end. He says, “And that hope, among talk of second waves and localised lockdowns, might just be one of the reasons that football really is important.”
It’s Easter Saturday and the weather is beautiful, it doesn’t seem right to be staying at home. But that’s what I’ll be doing. It’s what I’ve done for the last 3 weeks and what I’ll probably be doing for many more weeks to come. The Church of England prayer for today talks about crying to God from “the depths of our isolation” and seems very suitable for the present situation.
I miss the excitement of football and the way you never know what to expect. Performances can range from pathetic to peerless. I’m reading books during this time and there can be surprises in them. But finding out that the woman you thought was an evil interloper is really his daughter does not compare with watching your side score just after your goalie saved a penalty.
An EFL letter has been sent out, saying that this season, including playoffs, can be finished in 56 days. They also said that training should not start before May 16 but did not say when playing games might start. May 16 is 5 weeks from now, which seems a long time. But, of course, that date isn’t fixed; there are so many uncertainties. Richard Bevan, of the League Managers’ Association has said that football should only start again “once all players have been tested for coronavirus” and who know when that might be.
This has felt like a very strange Good Friday. On previous Good Fridays I have joined in with the prayer walk round Harborne and gone to the service on the High Street. This year I just walked on my own around the retirement apartment block where I live. We’ve been asked to stay within the building or gardens and I’m staying home as instructed and keeping 2 metres away from people I see.
What seems like ages ago, I had planned to do the prayer walk and then go to the game against Swansea. But today, neither will take place. Back in 2015 I wrote a post about going to a football game on a Good Friday and how I’d decided to go and remember the significance of the day in the quiet, reverence of the morning service and in the less reverent crowd in the afternoon, a crowd that probably had some similarities to those that watched and mocked as Jesus died. Watching the game and mocking the opposition is what football crowds do.
For me this day has still been good because of the significance it has for me. Whatever you believe and do this Easter, I hope you are safe and well.
I experienced a range of emotions at the FA Cup game with
Leicester. I was sad that we conceded a goal and lost the game; I never like
losing. I was proud of our players and the effort they put in. I was also proud
of the support from the Birmingham City fans, who supplied all the noise in the
stadium. I was glad that I’d gone to the game.
I had hesitated about buying a ticket. As I get older, I’m finding it harder to
stand for 90 minutes at an away game and I don’t usually go to away games at night.
But I’d been to the other cup games, against Blackburn and twice against
Coventry. I thought it would be nice to
go to all of them.
I also remembered an experience 9 years ago, when I almost
didn’t go to a game. I had other commitments before and after the Blues game in
Bruges so couldn’t spend a night there. My only option was to go on a coach
that left Birmingham at 3 am on Thursday morning and arrived back at 5 am on
Friday. I can remember standing in the queue waiting to buy a ticket, wondering
if I was getting too old to cope with such a schedule. But I went and thoroughly
enjoyed it. I decided then that age is just a number and I shouldn’t let it
stop me doing things I enjoy.
I had planned to spend the weekend in London but changed my
plans and stayed just one night so that I could go to the FA cup game against
Friday went well and according to plan. I had no trouble finding a seat on the train to London and I was able to check into my hotel room early. I spent the afternoon at Tate Britain, mainly to see the Year 3 exhibition of 3,128 class photos of London’s Year 3 children, over 76,000 children. A Guardian article described it as a portrait of “a city’s potential.” The smiling young faces in the photos left me feeling worried about the world in which they’re growing up. So I appreciated the laughs in the evening, when I went to see Frank Skinner putting on a masterful display of stand-up comedy at the Garrick Theatre.
On Saturday, my travel back to Birmingham and getting to the game went well but I don’t think the game went according to plan. Surely nobody would plan a goalless draw. It could have been worse; we would have lost if O’Hare hadn’t missed an opportunity to score right at the end. There was also some consolation in the novelty and the chants. The warmup before the game provided a first opportunity to see Moha Ramos, the substitute goalie, in action. And after the game, it was good to see Jude Bellingham giving his shirt away to a child. I was in row 4 of the lower Gil Merrick stand, which felt far too low down to get a decent view of the game but it gave me a renewed appreciation for the view from my seat in row 18 of the Kop.
I was disappointed that we didn’t score during the game but was
glad I’d gone. It would have been a pity to miss seeing Birmingham City playing
away at St Andrew’s.
On Friday evening, I went to watch a play about Laurie Cunningham and the racial abuse that he received. I was in two minds about going as I still had the remnants of a cough following a cold and am so glad that I did go. As one review said “the three-strong cast whizz through almost 100 years of football history, brilliantly swapping roles and characters in the same slick, smooth way that Cunningham was famed for on the pitch.”
It was thought provoking and also humorous at times. It included an incident where a drunk racist accosts Cunningham and his white girl friend. Cunningham knocks him down and the girl friend says, “Laurie, please stop!” The drunk hears the name and asks if he is Laurie Cunningham because he’s a Baggies fan who loves Laurie Cunningham. He ends up saying sorry and asking if Laurie can get him a ticket for a cup game!
The play made me think about the way that football can unite and divide. It can unite people from different backgrounds and different beliefs in the support of a team. It can also provide an opportunity for abuse of different races as some Bulgarian fans illustrated. There was also the incident at the game between Haringey Borough and Yeovil Town, when Haringey walked off. It is disgraceful that such racist abuse still exists in the game and that there is still a need for organisations such as Kick it Out.
Last week my mind was on conflict off the pitch. I grew up listening to my parents talking
about the second World War and the D-Day anniversary brought back memories of
that. On Saturday, I saw Captain
Corelli’s Mandolin at the Rep, a story of what happened on a Greek island
during that war.
On Sunday I went back to town, to look at the Knife Angel sculpture in Victoria Square. I’d passed it on my way to the Rep but didn’t have time to stop and wanted to see it again. The sculpture was made from 100,000 knives retrieved from the streets of this county and took four years to make. It’s part of a campaign started by the British Ironwork Centre, to address the dangers of knife crime.
Also in Victoria Square on Sunday, there were a group of
Sudanese people protesting about the people killed, injured, arrested and raped
in their country. Then I came home and
watched news about the protests in Hong Kong. So, I was reminded of two of the
many conflicts in this world.
Against this background, the contests on football pitches
were a relief; it felt good to have conflicts in which nobody died. I listened
to the penalty shootout as England’s men came third in the UEFA Nations League
and then watched England’s women win their game against Scotland.
I think that’s what sport is meant to be – a relief from the
more serious side of life. We can enjoy the excitement of a contest, without
the violence of war or crime. Supporting local clubs can help hold communities
together. When I go to Birmingham City matches, there are people there with
opposite views to mine on just about everything apart from which team to
support. Learning to accept them helps me to accept others who hold different
views. Being a fan is not the most important aspect of my life but I believe it
I went to watch the game at Bristol City on Tuesday evening though
I don’t normally go to evening away games. And I’m going to fewer away games because
standing for 90 minutes feels like more of a chore as I get older. But one of
my nephews lives in the Bristol area and I’d said I’d go to the game and also meet
up with him. It seemed rather wimpish to
alter my plan just because the time was changed from a Saturday afternoon to a
I spent about 15 minutes regretting my decision as the game
concluded with Birmingham City only one goal ahead and Bristol attacking after
their goal had restored their hope and awakened the home crowd. I was so afraid
we wouldn’t be able to hold onto the lead. I was also wondering why on earth I chose
to put myself through such agony; then the final whistle went, and I remembered
why I support the Blues. It is always good to see them win.
It was also good to walk along the Avon Gorge on Wednesday
morning, see the suspension bridge and the patterns in the mud sculptured by
the tides. Then I met my nephew and enjoyed a meal and conversation with him.
Bristol used to be an important port in the triangular slave
trade. Arms, alcohol and textiles were shipped to Africa and traded for slaves.
The slaves were taken across the Atlantic and sold to the plantations. Then the ships returned to Bristol with a
cargo of sugar, molasses and tobacco. I saw traces of this dark past: a plaque
commemorating the slaves and a large building called the Tobacco Factory, though
it is no longer used for that.
I liked Bristol. The area around Ashton Gate has loads of street art and there’s also a statue of John Atyeo at the stadium. He made 645 appearances and scored 350 goals between 1951 and 1966. I was impressed by that when I read it on the plaque on the statue and was even more impressed when I read his obituary and found he had never being cautioned by a referee in his senior matches, had played 6 times for England and was a part-time player, working as a quantity surveyor and then as a teacher. I can understand why they erected a statue of him.
I hope to go back there sometime, do a tour of the Banksy
street art and maybe see Blues win again.
Loftus Road is a small stadium, the third smallest stadium in the Sky Bet Championship this season. It’s not a comfortable place to visit. When I went there, I felt like a sardine crammed in a tin. Respect to the Blues fans who are going today, and I hope they see a good game. I’ll be listening on the radio.
There are things I like about going to away games. Birmingham
City’s travelling fans are incredible and it feel’s great to be among a loud,
supportive crowd. But standing for 90 minutes is tiring and by the end of a
game I feel very old.
More and more things make me feel old these days. I just read about Albert Finney dying and that brought back memories of watching him at the old Birmingham Repertory Theatre in the 1950’s. I remember seeing him as Henry V and also saw him in less memorable roles. Once when I was clearing out a pile of Rep programmes, I noticed his name listed in the actors playing the crowd. That was over 60 years ago.
And it’s nearly 70 years since my dad first took me to St
Andrew’s. I don’t remember exactly when that was but do remember Gill Merrick, Jeff
Hall and the roar of the crowd. I also remember the first time I heard ‘Keep right on’ sung, at the FA Cup
semi-final at Hillsborough in 1956. My memories may be rose-tinted but I think
the crowd back then was very supportive. That’s why I’m thrilled by the atmosphere
at games this season, with our crowd supporting effort and commitment even when
it doesn’t end with a win. It reminds me of the crowds I stood in when I was a
child and it feels good.
By the way, the title of this post is taken from Andrew
Marvell’s poem To His Coy Mistress:
But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near
We live in a crazy world. Lionel Messi, the highest paid footballer last season, received $111,000,000. Does he deserve that much? More and more people in this country are relying on food banks. If you think that they deserve that, try watching I, Daniel Blake on BBC iPlayer and see if you change your mind.
Yesterday evening, I went to a performance of Commonism, at the Rep. It’s a conversation between two men, one British and one Norwegian, talking about the world today and imagining how the future could be better. At the end, they hand out copies of their manifesto. This suggests a maximum limit on the economic resources any one individual can possess and a universal basic income. I imagine that it would be a lot easier to get poor people to accept a basic income than to get rich people to limit what they own. The performance was thought provoking and I had much to think about as I walked back to my bus stop, past all the rough sleepers.
When I got back home, I saw the news about the latest Brexit squabble in Parliament. It seemed a far cry from the conversation I’d just listened to, about learning to disagree well. There was also news of Burton’s heavy defeat at Manchester City and the nightmare journey to get to Manchester experienced by some of their fans. The result was not that surprising when you consider the value of their squads. Sky reported that,
“Burton Albion’s squad value this season is around the £6m mark … Manchester City’s current squad is valued at just over £1bn, with their most expensive acquisition, Riyad Mahrez, joining the club last summer for £60m.”
In other words, one of Manchester City’s players cost 10
times more than Burton’s squad. That enormous inequality just doesn’t seem
right to me, with most of the TV money flooding into the Premier League. I can
understand why owners of clubs lower down the pyramid pay out too much in the
hope of getting promotion. Birmingham
City paid out too much; we are still waiting to find out what price we’ll have
to pay for that. We are not the only club with financial problems. The situation
feels more serious than just a few clubs breaking some rules; it feels as
though the whole system is broken.
Solihull Moors FC has a great slogan: Moor than eleven. Every successful football team has more than eleven involved in that success. Yesterday evening, the Moors earned a replay against a team from higher in the pyramid. That was achieved by players, coaches, other staff and fans too. It was also one of the more exciting no-score draws I’ve watched. Continue reading →