Wor Jackie.

I’m not sure I liked him, much, early doors. Certainly *that team* with the brilliant but spiteful terriers Bremner and Giles, plus the pre- (quite reasonably) sanctified ‘clogger’, Hunter, was right up there on the Most Despised list, for most of us. Leeds. Led by the sheepskin-coated cynic, Revie.

Big Jack/Wor Jackie was a Proper Member of that club… and yet his rascaltastically steady giraffe thing endeared himself more to the masses, I think, than most of his colleagues. That and the events of 1966.

Let your mind flash back, if it can. Did not even the gorgeously gifted Eddie Gray have a nasty streak? Was there something bit grating about Madeley’s smoothness? Wasn’t Allan Clarke essentially rancorous and even the unprickly Lorimer a bit – yaknow – lary, somehow? Wasn’t our dislike, despite the inevitable raw jealousy, rooted in something palpable?

Charlton was guilty of being ‘Leeds’, too, then: so we’d roar when he got physical. But I remember him more for a kind of upright doughtiness than any persistent evil. It felt as though Big Jack was always too close to mischief and what we’d now call #bantz than sustained malice, to be a full-on Leeds Bastard – not that he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) ‘look after himself’. He was classic English Number 5 in that he stopped people playing: marked them. Sometimes, yes, physically.

There was something else, too. That brother. The surging saint from Manchester United – the *actual player*. This made him/them or presented the Charltons as a Football Family; a rather special one, yes, after ‘66? Bobby was god-like – that charm, that quiet grace, that fu-ck-ing goal against Portugal!

Jack was bound in there, part of the glorious package but nobody understood him as a great player. He was good: he was a solid, international stopper but he was hardly Rio Ferdinand, never mind Alan Hansen.

Of course Jack was of his era, when the job description didn’t include easing stylishly into midfield, or threading searching passes into the false nine’s feet, or even (arguably) looking comfortable on the ball. Charlton J stopped you: he was a presence and he was ‘strong in the air’.

(Minor diversion. In a shockingly out-of-character burst of research, have looked at the Bleacher Report’s top ten England centre-halves. Interesting. [Here – https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2098444-ranking-englands-10-greatest-world-cup-central-defenders ].
Guess where Jackie is? Number 3. Ahead of Rio Ferdinand and behind John Terry and Bobby Moore. The whole bundle feels a relatively weak line-up to me, with only a few players – and I do mean players – of really high quality. Charlton is one of several who were effective rather excellent or richly, broadly skilled).

But this is sounding rather negative and I don’t want to be that – Wor Jackie doesn’t deserve that. The point I am making about Charlton J is that he was a tower; a resolute, indomitable, reliable English Centre Half of a high order, at a time when football was different. Not worse, or less demanding, but different. He was outstanding, engaging and could plainly be the heartband soul of almost anything.

According to our friends at Wikipedia, Charlton played 628 times for for Leeds, scoring on 70 occasions – a striking contribution for a defender. This in a 21 year career at the club. (Whoa: read that again – twenty; one; years). He also gained 35 England caps between 1965/and 1970, scoring 6 times. So the bloke was a threat, right, at what we used to call set-pieces? (Now set-plays).

These figures – in particular that proud, stoic, loyalty to Leeds – tell much of the story. The numbers, the years, the trophies speak to his utter, committed, authentic footballer-ness. As of course, does the Northumberland accent, the characteristically robust wit, the stature of the man in every sense. And we haven’t yet mentioned his career in management.

Big Jack had to be a Manager. He was always a leader, of sorts, even without the armband. Led by example, knew the game, was charismatic, was tough.

Those, like me, who remember the TV documentary from way back that showed him a) charging about the dressing room with the lads, todger-swingingly starkers and b) urging a youngster to “show me some aggression, son” still hold those memories close, amongstbothers. Absurdly, wonderfully macho stuff.

It utterly figures that this English icon could and did become and Irish legend. (Who else might ever fall into that particular category?!?) Charlton proved yet again that belief and togetherness and a ‘way of playing’ – a euphemism for simple, achievable patterns – can trump higher levels of quality in your opponent. Ireland had some players but they were driven to the World Cup Quarters by ‘Wor Jackie’s’ spirit… and method.

In my understanding of the phrase ‘Wor Jackie’, there is the association or assumption that ‘Wor’ implies, if not actually means, ‘our’. It’s for bellowing in approval at one of ours. Turns out that Charlton J’s powerful contribution, rather than being parochial, went inspiringly international, went beyond Northumberland and Leeds and England, because folks loved and followed and trusted his truth.

John Charlton – full name, what else? – strode manfully through a football life, keeping it simple, keeping it real in the way that only an irreducibly working class man might. He had more ‘chin’ than his brother, was a tad more abrasive, but ultimately shared that same wondrous humility.

It was another age when England won the World Cup: I smile when I think of Jack Charlton facing (say) David Silva, in a different dimension. Manchester City’s serpentine genius might ask a few questions of the Leeds man. One way or another I’m guessing the old warhorse would let it be known that he was a force – and “never mind yer poncy tickertackie”.

Wor Jackie was of his time but what a time he made of it.

A White Idiot’s Guide to Racism.

Inflammatory title? Maybe. But let’s be honest, there’s no way to swerve the tasty stuff around this. And I don’t want to. If I’ve learnt anything during my recent *re-education period* it’s that umbrage – or worse – is omnipresent. So I’m going to tick all the following boxes, no doubt; racism (whilst trying to be anti-racist); ‘naivety’; provocative barsted-ness; appalling insensitivity. But hey – on.

I’m an oldish white bloke who rages against referees, umpires, privilege and discrimination – sometimes in that order. I’m a brilliant dumbo who reads stuff and occasionally thinks. I happen to be in what I’m gonna call an anti-racist phase, in terms of my literary nosebaggings, having just read “Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race” (Renni Eddo-Lodge) and “Me and White Supremacy”, (Layla F Saad). This has felt timely -timely and genuinely nourishing, in fact – as #BLM and just now Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent have crashed in to the (Brit) national consciousness.

I hope to avoid too many explainers about my own experience or route in, here. In fact, bugger it, because everything is about URGENCIES, I’m going to slap down some slogantastic imperatives before I qualify everything I’ve ever said, done, or meant. Read these and disappear if you’ve a mind to: I’ll elaborate and generally excuse my own, murderous complicity after.

  • Us white folks need to shut up and listen. (Yup, I do get the irony).
  • All of us are complicit, because White Supremacist thinking is everywhere.
  • If you seriously think that All Lives Matter is a perfectly reasonable response to where we’re at, then you are so-o much and so obviously a part of this problem it’s not even funny.
  • Think about power and race at the same time. Racism is about expressing power: there is therefore some merit in the argument that Black people cannot be racist, because they exert no power, generally, over whites. (This is one of many challenges us white people have to face: we have to do it humbly and with intelligence, not anger).
  • Hang on. Did I just write Black but white? Yes I did. Have I thought this through? No, ‘course not. I am aware, however that anti-racists (and others) are capitalising the B and respect that. Whilst it feels odd and possibly illogical to leave the w tiddly, I’m leaving it that way, for now. Partly to reflect the need to differentiate the experiences of Black and white and partly to symbolise the need to prioritise attention on the reality of difference, on the fact of those monstrous inequalities that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is protesting.
  • On #BLM specifically, if you don’t see that the shallow subversion of their central, indisputable messages by clowns and racists on the right and wet-wipes in the media is yet another campaign to maintain White Supremacy then shame on you. Black Lives Matter need to act and are right to act. They have every right to be angry. Take care around your ‘concerns’ about the rule of law, the role of the police and that tendency to wince at Black people raising their voices or their fists. Could be that there really is nothing more urgent than attending to equality. Could be that inaction is acting for an evil status quo.
  • It’s not good – or not good enough – saying that we/you don’t see colour; that “we’re all equal”. Lazy and untrue. White people are the beneficiaries of shedloads of privilege. So whilst it’s of course theoretically important to signal that you wish to display no prejudice it’s cobblers to infer that there are no differences in power or value. Or that you don’t recognise them. We strive towards equality in power and value but we’re a million miles away. There is colour.
  • Most white people – yup, even us Good Ones – are conditioned towards utter acceptance of the ‘fact’ that we are raceless, we are normal, we are the centre. That centre is hollow, is crass, is ethically repugnant in its smugness. Worse still, in many ways it is both actively and passively alive with prejudice.
  • But are there meaningful degrees of racism? Am I, as an occasionally Guardian-reading mid-leftie-who-is-trying, still failing as badly as an outright racist? Who cares? Why is this about me? I should shut up and listen.

Purely coincidentally (well, maybe) I got two books a month or so back – bought for me, by the way. After years, possibly decades of being angry and mute and spleeny and silent and ill-informed over race, I’ve waded through… towards something.

I’m still going to make hideous faux pas(ses) and do my usual thing of getting in such a rage that I can’t articulately confront racism in my presence. I’m certainly going to say things that are so unbelievably stoopid… and worse, I’m going to say things that betray my subconscious ‘baggage’. That fear of black blokes with machetes; that memory of being so drunk I sang along with a racist song. That conversation with my grandpa where he called the Town winger a ‘darkie lad’, with what he hoped was affection, rather than malice.

I – and you, dear, sagacious reader, you good white folks – are going to be wrong when you hope to be right. So we need to take that on the chin and do better.

Here’s a weird one. I loved “Me and White Supremacy”. It’s such a fantastic, accomplished book. It’s also a deliberate, considered, eloquent, almighty challenge, in which you are invited to create a working journal, over a period of a month, as you earn your way through.

I loved it but inevitably I cheated. Possibly because I’m a fifty-something white bloke who doesn’t care enough: hopefully because I was just too excited to spread the thing out that long.

I did do a journal. Tried to answer the ‘Reflective Journal Prompts’ at the end of each chapter. Fuck that was hard, on times. If you take anything away from this mess of mine, let it be that YOU SHOULD READ THAT BOOK. All of it is different-level interesting, as an intellectual exercise – the chapter on White Feminism I found excoriatingly sharp (from my safe distance) – but the whole, confident, revelatory timbre of the thing is a standout achievement, for me.

Immediately prior to reading the Saad, I had read “Why I’m No Longer Talking…” the ‘book that sparked a national conversation’. I did an unwisely unrehearsed review of sorts, here –

(If you think this review is any good, or some of my other #YouTube Influencing 😉 is any good, or of any interest at all, please do subscribe… and comment).

I need to read this book again. Again because I found it Proper Stimulating. It’s maybe got a more confrontational feel to the Saad – maybe. (Not sure that’s either entirely true or a satisfactory description: in short, go see for yourself).

Eddo-Lodge shines a light, digs a rib or two – digs out some cruel history.
I fell into giving it a 7 or 8 out of 10, I think, because it feels less complete, less accomplished somehow than “Me and White Supremacy”. (If I was to be stupid enough to repeat that unholy process and reduce Saad’s book to a number, it would be a comfortable 9. I hope this isn’t because I found it a more comfortable read – I don’t think I did). Both these books make a profound contribution to the ‘debate’ – hah! – on racism.

So where am I now? I am in the place where I remind myself this is not about me. This is about gathering all of my/our white wits and forcing change. In ourselves. In policy. In the conversations we have. Probably, ideally, in or from the background. Learn about White Superiority, White Saviourism, Allyship – all that stuff. And be prepared to get called out, or in. Mainly, don’t go hiding from all this. It’s urgent.


Footnote: why did I write this? Was it because I’m a Cricket Bloke who was moved inordinately by the magnificent *outburst* from Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent, on Sky Cricket? We-ell yes and no.

Yes because I am and I was. No because my own, feeble intervention was on its way in any case. But the contribution of those two fabulous people (met them both briefly but been around them more, in cricket meedya circles) was certainly a catalyst. They are amongst the voices that needed to be heard.

Cricket – which I love heartily – is neck-deep in privilege and sometime quiet, sometimes noisy prejudice. Significantly, the ECB had just recently launched what appears to be a committed review and action plan in response to the surge of feeling around #BlackLivesMatter. That of course might have been ‘just words’ but post the Holding/Rainford-Brent/Hussain moment, the ante is well and truly upped. Inside (and please god outside of cricket) it’s plainly, obviously time.

Hearing ‘Ebbs’ and ‘Mikey’ choke up, whilst recounting their experiences was tough, was telling. It made me more determined yet, to be a better ally.

#YouTube review (of sorts): Reni Eddo-Lodge, “Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race”.

Wow. Is there no limit to the man’s cheek? Even approaching this? Jee-sus.

In my defence, your honour – this. I’m interested/sympathetic/wanting to say something and thinking that despite the obvious dangers – risking looking an arsehole or faaar worse – I want to make a contribution. Mainly because *how I seem* doesn’t matter and talking about racism in a way I hope is supportive and constructive does.

To be clear, I absolutely back what Eddo-Lodge says about our – white folks’ – complicity in the omni-present monster that is structural racism. That’s the headline here: I dare to say some wrong stuff because I honestly want to plant my own, feeble flag next to Reni and the anti-racist activists. (They may not want me, of course, for reasons I’d completely understand).

So a review of sorts. Of a strong book with strong arguments.

Listening back, I realise I failed to mention the particularly juicy stuff in the book about ‘overwhelmingly white feminism’: regret that. But am thinking this omission was probably because I was ver-ry conscious of going on too long – as per. In any case, methinks I open enough worm-cans without going there, too, eh? May well write more, but for now, please do have a listen…


Ok. Am clear on a few things. This idea that (too many) white people have that structural racism either doesn’t really exist or is in some way overblown by The Activists must surely be bloody infuriating for black people. (So no wonder Reni doesn’t want to waste her breath). Am pin-sharp, now, on the necessity to absolutely challenge the f*** out of that. Plus the facts, the history of racism and discrimination across most facets of life, affecting most things – at some level – that people of colour do. Documented. Again. Here. I’m clearer.

Structural racism is everywhere and does matter and Eddo-Lodge’s argument that all of us as a kind of starting point have to accept that and then begin to act, is undeniable. White blokes like me can’t say that the fifty-odd years of conditioning we’re carrying ‘makes it tough’ to break the habit of not noticing. White women can’t shuffle feet and lower eyes and not engage with The Painful Truth.

The Painful Truth is so grotesque and so ferkin obvious that our white squeamishness about protests generally and noisy, challenging ones particularly is an embarrassment, a fraud. We have to get behind the demand for equality. None of us approve of violence but we can’t go drowning out the legitimate voices of protest because we ‘aren’t comfortable’ with angry black faces on the news. My god we’d be angry.

I respect the anger in this book and the powerfully controversial challenge to feminism, which plainly drew plenty of vitriol back towards the author.

Really don’t wish to conflate arguments too much, here but clearly there are parallels between racism and sexism: the writer (I think) was challenging that ‘inertia’ around feminists (also, often) being unable or unwilling to confront, or just kinda stuck with assumptions around a weirdly idealised, white status quo. One where they thought/hoped colour was not being judged, was not an agent, never mind an urgency.

This racism thing has been urgent for hundreds of years: Eddo-Lodge is demanding all of us acknowledge that RIGHT NOW… as a starting-point. Don’t bang on about the universal right to freedom of speech too much until the monster that is racism is confronted.

Much of the media and of course all of the right-wing/nazis want the story to be arse-about-face – about white folks being ‘oppressed’ (hah!) by immigration, by activists, by the unruly subversion of ‘how we go about things’. Bollocks. The overwhelming power has been going in the other direction, more or less viciously, for hundreds of years. This is why there may really be a hierarchy of urgencies; why it might be right to cut to the quick, to the Biggest Most Obvious Injustice – racism.

I may be wrong but I think Eddo-Lodge is saying that there is no decency, no contemplating a broader, healthier, even remotely equitable society without first unseating that white privilege. It should be top of the list. Our collective and individual energy needs to go into anti-racism, now: everything else has the effect of enabling a profoundly racist status quo. For what it’s worth, I’m with her.

Nirvana, MTV Unplugged. Yes – *that gig*.


*Prelude: hope it’s obvious that the reason I’m doing this YouTube lark is much more to do with making some ‘contributionthan with weird self-obsession. That and I like the idea of Or’nary Peeps wiv orn’ary tech piping up, even though it’s plain they can’t compete with either The Meedya or with (gnash gnash) Influencers. Feel it’s populist and maybe punky in a good way to say stuff even when you’re a nobody: like me. Us nobodies are sometimes worth a listen.

Life, eh? Funny and serendipitous and yeh – allsorts. You start a YouTube Channel by accident and then you get asked to do stuff.

In this case, from nowhere, my soul-brother Karl, from Canada, pretty much dares me to ‘review’ Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged show of ‘93.
No pressure of any sort then, it’s not like it’s one of the most iconic and tribally-treasured events in the history of the muso-universe. And plainly ole Karlos loves it… and I might not.

But as an exercise – wow – what a thing to do? So I do.

Watched the recording on YouTube, two or three times, firstly battling against the ads that would so-o have infuriated Cobain. Read a little. Then crucially and entirely fortuitously, watched the extravagant and I think probably brilliant Cobain/Love/Nirvana documentary “Montage of Heck”, which had mysteriously landed on our TV right at The Moment.

So one might suggest I almost ‘prepared’… but then in a grotesquely ill-advised fit of enthusiasm charged straight down the garden, with a few notes, to ‘record something’ in a single 28 minute take. Madness but typical – and somehow appropriate?


Go watch me do battle with it all: *spoiler alert*, I have no doubt that some of this gig is what we music-journo’s of experience call ‘major’.

“What else should I be?” Or maybe WHERE ELSE should I be? 😳

Falling & Laughing & Everything.

Another #lockdown ramble but this time with a (dare I say it?) vaguely feminist theme. Three books collide. I muddle through & find some love, inspiration & a whole lot of things that fall under the *challenging* label. Stupidly, I talk about them, without editing down my flaws: feels more honest.

So if you like Jean Rhys/Viv Albertine/Grace Maxwell & feel the force; or if you kinda get that maybe we need to support 50% of the population a tad better; or if you love The Slits, or Orange Juice, dive right in. There’ll be a welcome.

 

I’m a You- Choooberr!!

Have recorded three videos, typically the first by accident, after trying and failing to upload a wee fillum to my blog. (Was too big/researched a little/found that Youtube linking might be the way to go).

Had no ambition to join The (hah!) Influencers – quite the reverse! – but here I am, warbling away in my back garden. Opposing stuff, proposing stuff and hopefully making ‘the abstract contribution’ I mutter on about.

Production values close to nil but meant, and sent with some degree of lurv and goodwill. An offering, an act of defiance against the Kardashianisation of the universe and I hope the starting point for conversations around everything from activity to philosophy, music to coaching. (In case you’re wondering, I think I’ve decided to post these here – despite smaller following – than over on cricketmanwales.com cos I may be freer to both meander and rebel).

All this with no expectation and no product: just engaging, spouting and (I hope), learning. By all means comment… and if you can bear it, *subscribe* – no cost! – because otherwise I’m gonna look a pretty sad old git with no subscribers at all. Anyway, three vids with a certain theme…

arguably.

Norman Hunter, rest in peace – though hard to imagine.

Norman Hunter, in yellow: with knees apparently sharpened, elbows unmistakably raised – as though either ready to issue some sharp reminder or to facilitate that hold, that feel of the opposition player. In from behind, hands irritatingly, floppily present, over and around the shoulders; pushing or distracting; spacing, twiddling, reminding. Hands having words with any striker or midfielder shielding or foolishly ‘backing in’. This is how I remember him.

From a live game in the distant past. When to be honest (and of course this is an appallingly abstracted straw poll but) most of us hated Leeds. Sure they were incredible but I really don’t recall any team being so heavily disliked as Leeds, in this era.

If that feels like poor timing, I apologise unreservedly. But anybody who knows British football from the 60s/70s is aware of the very particular quality wrapped around the club. The feelings trump the facts – outlive them. Sprake, Reaney, Hunter, Charlton J, Madeley, Cooper, Giles, Bremner, Lorimer, Clarke, Jones, Gray, Johanesson, Yorath. Those kind of exemplary, nuggety, adversarial fellas, on pitches where you had to physically compete. (They competed).

How *the construct* Leeds United FC (subset; under Revie) is or was received obviously depends on your tribal associations, but be honest, yer average anthropologist could still have a field day. I will maintain my original and unwise brevity on the matter by simply repeating that we – by which I include almost everybody I then knew and especially my Dad – hated them. (Subset appendix 1; my Dad was a classically biggish, honest, rooted bloke most resistant to inflammation: except where Don Revie was concerned).

On the playing side, Norman Hunter epitomised much of the steel and, on times, some of the spite that ran through those times. He would be joined in this by the spiky trio of Giles, Bremner and Clarke; however, it would be The Gaffer – Don Revie – who fell most easily into the role of Voodoo Doll. My old man, hopefully now ensconced in some heavenly British Legion Club, may still be inserting pins, today.

But back to Norman. He was dogged, abrasive and disciplined – mostly. He was tough and old-school. He could strike a ball, for all his essentially defensive traits but essentially Hunter was a hawkish watcher and attender, he marked and battled his corner to international level. It’s that utter, finger-jabbing, slide-tackling commitment that we’ll remember him for, on the park.

Interestingly, I’ve just read a tribute to Hunter from Revie which cherishes both his redoubtable professional qualities and his powerful honesty *in life*. I like to think this is true: that the Norman (who) Bites Yer Legs could also be a man of immense heart and generosity. In fact – sorry Dad – I’ll take Revie at his word on that. Rest in peace, Norman.

Brexit Day – some words. A #Universe #podcast.

Been wrestling with what to do, as a Remainer. Been probably unhelpfully angry, but also determined not to shrink. Looking for something that feels like appropriate defiance… and to be honest, not that bothered if some view it as inflammatory.

Understand that Brexiters will simply view my wee statement as typical Remainer arrogance, including, as it does, the notions that exiting is wrong, and predicated on racism. Worse still, I guess I’m insinuating into the argument the ver-ry contentious idea that we Remainers are Better People than t’other side, because we’re right, we’re anti-xenophobic and therefore we hold the moral ground. (Think we are, think we do, think there is).

If that hasn’t put you off entirely, please do have a listen. Don’t expect any worthwhile debate will ensue, because we’re all so bitterly entrenched: know that I may indeed be contributing to that particular, ongoing malaise, by digging in. Hey ho.

If we could brush aside those narrowish political red lines for a moment, I might finish by saying that I really do have concerns about a divided future – especially where the scramble for food security really will be an issue for millions, worldwide. How’s it gonna be when every leek, cabbage or chicken matters? How ugly will it be when the protectionist juices unleashed here and now are swilling towards swathes of desperate, starving, near-drowned or parched and emaciated peoples from country X?

Crazy-paranoid? Don’t think so. Think what defines us needs to be generosity, open-ness. Think xenophobia is bad. Have a listen.

 

I say in here that democracy was poorly served – deliberately – by Cummings and Johnson and by a nauseating, bigoted Billionaire Press and of course I stand by that. It’s obvious. But what Brexit and my argument points to is a deep dive (that’s what folks are saying, currently, right?) into democracy itself.

In short I’m with Orwell in the sense that democracy gets just the two cheers. Because people maybe shouldn’t get the right to decide on MASSIVE stuff they *lack knowledge* about.

Yup, I get that dangers aboundeth, here. The politically correct – or those involved in politics, who therefore can’t unload contentious notions without engaging their Ooopsie Alarms – cannot say (for example) that people are too dumb to be allowed a vote on capital punishment. But they would be right about that.

Likewise Brexit. Too many people were always going to be drawn to immediate, neanderthal prejudice for this ever to have been good politics – wise, considered politics. The Tories knew this, of course, like they knew that the detail of any leave agreements would be waaaay beyond the ken or the interest of the Great Unwashed. But a strangulated Cameron capitulated to his right wing and then Cummings and Johnston chose to press the prejudice button… because that way they could turn democracy to their purpose.

So democracy is deeply fallible, deeply vulnerable to corruption in the fullest, scariest, most moral sense. Democracy is the best we can hope for but it needs good, genuine, honest, intelligent parliamentarians to lead us through it – to debate at a high level and then lead, on things the public don’t or can’t know about. We haven’t had that, eh?

United – yes or no?

United: plainly in trouble, or no?

Could it be that the fans leaving early and the first loss to Burnley for fifty years are meaningful signifiers *but not the same thing* as a full-on crisis? That the ‘worst start to the season’ stat is merely factor to be considered – one of a zillion – not an indisputable shepherd’s crook of a thing, hoiking Solksjær summarily to pastures less public?

How we judge depends as much upon who we are, who we support, how philosophic we can be, as upon the stats. This is part of the appeal, yes? The phoney war around opinion.

The league table itself is arguably provocatively fickle, whilst being apparently factual. We extrapolate stuff in order to judge: thus club X sits wherever but has played ‘higher than that’, or has maybe endured a tough, unbalanced schedule, or has simply played more football than that table suggests. (In United’s case it could be that they have played less). Results are key but they neither tell the whole story nor project forward, to account for momentum, form, expectation. Fascinatingly, we might argue that they don’t – or tables don’t – even show what has happened.

But back to United. Yesterday’s home defeat to a willing but generally workmanlike Burnley side. Two goals conceded, the first a sharp finish, the second a thunderbolt. Possible that Maguire might have closed down better for both; certainly he failed to read the danger for the first early enough. And therefore he is culpable.

But if you search around that United side and look to a) pick a captain b) pick a player of real quality and c) mark out those who are good enough and strong enough to influence things, during highs and lows, would not Maguire be close to the top of your list? Forget the price tag thing. The England centre-back is a fine player: he was just a mili-second behind the action.

All of which means nothing… except to illustrate something of the tortuous nature of any argument. Who/what to blame, when there is human error in the moment, the mili-second? For all the coaching and all the talent/confidence/frailty/genius/planning in the world, what exactly do we know? What’s controllable?
With United in trouble or in glorious flow, Maguire plays, if fit. What about the rest?

This is the crux. The team-sheet looked thin again, last night. How many on it are Real Manchester United Players? And how many are RMUPs when things are a-stuttering? And how many are RMUPs under a different manager, d’ya reckon?

I’m the bloke who said fairly recently that he didn’t think McTominay was a RMUP: I stand by that in the sense that he may only be good enough if the blend around him is right enough. Fully accept that before his injury he may have been the club’s most consistent player. But this is not the same as being a Real Manchester United Player when United are riding high, as Champions League-winning candidates.

 

Clearly right now, a fit McTominay would stiffen the durability and improve the consistency of the current side: he can do that in a way that Pereira and Fred can’t. But because he is good but one-paced, good but limited, the young Scot needs to be part of a blend containing more pace, more art, more elite-level guile.

Let’s go back to the stuttering. Who, in last night’s line-up is going to do the roll-the-sleeves up thing? Fred tried, to be fair. I’m not (necessarily) being critical when I suggest that Martial, James, Mata strike me as fairly obvious examples of players who are a whole lot more likely to thrive, to be influential, in a side that is 2-0 up than in one that is struggling. (Martial may have been playing hurt last night but he rather epitomises the quietly sulky, detached striker who-ain’t-gonna-bust-a-gut to make something happen: that’s really not one of his qualities. United need some of that – or some sheer, undeniable genius).

Enter Rashford. The brilliant boy is of course the Great Local Hope… but sadly crocked. In any case there is a plausible case that because he typically plays high percentage football – that is, he races and flashes and risks and is therefore likely to be medium profligate with possession – Rashford, despite his visible, developing gifts, is hardly the model RMUP. It is even conceivable that he may not become one, due to the sporadic, if electrifying nature of his contribution. (Yes, it’s true, I am suggesting that Rashford has some work to do to flesh out into a genuine, consistent performer at the level to which Proper Man United teams compete).

We could go through the squad and have a lot of fun and a lot of arguments about who is good enough. Wan-Bissaka looks promising, does he not? Unfashionably, I rate Mata for his intelligence and game sense but accept that his role is particularly reliant on the blend around him: in short, too, time may be against him. Elsewhere…

We haven’t mentioned the manager. The manager who seemed out of his depth at Cardiff. The manager (and local hero) who seemingly transformed the club, early doors, simply by being him, Ole, a breath of fresh air after the poisonous Portuguese. For remember, he did start like a returning legend, dragging the club into what felt like a an intoxicating new era. Until it stopped.

Solksjær is up against it, now. The strong sense that United lack patterns of play contrasts embarrassingly with their near neighbours. The lack of pace through midfield and relative vacuum where their energy, commitment and belief should be contrasts horribly with their other bitter rivals at the seaward end of that Ship Canal. Where Klopp now seems an undeniable and inspirational genius, Ole seems to be shrinking, ageing.

But does the fact of Solkjær’s brilliant start mean that he might find or reclaim the club mojo? When Pogba and Rashford are fit? When he’s bought four, five, six players? Does the former super-sub have it in him, to mastermind and sustain this club at Champions League level?

Most would say ‘no’ – certainly not with this team. Most would say something, too, about how the club has been run, more generally, over the last several years. I’m guessing that even some neutrals – and I know there won’t be many on this – might accept that a goodish case scenario would be that Ole Supersub (see what I did there?) did, in time turn the club around, restoring some of the verve this club has traditionally offered to the game.

Solksjær is likeable, retaining just a touch of the spiky, boyish naïvety we saw when he wore the Manchester United shirt. He did, when he first came in, really get the club going again. Oddly, he may have steered them higher in the league than they belong or deserve to be, this side. Might the shady businessmen, shuffling conspiratorially behind yet decide to ‘stay local’ and back him?

#Preseli #Pembrokeshire.

I was a Labour Party member, moons ago. Think I drifted because of the New Labour thing (Mandelson, the cynical centrism) but it may actually have been before that.

I reckon I’ve stayed loyal to something but would I call that Corbynism? No, not instinctively, certainly not entirely. And yet I very much wanted to go to my local town centre – Haverfordwest – and stand with those exuding comradely love, or just ‘wanting to see’.

Once there, it felt good to see the old Solva & St David’s Labour Party banner spread un-stylishly but proudly at the rear of the makeshift stage. I came away both glad that I went and with any reservations about The Campaign swept away: we must a) get the tories out and b) begin to claw back some social justice, some dignity. People, it’s just right.

 

It’s been a dank, grey old day. There’s a storm a-comin’ again, tomorrow, too. The will, therefore, was medium-tested.

Daughter failed the test – stayed, to continue a teenage kip. It was left to us, the Older Generation to join with the carnival.

I say carnival but this overstates the level of upfulness. Sure it was comradely and good-natured in Castle Square but things were pitched more towards what we might call like-minded solidarity than street-dancing euphoria. There is work to be done and Jeremy Corbyn is doing it.

From Swansea to Carmarthen to Haverfordwest; the last stop of another exhausting day, or so you might think. Another crowd to raise, another marginal to cover, spirits to be stirred and maybe inspired. Unforgiving; relentless; necessary.

At about 4.45 pm we hear that ‘Jeremy will be late. Because of the crowds and the travelling’. Nobody really minds but a few of us nip to the local caffeine emporium.

We return to be entertained, more or less, by several hugely worthy speakers (who speak like Ordinary-but-committed People) and by an endearingly average local musician. There are flashes of good stuff but nobody’s pretending this is anything other than the warm-up.

It’s fine that these big-hearted people are filling the gap; it’s fine that they lack the brilliance of a great, public orator. We get that they have thrust themselves forward in the knowledge that they are Orn’ary Folks, out of belief, because they want to put their shoulder to the cart, to shove, forwards. Whilst they own the stage, there is almost no sense that ego is in play; more that solidarity is being imperfectly expressed.

Inevitably local activists featured strongly in this – forgive me if I don’t namecheck them all. Inevitably, too, there were union representatives and a young bloke from Momentum who has obviously been a force even when no-one was listening. (He spoke without sufficient fluency or authority to bear his message, as did others. I don’t mean to criticise any of them; they are not career politicians or public intellectuals. They are just people who want to change things – genuine respect to them for that).

Intermittently, we hear Jezza updates. He is forty minutes a way, then nine. We must listen out for the Big Red Bus. The Withybush Event (indoors, up the road) has been cancelled because timings are out due to big crowds and long-distance travel. Those booked into the later gig will be joining us in the square: cue tribal roar.

Grace Blakeley is welcomed to the stage. My wife – being typically more informed than my good self – breaks out her ‘this will be really top’ look and we recalibrate our attention.

Ka-pow. If we needed oratory and brilliance, we got it. If we needed someone to truly articulate both the economic and moral arguments, we got it. In an outstanding, flawlessly eloquent speech lasting about twenty minutes, Grace proper-delivered.

She was spiky and clear, without being cheaply adversarial. She was intellectually plausible, whilst making an invigoratingly radical case for system change. Blakeley absolutely smashed it, in terms of communicating Ideas We Might All Recognise, whilst raising the level of discourse to edifying (and again one suspects necessary) heights. Put her in against anybody; Grace will joust superbly well for us all. She lifted us.

Back to local activists and the MC, briefly, before the bus nudges into view.

A welcome that speaks of real warmth, flecked with a smidge of adoration. The “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” bass-line sparks up, along with most of the 1500 or so voices, gathered for the visit. This isn’t, it seems, all-out love – there’s too much plain, unsexy, hard-won respect – but there is excitement and palpable warmth.

Philippa Thompson, the Labour candidate for Preseli Pembrokeshire speaks briefly first. The sound is imperfect but she does well enough and is wise enough not to ‘rattle on’ and undermine the moment. She defers to Jeremy pretty promptly – quite rightly.

(Minor but maybe important note, which I will preface by saying that with every fibre of my being I hope she can unseat the incumbent Tory, Stephen Crabb; yes-man, former careerist now shamed into bland irrelevance.

Philppa, you spoke about four words of Welsh. Take it from me, as somebody with little Welsh but with a family now full of Welsh-speakers, that your pronunciation was beyond poor. It was insulting, or would be to anyone blessed with the language – and therefore you are strongly advised to either avoid, or get immediate help with this. It really matters… & it’s such an obvious own goal for a public figure – particularly an ‘incomer’).

But now Jezza, plus more activists and more locals, joining us from the battle bus and/or that cancelled event. We have a crowd, we have The Attraction and we have goodwill.

Corbyn is good. Fluent without being schmaltzy, prepared, without being in automatic mode. If Grace Blakeley was 9.5 out of 10, Jezza is 8 plus. Because he’s not a fabulous public speaker (and this is fine!) – he’s goodish.

Corbyn, flawed like all of us, inspires quietly, more by his common decency (remember that?) than any sparkling wit, or weighty or ‘Churchillian’ intervention. By and through the epic contribution he’s made to thoroughly commendable, often unfashionable causes.

Of course many either hate him or are deeply suspicious but I’m simply not lingering there. Let’s dismiss them as either conned by the billionaire press or prejudiced by dumb acquiescence to their betters – the toffs, the tories, the Natural Leaders. Back to Jezza.

It might even be that he isn’t an elite-level intellectual, he’s merely competent-plus. And this is fine. Jezza feels cut from our cloth: he’s believable and now projected forth into believe-in-able, by circumstance. The man may need to scheme behind closed doors, but he is publicly apparently without side or ego. He could be a teacher, postie, or the bloke who shuffles papers in the council office.

He speaks well, covering ground now familiar to all of us. Social Services, Education, plans to transform towards a green economy. To his credit, despite knowing surely that the crowd might lap it up, Corbyn remains notably averse to the kind of personal attack to which he is relentlessly subjected: Johnson is barely mentioned. Instead we get sketches of the vision, the hope.

There are ‘highlights’ but this is not highly-coloured fayre: the rabble in us is not roused, is not meant to be. That wouldn’t be Jezza. Our communal sense of what is right and fair and proportionate is rather gently appealed to, or stimulated. There could be barely be a greater contrast between this man and his showy, brainy, brazenly mendacious opposite number.

I’m dealing in generalities but trying to reflect how this felt. Seeing Jeremy Corbyn address a biggish bundle of people in Haverfordwest. On the eve of an extraordinarily important election. Being no longer a Labour Party member (and I promise you, not entirely doe-eyed, when it comes to Jezza) but supportive, nevertheless – and being daft enough to remain attached to ideas around virtue, around moral imperatives.

Wow, the pull towards optimism is strong. I want the guy to go well and will be punching the bloody air if Philippa Thompson wins. And the arguments feel won after a night like this. And there were lots of people. And Corbyn was good and Blakeley was wonderful.

Too much, to be optimistic? Maybe. But whatever. This was a restorative night – a valuable night.