England managers.

http://www.englandfootballonline.com/teammgr/MgrChron.html

Above is a link to all the England managers since Walter Winterbottom. article-2297141-18d7274f000005dc-784_306x423I would dare say that after Walter’s seventeen year spell, it all went downhill. But I speak only in terms of the manager’s name. How could you follow that? It says everything about the hardened image of footballers who turned out in the frozen wastes of Northern England on a bitterly cold day in February to play hard and fair on a concrete pitch.

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They’d have a stomach full of beer from the night before, a thumping head and a crazed urge to reach half-time for a couple of Capstan Full Strength.

Indeed, Sir Walter was a native of Oldham which sits high up, close to the Yorkshire border and the notorious Saddleworth moor. itemsfs_15467

It is windswept and desperate but as usual, in these sort of places, the warmth comes from the friendly but sardonic character of the natives. You can imagine young Walter being taken out by his dad for the first time:

“Pint of bitter lad. That’ll do thee good.” Three hours and five pints later and little Wally is desperate to go home. “Last pint of the night son. Go on get it down yer, it’ll do thee good.” lennox-inside-pictureThen the usual stop at the chippy for the full fish supper. A symphony of greasy batter oozing out of an old newspaper. “Now come on lad, get it down yer, it’ll do thee good.” As they turn into their street facing the icy blasts of a North-Easterly, Wally cannot stop himself. Back comes his fish supper. “Go on lad, get it all back up, it’ll do thee good.” Of course the reference to “good” was a step into building a true northern character, capable of drinking gallons of ale and throwing down all of nature’s finest by-products; flour, bacon fat, suet and lard. “We had a fine night tonight,” Mr Winterbottom would announce to his wife. “It’s done ‘im a lot of good. Where’s the cheese sandwiches?”

In comparison, the quietly spoken cerebral Sir Alf went against that grain of working class refinement. 2509752-main_imageHis game was calculated on a system. It was a very good system which worked spectacularly and famously. But it was a system and systems can be met with counter systems. (Those damned West Germans.)

I will admit there have been many “Northerners” who have taken on the poisoned chalice of the England job since old Wally, God rest his soul. But football was changing with the times. Don Revie, a hugely successful purveyor of the “hard but unfair” school of thought had a disastrous spell in charge. All the dominance of Leeds United paled into the distance as he produced a team that was impotent, at best mediocre. It was an undignified end to a successful club career. The poor man developed motor neurone disease and passed away in 1989.hqdefault-2

Bobby Robson is perhaps the most outstanding England manager. He got us to two world cups losing out to “The Hand of God” and that infamous penalty shoot out in Italy. Sir Bobby was from County Durham but he came with a pedigree from Ipswich, just like Sir Alf. By the time he was appointed in 1982, football had changed. Footballers tended not to go and get tanked up the night before a match.

Since then, England managers have been lucky to survive more than two major tournaments. The playing style has tended to be cautious and feeble. The fear of giving the ball away, detracting from any sense of derring-do to initiate any form of courageous assault on the opposition’s goal.

Footballers in general are getting a bit more concerned about the numbers game; pass completion, assists, tackles won or the kilometers-per-game ratio. The pass completion thing makes me laugh. It’s produced a nation of crabs. The direction of modern English football is sideways. Yawn.

Let us fast forward to the present and the record of Sam Allardyce. Big Sam has been the most successful England manager ever. He has a hundred per-cent record. Will he go down in history? Not for his win record because his shady dealings have shown him to be part of the corrupt sordid little sub-culture which all professional sports attract.

Sam only managed one game. It was awful. Adam Lalana scrambled a weedy little attempt in injury time to inflict a defeat on that mighty bastion of world football that is Slovakia. It was, if there could ever be, a toned down version of the usual England ineptness. It was toned down in the way that a sloth may decide to have a PJ and duvet day. socialfeed-info-this-selfie-of-a-smiling-sloth-hanging-from-the-tree-will-make-your-dayOn the scoring of that decisive goal, Allardyce waved his hands about victoriously. Reading between the lines, it was probably more to do with sheer relief.

But it was the first and last game of his England career. With his rugged demeanour and fruity northern accent, Big Sam could easily pass for a contemporary of the young Walter. Imagine him in his cloth cap talking about day trips on a chara to Blackpool with crates of beer and toilet stops at the roadside. 61

But this is now. It’s all flash suits, wristwatches, talking the talk and driving a huge phallus.

Like so many before him, he loved the idea of being Sam the man; always ready for a little deal here and there. Greed breeds stupidity.allar-1

Then what of Glen Hoddle, the fair weather pussyfooting former Tottenham midfielder? In the “Hand of God” game he sort of went missing amongst the uncompromising studs of the Argentine defence. Yet when the villain Maradonna was bearing down for his second goal, he was being chased by Peter Reid. 1de7368100000578-0-image-a-6_1431110765927Reid gave up at the very end. But then he missed the first three months of the following season due to the hairline fracture of the shin he’d sustained during the game.

Hoddle’s England management came to an end after his proclamation that disabled people had done bad things in a previous life. That’s not even greedy. It’s just stupid.

So who’s next for the England hot seat? I’m not holding my breath. I love football. It is one of my passions, along with music and cooking. I still want to see football thrive. It has given me great memories. It grips and holds me. And that is why I spend all this time on my heartfelt critique.

Thank-you for reading.

The longest word

What is the longest word? If you look this up on Google, you will be presented with a confusing mass of multi syllabled nonsense. At school I liked antidisestablishmentarianism. I still love that train station in Anglesey: Llanfairpwllgogerychwyndrobwlllantysiliogogogoch. (Phew, that took ages.) Well I just love Anglesey really. There is also a Maori word:

Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu.

But let’s not go into that. The longest word is smiles. Why? Because there is a mile between the first and last letter. If you think beyond the pun, smiles go a long way for many reasons.

A lot of people smile at me. It’s usually when I’m tramping the usual mile up the road to the supermarket. Passers-by smile and people in the supermarket smile. It cheers me up. It makes the whole experience of setting up the travel wheelchair, manipulating it by means of my walking stick and joystick to put it into a position of convenience, hence reducing any walking distance, getting into my travel chair and subsequently manoeuvring my indoor chair for the same reason, doing the start stop procedure of getting out of the front door, rolling down to the Tramper, transferring onto the Tramper and storing the joystick of the chair in the front box, then realising I’d forgotten my extra special Waitrose bag for life and having to re-open the front door, shuffle the eternity of three meters to get the bag, finally get back onto the Tramper and start my journey.

You’d think I’d remember the bag in the first place. Brain fog be damned. When doing such a routine, my main concern is not falling over.

I fell over on Saturday morning. I had placed a nice big fat juicy cup of tea onto the side-table and attempted to sit down on the sofa. My left knee collapsed with its usual spontaneity. The para-medics eventually arrived, I had a numb bum but they smiled. Then they hoiked me back into the chair and we had a conversation about the Rock Choir. One of them made me another cup of tea as my original was sitting all sad, out of reach, feeling the onset of cold and neglect. (Yes, I actually feel sorry for cups on tea.)

On my trips to the supermarket I feel a similar sort of warmth. At the checkout, I receive VIP treatment as someone will always pack my much forgotten bag and load it onto the Tramper for me. But why do people smile? Do they admire me for my super-human courage? Are they desperate for someone like me to feel some sense of inclusion in the rat-race that is the weekly shop? Are they smiles of compassion or sympathy? (No they are not. I know those sort of smiles.)

I think a lot of people have real experience with others who might feel disadvantaged. Almost everyone I meet will know or be related to someone who has become burdened by some form of illness; a stroke, Parkinson’s or some nasty form of cancer. I know a lot of people who have experience of dementia; that day I sat with my mum at the doctor’s and he asked her who I was. She replied:

“I know his name begins with S.”

Dementia is the nastiest of all. It robs you of everything.

So I am glad to receive the smile of a stranger. They are not patronising, they are encouraging. They are giving me support because they understand how hard it can be if you are deprived of the ability to walk. And it is not just in my lovely little town on the hill. I have found this to be a national thing. I know that when I go out it will be a positive experience.

When I used to cycle everywhere in the early eighties, I always sang “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”. I received many strange looks for belting out this rather cheesy Sinatra standard. But now I refrain from that-unless it’s raining:

As I mosey on, saturated by the heaven’s offerings, I burst into the very same refrain. It brings more than smiles. And it still gives me a smile when I get home and have to pile into the shower and stick my clothes into the washing machine; plus doing the going out routine in reverse and putting the shopping away. The smiles linger.

Thank-you for reading.

Walk this Way.

Do you remember that song by Aerosmith and Run DMC? It was a hit in 1991 when I was teaching in a huge North London comprehensive school. It was a real cultural mix but the majority of students were second generation Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The boys had a real swagger. They would patrol the playground in little armies, swinging their shoulders trying to look tall. Everyone who wanted to be “in” tried to walk that way. The girls would generally hang around in rough groups, pouting at the passing soldiers.schoolgirls

I walk in my dreams. It’s always the same: “Why am I walking when I have MS? Oh I must be having a good day!” Now, from wheelchair level, I’m becoming an active observer of the way people walk. It would be far too tedious to begin a detailed classification of walking styles here but there are some distinctly notable ones.

Those on the same level, that is those lucky souls who can walk only get half the effect. I view from the waistline down. Now that’s another level; another level in so many ways.

Firstly a fellow walker will mostly observe the effect on the shoulders and the resultant bobbing of the head. Unless of course, someone is being outrageously weird. We’ve all seen the Facebook collections of Walmart photographs showing the finest examples of extreme clothing.

There is a sort of seal-like elegance of their general movement. The stretched fabric, undulating with the visible rolls of blubber as they waddle clumsily behind their trolley. In such cases, one may be more tempted to view the overall visage of their ambulant progress.america-people-of-walmart

When you think how simple it is to walk; just put one foot in front of the other and lean slightly forward, this simple act becomes far more of an ordeal if one’s feet are unable to do so because of a clashing of the knees.

Please don’t think I am mocking large people. I can talk! I am referring to those that tend to attract more attention because of their inappropriate attire.

Back to the walking. Viewing from the waist downwards gives me a more complete picture of the moving parts. There are striders.

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I couldn’t do an article about walking without this !

They stretch out their feet building up momentum to a quick march. But it’s when they need to change direction or make a quick side-step, the real fun starts. Mohammed Ali was famous for his “shuffle” in the ring. I see many striders doing their own “Ali shuffle” as they slow down or swerve to avoid a collision. It’s fascinating; a complex choreography of twinkle-toe precision. A  delicate procedure, carried out without a second’s thought. My wheelchair certainly gives me freedom but I don’t have the power to dance like that. I’m more Strictly Come Dalek.cnc-dab

The second category of walker, I have named the flippers. their feet flip back and forth at great speed whilst their knees appear static. You may think penguin but I’m too low to catch the overall waddle effect. They too have an amazing range of avoidance procedures. I’d like to describe them but they go to quickly for me to see the detail.

Maybe I could film them on a special slow-motion camera. I imagine it would be similar to watching a bee’s wings. I’d also be hard pressed to give any sort of rational explanation as to why I was filming people walk.

The third category is the bouncers. These are not the rather thick-set raw suited people we often see outside the doorways of clubland.

bouncer1These people appear to bounce as they walk. A true spring in their step. With great dexterity, a bouncer’s trailing foot will part company with the ground from the toes. I know the bounce will be reflected in the movement of their head and shoulders but below waist level, there is an awful lot more going on. It’s like a gymnastic exercise for the whole leg and waist. The waist oscillates vertically with the combined bending and stretching of knees and toes. How does a bouncer avoid a collision? Well there is no apparent shuffling or side-stepping. Their stride rarely breaks. There is usually a glide to either side and they can go past with no visible form of interruption.

I wish I could walk again. I’d be happy to put up with the pathetic left hand or the inflamed nerve endings which tell me to that my legs are on fire. Or even the fatigue. I’d give anything to be able to walk up Snowdon in January.welshmount13

It would always be a fight against the bitter cold and the vicious wind. The fine rain would spatter your face with tingling ice while you’re fighting for breath, exhausted  by the brutal gradient.

There is a film called Wall E. It focuses on a spaceship full of humans who don’t walk anymore. Despite a slow start, it’s well worth a watch. It makes me angry that some people I have known have always been reluctant to make any sort of effort to walk.video-yahoofinance-com75a860d5-ebf4-3351-899d-0d669e9bf1aa_full

When I was beginning to struggle, I had to walk my year three class a mile up the road. My teaching assistant refused to come with us. I can understand because she had the Walmart knees. But it left me a little bitter because I always believe in making the effort. And it’s brilliant when you finish. Thank-you for reading.

The Little Things

Crowborough is my adopted home town. I’ve lived here for eighteen years. In the winter it can sometimes be a cold windswept unforgiving place. It is a town on a hill. With height comes extra special weather. It’s never not windy, there is an eclectic mix of rain and there is always the Crowborough Cloud. The Cloud is a frequent visitor, enshrouding the town in grey hazy mist. Sometimes it’s a wet cloud. You may be happy to go around in this cloud under the impression that you’re staying dry. Then you touch your head and realise it’s soaking. It’s just like the fine rain of the north.

But in the summer, it can be a glorious place. We are surrounded by fantastic countryside.

Then there are the little things. Firstly my town is a small town and people are mostly happy. I feel privileged to live here because I was lucky enough to have a job I loved with reasonable pay. But people are just so nice to me. I often go up to town on my super macho Tramper mobility scooter. Pedestrians say hello. Some even compliment me on my dashing steed. I make jokes about gridlock on Crowborough’s pavements and I can see it helps brighten up people’s mood. I wave to other scooter drivers.

I usually go up to town to shop in the local supermarket. Now that is full of little things. As I gently glide from aisle to aisle, I observe the other shoppers. At two o’clock in the afternoon, these people are not in a hurry. It’s not like the frantic frenzy of Sainsbury’s on a busy Saturday. People drift about looking a bit like Godfrey from Dad’s Army. Time does not matter. I can ask someone to pass me something from the top shelf. They are delighted to do it whilst we share an observation about gratitude and helpfulness. A passing shopper may comment about the contents of my basket balanced precariously on the front of my scooter. It always raises a smile.

Why are these people so nice? I think they are so pleased that someone like me who is obviously disabled can actually interact on a social and witty level. We have so much doom and gloom thrown at us; especially through local media, which portrays the disabled as serial moaners. But most cases are circumstantial. We can laugh at ourselves.

This afternoon, I was touched by people’s kindness. Those of us who are disabled wear badges. These are mostly badges of courage and patience. I think others are genuinely happy to see us just getting on and being happy. And the best little thing of today? Passing me on the pavement was a couple with their little boy being pushed up the hill in a toy car. I just said “cool” and the mum’s face lit up.

Thank-you for reading.

Today

Today I’m thinking about the past. I’m not wallowing in it, I’m just thinking about it.

At heaven’s gate I come alive.

Above me the tender glow of love

Radiates its warmth and goodness.

From the rolling clouds above

Falls a gentle shower.

Each drop giving the heavenly scent of compassion.

The birds are singing a glorious ballad

Of eternal joy and grace.

Flowers blossom their fulfilment of dreams.

No more tears.

No more troubles or pain.

To those I leave behind;

Do not grieve.

For one day we shall be together.

And the sun will shine in our hearts.

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At the end of the long road.

In August of 2012, I was declared unfit to teach. It’s an unfortunate phrase. It sounds more of a moral judgement alluding to deep flaws in my methods and motivation. But it’s the phrase used by Kent Occupational Health and I had to accept it. It was like a burst of instant glory.

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This is my favourite goal photograph.

Previously, I would arrive at school and then think about getting out of the car. It took its time. The self-doubt and the butterflies called me to just start the engine and go back home. This is where the sense of responsibility kicked in. I knew that my mad class with its collection of eccentrics and individuals used to eat supply teachers for breakfast. They trusted me and no-one else. That was the motivation.

trust-and-verify

Someone in the staff room once wondered why they behaved for me and went wild for others. They were genuinely resentful that I didn’t have to deal with the carnage  certain individuals created outside the classroom.

Inevitably such motivation overrode all my internal demons. I was under intense pressure to conform with the modern regime of slavish recording and assessment.fat-sleeping-teacher

Modern teaching was becoming obsessed with learning objectives and built everything around a point of reference which measured the success rate of the teacher. Trying to marry this with keeping a lively, if sometimes random learning environment was impossible.

Was I ever going to interrupt my inspirational teaching to race back to the desk and record every child’s exact point of attainment? To quote one of the regular characters from that great comedy sketch show Goodness Gracious Me: “Was I bollocks.”

lazy-cat

There was one character in the class. She was very much one of many loners in my charge. She had a fairly relaxed and I think rather admirable attitude to homework. One day she actually brought some in. Within seconds of it touching my desk, Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus was blasting out of my whiteboard speakers. She laughed deep and long. The humour was so important. It was more important than recording sub sub sub levels. In fact I think that is why on the last day of the year, she had plundered her parents wine rack to present me with a nice Italian red with a little message scribbled on the label.348s

Of course, not every child left me as a friend but you can only do your best. Unfit to teach? Maybe I should quote the father from the Royle Family? You know the phrase.

But the following September came and I didn’t have to get out of bed half way through the night because it took so much time to get dressed and prepare to go out. At that time, the government were waging a war on the work-shy. They were baying vociferously against the benefits culture. I can’t remember which politician created the image of those lying behind closed curtains whilst the world around them went to work but that’s how I felt. Was I guilty? A bit; but it was so much fun.dog-sleeping-in-bed-today-stock-tease-151211_cd9853550900e9ecd3678bd8dd6ead7b-today-inline-large

One by one I heard the flats empty out as car and van trundled down the drive way and into the road.

Now trying to organise one’s retirement through ill-health was going to be a long process. There was the Access to Work to get through. Fair enough, steps were made to explore the possibility of me working with proper support. There would be an electric Davros type wheelchair, magnifying readers and a whole host of things to help my brain fog. I had to go into school to have these assessments and each time I did, I would be pulled to one side and diplomatically castigated. The inferences were decidedly pernicious.

It was claimed that the teacher filling in for me wanted her life back. Now I know that teacher well. She was doing a great job but would have been looking forward to the time when she could revert to a less hectic timetable. There would never have been any blame or responsibility apportioned to me.

But “get her life back”? Erm yes, I’d like a bit of that please. I’d like to be able to move freely between forests of desks and chairs and go home exhausted for the right reasons.26121

Then there was the business of dealing with county. In two days, I made five phone calls to the same number to deal with one issue. I had five different answers. Conveniently, it all came together after six months on full pay.

Then there were the comments. These tasteless insensitive comments have been part of my life since being awarded disability benefits. New car every three years? It’s all right for some. Retiring early? It’s all right for some. Paying off your mortgage? It’s all right for some. Free bus pass and discount railcard? It’s all right for some. Blue badge? It’s all right for some. Afford a cleaner? It’s all right for some. You get the idea. Well yes it is all right for some.

I would very much like to be able to walk about and carry a cup of tea. I miss my mountains and my cycling. I miss the feeling of getting home after a day in Snowdonia and relaxing in a hot bath.

So the end of my long road led to a number of dead ends. It took a long time to find a way through to some semblance of normal life. The mental toll has been telling but I can still cook. I can still travel. I can still make others laugh. I still have a lot to be grateful for. Thank-you for reading.

The long Road.

When I was about ten, my mum was taking my brothers and I to see our Uncle George. We were on a bus. It was a Ribble bus. Now if you were on a Ribble or a Crosville bus, your journey was extra special. You were going beyond the limits of your town or city. Indeed, we were going to Maghull. Uncle George lived with his family on Deyes Lane. Now out of the window, I saw a road sign. And it said “Deyes Lane”. I insisted that we should get off as we had arrived. But Mum remained passive. “It’s a long road,” she said in her usual matter-of-fact style. True enough, we waited a bit longer and alighted much nearer to my uncle’s cottage.

I’m thinking of this because my final road in teaching was by no means short. Five years ago, I had just taken on my new year six class.

It was not a smooth start. I needed some time off because of family trauma. When I went back, the class welcomed me with open arms. And what a class it was. It was considered to be a “difficult” class. All classes have their problems but this class seemed to have more than its fair share. But I’m not going to go on about it; it was another year of teaching and I was going to approach it with my usual mixture of discipline, demand and humour.

This was my twenty-second year of teaching and for each of those years, I had been fighting and often denying my increasing physical limitations. Admitting to weakness was out of the question. I had gone into teaching to work my socks off for the great cause of education. As the class teacher, I was king of the castle; a leader to encourage, drive and guide my troops through the jungle of emotions, triumphs and insecurities of the school year. For the year sixes, it’s ten percent of their young lives. So much happens in that time.

But I had a feeling of encroaching darkness. For years, I had been a blue sky thinker. The pride I had gained from consistently doing the teaching, year in year out, was being eroded by the truth. The truth? I had a chronic illness. You can’t hide from chronic illness.

Every day there would be bleak moments. I was running out of excuses. In the run-in to the end of the school day, we would be building up to a positive conclusion. I would be praising the day’s efforts and offering encouragement; today is over, we start afresh tomorrow. A list of jobs would be forming in my head. It would be a mixture of assessment and preparation. I would always be excited by the plans I had.

But as the years went on, I began to crave the peace. Once the children were out the door, I would sit with my head on the desk wondering how on earth I was going to get through the next two hours without the adrenaline hit of leading the class. I felt the clouds silently forming overhead. The limbs wound grow leaden. A searing heat would attack my legs. I would breathe slowly and deliberately, trying to come to terms with becoming a failure.

On any day of the final road, I had to ask for things to be done for me. Bring me some tea, can you pass me that file or can I have that pile of books. That pile of books represented a mountain of intellectual exactitude. I had to mark them. Not only that, I had to write constructive comments and refer to learning objectives. Learning objectives? I was struggling to read anything.

The blurred vision was becoming a problem. I was lucky to get home in one piece. We’ve all seen the special effects in films when the picture goes monochrome but the white becomes dazzling. That was my road ahead. So I had this growing sense of falling. My grip had gone. The effort to just present myself as a normal person was draining me.

As usual, the children were delightful. I have always been determined that the deviant children, despite the causes of their disaffection, would not dominate the class. I focused quietly on the hard workers. I would try to build their confidence and show them what was possible. Most of all, I would inject a regular dose of humour. But even smiling was exhausting.

The most common symptom of Multiple Sclerosis is fatigue. It’s the most common but still the least understood. People would look at me with suspicious disbelief.

Three times a year we had pupils’ progress reviews. The second one of the year was in April of the spring term. Usually, my teaching assistant would carry all my files to the head’s office for me. But on this day she’d been nabbed by a school trip. I managed to carry them to the main entrance. It’s like being wide awake but feeling part of you drift off to sleep. It was the three steps up that killed me. The files and everything else went all over the floor. I heard school life continue around me; the office business, a raised voice in the classroom or the encouragement of a PE lesson. But I felt alone. no-one was going to come to help. Why should they? They had business to do. I struggled down the corridor. And it’s now I can say that one person saw that I was struggling.

The rest of them were too busy with their own importance. They had questions to ask, data to analyse and notes to take. Who cared if I was struggling? Well one teacher did. After the ordeal of the kangaroo court, she helped returned my files back to the classroom. She knew. I still feel honoured by her compassion and understanding. All past differences were cast aside. Respect.

The rest of the school year was a struggle. It was a struggle to keep up the teacher’s face whilst I was being openly criticised and doubted. In truth, I had been deceiving myself. The endgame was fast upon me. After seeing them go on the last day, I staggered to the staff room. I looked round. I knew I wouldn’t be going back. thank-you for reading.