Black and British. And everything.

Those of you who have been following my hopefully endearingly shambolic adventures into YouTube &/or the universe of books will know that I have fallen, of late, into what I might ill-advisedly call a theme: that of race, or racism. I have recently done ‘reviews’ of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking…” as well as Layla F Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy” and now I’m into David Olusoga’s excellent contribution, “Black and British – A Forgotten History”.

This is not to say that I’m entirely lumping them together as a single subject – that would be offensively crass, right? – but there are unarguably significant crossovers between the three books and therefore it feels reasonable (enough) to gather them in for some reflection. Having said that, I’m only posting the “Black and British” review here; if you want the rest go find my #YouTube channel or delve deeper into earlier posts on this platform.

It was a specific, particularly deep conversation around the ideas of radicalism and liberalism/illiberalism which sparked off this blog, mind, prompting the foolishly urgent need to de-clutter my own head of this, if I may?

I know, I know. I should stop doing this Under-rehearsed Brain-dump Thing; it’s indulgent and inevitably error-prone. But I don’t mind risking embarrassment or worse and frankly it feels more honest to be flailing around with the possibility for self-exposure adding a little edge to the proceedings. And this fear of saying the wrong thing seems especially pertinent, here.

I have a friend who spars with people, more often and more challengingly and with more insight than anybody else I know. He is therefore a tremendously invigorating bloke to be around. Saw him coupla days ago and because we rattled into Deep Meaningful Stuff around socialism/liberalism, campaigning/activism, Eddo-Lodge and What You Can Actually Say, this post – originally just a review of sorts of the Olusoga – is in danger of becoming a rounding-up of wider themes. With the usual apologies for the usual, unattractive stream-of-consciousness, let’s crack on.

David Olusoga I like. Great TV work plus I love his punchy, witty, take-no-shittery on the twitters. Daily if not hourly, he completely dismembers dullish white blokes who think they’re being Pretty Reasonable, Actually. Crucially, he does it with some real wit.

“Black and British – a Forgotten History” is a weighty and accomplished book, of immense scope, covering stories that the author thinks add significantly to our understanding of what it has meant and what it still means to be Black and British. I say this because it strikes me Olusoga makes great choices about what to cover and makes no bones about swerving biggish chunks of what might seem to be essential if that material is covered well or comprehensively elsewhere. So I certainly learned stuff; enlightening, revealing, fascinating, poignant stuff as it were from the fringes. Hence the subtitle “Forgotten History”.

One example: I’m not sure I knew anything about Charles Wooton, and yet you will see (if you bother to click on the video) that the story of his desperate hustle through the streets of Liverpool – so compellingly told – was absolutely central to my experience of and learning through this book. What Olusoga calls Wooton’s ‘lynching’ is both horrifying and a little familiar; the evil of murderous racism on our streets feeling uncomfortably close, to me, in this era of race-fuelled, hate-filled populism.

There is much else to say about this very fine history book but I am content enough that my flawed review grabs a hold of enough of the thing to persuade you to read it, if you haven’t. “Black and British” is simply a 9 out of 10-er; intelligent, readable and with a tremendous historical/social-political scope. Get on it.

But hey, that conversation. In a kitchen in Bristol, appropriately enough, given Olusoga’s connections to, and work within, that fascinating city. I’m with my mate, the Dangerously Brilliant Mind. (Hey if you read this, ****, forgive the intrusion(s): massively respect your intelligence, integrity and… we ‘ave a larf, too, right?)

Don’t remember what sparked off the particular line of enquiry – probably an opening exchange in which we spoke about recent reading – but we soon got into his ‘specialism’ around political/philosophical convictions.

Hilariously, on reflection, this was about 9 am on a Saturday morning, after I’d stayed over with the family. And yes we were socially distancing as far as possible.

**** is a profoundly good, honest, caring man; hard to categorise entirely, politically but certainly not a right-winger. He does, however, have an intellect which is so penetrative and well-armed with reading and with knowledge that it feels austere. (This is not a criticism: it’s an acknowledgement of his fierce brilliance – which I have said, is bloody invigorating).

He has come to identify as a liberal rather than a socialist, in part because he is appalled by narrow, clubby, deliberately intimidating politics from The Left. ****, (who is broadly lefty), thinks there is a kind of evil in the meanness and acute tribalism amongst the Activist Left, whom he would argue, seem to hate what we might call ordinary Labour supporters more than they hate Tories. In fact, maybe they hate everyone who isn’t them?

Of course this is what Tories and Centrists have typically argued so again I put on the record that neither of us fall into those categories. My Bristolian comrade feels it simply ain’t viable to support alongside or with this group – and he does support the majority of ‘Labour Causes’. In short, the illiberal nature of some ‘core lefties’ offends him.

We talk about this and I’m not disagreeing. Then, because we can get into controversial territory and ver-ry frequently do, **** (who is no racist, no right-winger, no mug) expresses concerns about some of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s contributions, in her own field of activism. Is her important work – the books, podcasts, public advocacy – nevertheless in danger of suppressing legitimate debate because by accident or design it may be closing down or narrowing viewpoints towards a kind of puritanical activism? (Should add here that a) my pal has read and listened to Eddo-Lodge and b) that both of us are fair-minded enough and wise enough to appreciate the obvious dangers, re- Middle Aged White Blokes failing to get the ironies currently circling and blowing their klaxons).

We do know that overhelmingly it’s Black Voices that are oppressed. Both of us have and do support anti-racism. And we are not so weak-minded as to be saying all activism is kinda fascistically predicated on nastiness and brutal, exclusive oppositionism; activism is necessary, is wonderful, is essential.

**** is I think merely making the argument for intelligent, humane, broadly inclusive campaigning. He makes a bold, contentious point and I have some concerns about these views but am also clear that I have felt conflicted about whether or not to Say Anything… because I’m a White Bloke!

More ironies, possibly, but I think I am on here and Youtube doing this stuff despite knowing my voice is less important, less relevant to this discussion than a black voice might be – and arguably has less rights(?) – but also because, conversely, it feels wrong to shut up for fear of committing some transgression. White Angst? You bet. But part of my real experience.

I fully understand that the last couple of paragraphs may either seem perverse, or worse; racist. I already regret that I’ve probably conflated leftiness with Black Activism; this does all of us a disservice. Maybe I will go back and edit, or maybe just re-offer the thought that this sense that something ‘illiberal’ and possibly injurious can associate itself with activism – particularly, perhaps, when there is understandably acute anger in the mix.

This has little to do with the review posted below… of a really good book which I heartily commend you all towards. My de-tour has been about how we try to oppose social and political evils – which we must, urgently, together – whilst maintaining as much of our human generosity as we can. But hey, read the books!

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.

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.

 

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.

Dead Souls.

Okay. A good-without-being-remarkable win, for starters: predictably. But let’s note to the universe that a) there’s very often a New Man In bonus, for clubs at all levels, and b) Mourinho can organise. Plus c) West Ham are genuinely mediocre. So yeh – predictable, as opposed to seminally transforming.

Whether the Special One can organise and inspire to the level he once could – and whether the landscape remains, in which he can do his Strike and Park the Bus thing – we’ll see, soon enough. For now (Saturday, 6p.m.) he can bask a little.

Does this change anything, in terms of how I view his return? No. I see – I saw it, here, below – as another medium-diabolical sign that we’re all doomed. Or similar.

(Following the appointment of José Mourinho as Head Coach at Tottenham Hotspur: some thoughts… 👇🏻)

Where are we at, then, with Mourinho? Not easy to sugar-coat this one. Feels like many of us find him repugnant, never mind kinda reactionary; like some carnivorous dinosaur from the poshest suite in the goddam hotel. Like football’s Trump, emerging from behind the Fake Plastic Trees to eat us, or gorge on the souls of our beloved footie-teams.

Consequently but perhaps weirdly and uniquely, a freedom to judge him on some faintly discernible but nevertheless legitimate scale of goodness has crept in.

And yet also… the phone-ins. There are people simply flying past this fabulous Mourinho stoning-fest: actually (simply) looking forward to trophies, at Tottenham. Men. Women. Calling and talking. “We loved Poch but José will deliver”. “At the end of the day, it’s… about silverware”. “Poch was over”.

All fascinating – gruesomely so – and all received in this particular quarter with a broiling, Armalite-inclined rage.  Because it’s obvious. Mourinho is done, football has scorched past him, the era when he was a god is done and this is good – progressively good, mildly reassuringly good, morally good, even. Anyone ‘making some argument’, any argument for Mourinho at Spurs is an absolute maniac. I am loading up the boom-stick and ready to settle into the sniper-nest.

There are facts, here, of sorts. Fact: Mourinho ain’t remotely interested in the hard yards of building or generating anything. Fact: he was last seen at an academy game the day *he tried to sign Johan Cruyff, aged four.

 (*From the fleeting Conservative Fact-check site, oooh a while back).

Mourinho pretty much sits there, buying the poker-game, bluffing and motivating his galacticos, then buying those who supersede. He sucks up money; he is joyless and crucially declining. He deserves to fail, surely and the recent signs have all pointed that way. Lost dressing-rooms; lost lustre. The smell of money, impenetrable ambivalence and decline.

Ok the guy is not a materialist, in his life – he’s allegedly medium-cultured. So it’s not just about money for him. The drivers are slightly less crass, in the sense of being beyond the bling. However Mourinho does feel devoid of what we might call personal richness, now, his wit having apparently deserted as his sourness grew.

Mourinho pressers have been consistently contemptible over a period of years: directly insulting towards journos in the room and broadly, plainly dishonest regarding what’s actually happening around his football. (Accept that the second of these two phenomena is hardly unique to the man but the sheer acidity and delusional unpleasantness of his defiance has been extraordinary. He has bred hatred in the Media Core and beyond).

So, there is a ‘moral’ consensus (but apparently not unanimity, listening to those phone-ins) around the notion that Mourinho increasingly has crushed artistry and sport, imagining nothing beyond the grind or slash to victory. A sense reinforced, inevitably, by that public sullenness.

Where did all this come from?

Pressure? Pressure over time? Did the essential adversarial nature of elite competition grind him down, eventually – or is he just a Bad Man? If the latter, how come he didn’t seem so bad ‘til about 2015, or so?

Think. How could the man who was under the wing of Bobby Robson – Angel of the North, Heart of the Footie Universe – turn out so palpably bereft of romance? (Mourinho, if you remember, interpreted for the great man at Sporting and at Porto, early doors). How does that work? Where did the narcissism, the sourness, the anti-love for the game sweep in? We’ll never know.

It’s obvious that José is either all-out a spent force or a declining power; that he might only succeed with monstrous money to spend – but almost certainly not in the Prem, in 2019/20 and beyond – because the likes of Klopp and Guardiola have found better, newer ways.

It seems unthinkable that a) Daniel Levy will free-up the purse-strings to accommodate Mourinho’s customary indulgences and b) that in any case that free spirit thing Tottenham have always had will be brutally-casually disembowelled.

But hey, the phone-in psychos don’t care. They’re dead souls too.

 

The Rugby World Cup Final.

Jonny. Pre-game. Almost worryingly earnest, as so often. Turning his analysis into yoga, players out there behind him. Then ‘that wry smile’ – Farrell’s, not Wilkinson’s and a ‘break’. ITV: okaaay but also weird.

But what a good, solid and sometimes *actually inspiring* tournament this has been. Japan the clear winner, for their childlike embrace of the thing, for their politesse and their Proper Rugby Passion too. (Oh – and their team played arguably the most entertaining rugby in the tournament).

Rugby, World Cup Finals, in Japan. Strange how intelligent administration, free from bias or bung can turn out well, eh FIFA, eh ICC? You get to expand the game and enrich the experiences of everybody, pretty much, from spectator to waiter. The sport benefits.

The sight of Japanese, young and old, belting out the beautiful but relatively inaccessible Welsh national anthem has felt wonderfully symbolic of the potential richnesses – rarely located but found here – that the confluence of sport and peoples can aspire to. Simply, rugby does goodwill particularly well. Japan seems to have done it magnificently.

To the game.

Unusually for me, no live updates. Wanted to watch. What follows is therefore some abstracted thoughts…

 

South Africa and England may be high on the list of unloved rugby nations but ultimately there was a heartwarming bundle of That Good Stuff washing around Yokohama and the airwaves, at the whistle. The Boks had freed themselves up and begun to cut deep and wide, as England, disconsolate, near-humiliated England slipped into hopelessness.

The scenes at the culmination of an emphatic win – the rainbow of joy and wider-spread satisfaction around the host nation for a supremely hospitable tournament – may camouflage the fact that this was a game in which only one team turned up: South Africa.

Questions will inevitably be asked about tactical matters: how could the Boks dominate so completely a game that they entered as underdogs? Was this not an obvious case of one coaching team out-thinking another? Did Jones not know the go-to strengths of Erasmus’s side? Of course he did. But this was a World. Cup. Final.

England looked overawed from the start. Arguably not every player, of course but there was that awful error/contagion/überangst coursing right through them. Painful for Eddie Jones and his backroom staff to see, as they will surely have wanted and quite possibly expected to replicate the carousel of brilliant, confident attacking that characterised their start against the ABs. Instead there was simple error after dubious choice: they were more woeful than mixed, as exemplified by Youngs, on ten minutes, hurling a pass metres high and wide of any colleague, metres into touch. Wow. Shocker.

For Sinckler, the young English prop, there was barely time for nerves. Pre-game, I had a hunch that his personality, his wit, indeed, may have a real influence on this encounter. The fella’s sparky and spunky in a good way: strong but also somehow nimble. He left the pitch, cruelly accidentally concussed, on four minutes: England would miss both his bulk and his capacity to defy, to intervene.

Apologies. This may all underestimate the early power and control of South Africa – who were immediately ahead on the board and looked likely to stretch that lead further the more the first half continued. (Pollard missed a straightforward kick/there was a pret-ty continual siege going on against the England defence, albeit all over the park, as opposed to close to the danger zone).

In the ether, much had been made of the Erasmus plan to stifle and smother but without being electrifyingly expansive in the first period, South Africa went through a certain level of positive phases competently enough – unlike England. Continually and consistently, often via de Allende or Le Roux, the Springboks threaten to threaten.

The men in white, by contrast, for whom I thought Daly (most obviously) and both halfbacks underachieved, either through error or conceding possession too cheaply, were unrecognisable from the week previous. The opposition today were magnificently robust, it’s true but if Game Plan A for England was to hoist (without effectively chasing down) and re-set, as soon as this was patently neutered, surely the halfbacks must initiate another challenge, or twelve?

Youngs and Ford disappointed, in this respect. And yes I know they my have put many man-hours into that Plan A, and that the coaches may have over-egged the need to keep faith with it, but when Am, de Allende, Etzebeth, Kolisi and co are smashing you back decisively on nearly every contact, surely it makes sense (when it’s a known strength of your own) to look to play at pace and with width?

Instead, Pollard and wee Faf could dictate the nature of the play… because they had both momentum and – courtesy those box-kicks and ‘clearances’ – possession of the ball!

Simplistic? Maybe. Less arguable was the palpable superiority of the Boks, not just around contacts but notably and maybe surprisingly at line-out and scrum. Even accepting that the reffing of scrums often seems arbitrary, the concession of penalties by England in this facet of play was both a) remarkable b) completely reflective of Springbok dominance. England were repeatedly smashed.

In line-outs, too, the English were alarmingly out of synch, given their previous high standards. If the throw from George was caught, the movement around – the development – was clunky. The fizz from Underhill, Curry and Vunipola(s) remained well and truly corked.

England escaped the first forty within range, somehow. (6-12). But the imagery was set: blurs and errors and lack of flow from men of The North, and a deep, formidable squeeze from t’other side.

For a few minutes, into the second half, we almost had a game: England almost roared. After the inevitable fifty-odd minute personnel changes, the South African scrum was almost shockingly vulnerable – momentarily, as it turned out – as Marler or Cole or somebody similarly heave-tastic forced a pen. Farrell profited, bringing the scores to 9-15 but then crucially (possibly) failed with a toughish but kickable effort from about 45 metres. Before any meaningful momentum could be gathered, Daly sliced poorly into touch, England conceded a further pen after the line-out and Pollard pinged over.

If those exchanges settled the match, it was the two South African tries in a delirious and exhilarating last fifteen minutes that delivered the flourish. Am threw a peach of a no-looker to put Mapimpi in, then Kolbe danced with some ease round a somewhat movement-restricted Farrell, following a crunching, ball-spilling tackle on Slade. The South Africans (and maybe the competition?) got what they deserved: a stylish, joyful kindofa win.

I’m not big on stagey celebrations or presentations but how could we not enjoy the Bok Party? With its *stories*. How could we not raise a glass to Kolisi and to the idea of shared, enlightened progress? And also how could we not note the South African skipper’s gracious acknowledgement for the stricken Sinckler, moments before rising to collect the World Cup, himself?

Wow. Rugby can be great; sport can be great; people can be great. Nice work, Japan – nice work.

Quarter-finals. Facts & fascinations.

  • Ok. That’s done then. Probably, the best four teams are through – though around that the Irish might do whatever the Irish equivalent of quibbling is.
  • Just now, unloved South Africa squished the wunnerful-joyful hosts, once the early carousel had been closed-down. Disappointing for neutrals, given the electrifying entertainment Japan have provided but guess we do want the strongest teams in there at the death. (Don’t we?)
  • South Africa looked strong, in the same way Wales have been strong, over the last eighteen months or more. More durable than delectable: more efficient than effervescent.
  • The Springboks – are they still called the Springboks; feels somehow vaguely politically unsound? – will play Wales in a semi which could either be a reactionary bore-fest or a full-hearted classic.
  • Two wee interjections, at this point. 1. I’ve lived in Wales most of my life and want them to win the tournament. 2. Some of this stuff, below, which fascinates me 👇🏻.
  • Short memories. Almost everyone in Wales was actually rather contemptuous of Gatland & ‘Gatlandball’ a couple of years ago. He & it were dinosaur-tastic in a profoundly unattractive way.
  • The miserable Welsh performance in a medium-dramatic but poorish quality game against a fitfully revitalised France was a disappointment on several counts. Chief amongst them was the Welsh retreat into box-kicking/set/defend.
  • Wales have played some rugby in this tournament but they are plainly primarily concerned with playing within themselves, to a limited game-plan. They believe it’s a way to win: the evidence would suggest they are right.
  • In defence of arguable Welsh defensiveness, notably against France, they were without one of the great players of the modern era – Jonathan Davies. Davies is ‘class’, with and without the ball. I suspect he is more critical to Wales’ defensive shape than we give him credit for and his rare mixture of intelligence, subtlety and raw courage in attack is often powerfully, often discreetly influential.
  • I am also pret-ty convinced that Biggar is playing with restricted movement – playing hurt. (Wags might say Danny Boy always looks that way; him being the relatively fixed point of the whole Gatlandball organisation. He can’t sprint, we know that but he looks unusually sluggish, just now, to me).
  • *See also Liam Williams*. Picked for his lion-heartedness and inspirational qualities. Should be under genuine pressure now, for a place, from Halfpenny.
  • Next weekend Gatlandball II will face-off against another side likely to play conservatively. Understand that approach but am I/is anybody else looking forward to seeing that kind of game? God no; we’d rather watch Japan any day of the week.
  • Except this is Tournament Play. And much of the drama is/was always going to be of the nail-biting kind. And though my preference for glorious, expansive rugby holds fast, I’ll be as feebly hypocritical as the next man in the moments that matter. 
  • *Plus*, Wales’ obstinate refusal to get beat is, in its own way, magbloodynificent, yes? Romantic, even. It smacks of old-school, matey defiance as well as cultivated belief. I like that – the former.
  • On the subject of match-defining moments, mind, how many thought the TMO and ref swept past the possible forward, as the ball was ripped, immediately before Moriarty’s killer try? I had a slight sense that the adjudicators didn’t really fancy getting caught up in too much scrutiny of that. In short, France may have been robbed. (Discuss over sake/beers).
  • That drama aside, the Wales France game was almost shockingly ordinary in comparison to the first hour of England Aus. (Yes! I am going to do that thing where you mindlessly compare how A played against B and then judge how T (playing U) would have done if they played at that same level… against A, (assuming A retained their B standard, as it were).
  • If Wales had played like they did against France, against either England or Australia, they would have  been battered. There was simply no comparison in intensity or quality. Gatland must and will lift his posse before the ‘Boks.
  • Yes. England versus Australia, for an hour, was scarily, magnificently competitive to an extraordinary degree. It was a fierce, fierce, structured rampage. It was awesomely modern. Both teams looked Absolutely Top Level – and neither France nor Wales did. Know what’s great, though? This prob’ly means nothing.
  • The All Blacks, expected to win, destroyed Ireland. De-stroyed them. Their skills, their power, their athleticism was simply unanswered. All Ireland felt hollowed-out as the absurdly dominant ABs ran all over Schmidt’s men. If clinical can be beautiful, it was that.
  • The watching world took a breath, looked again at the draw, almost felt sorry for England (almost) – and resigned itself, actually, to another New Zealand tournament win. Who will they beat? Wales, I reckon.