Tuesday 20 April 2021

There will always be fans to watch a 'super league'

All through the days of Martin O'Neill I had a season ticket at Leicester City, I loved sitting in the kop at the old Filbert Street and watching my generation of legendary players: Steve Walsh and Muzzy Izzet, Matty Elliott with the dishevelled Ian Marshall and Steve Claridge up front.

Every football fan has their 'generation'. I carried on having a season ticket into the days of Peter Taylor and Craig Levein, but for me the departure of Martin O'Neill was always going to be the end of my real love affair with Leicester.

I kept watching them of course and occassionally I would a match at the new Walkers Stadium, but my heart was never really in it again.

When Sven-Goran Eriksson rocked up in the late noughties my interest perked up once more and following his arrival in October of 2010, as Leicester lay at the lower end of the Championship, I thought there may be an opportunity for him to build something.

At the close season it seemed as though the board had given SGE a bottomless pot of money and he made signing after signing after signing. Things were looking up.

But the 2011/12 season didn't start particularly well and only a few weeks in, almost a year to the day since his arrival, Leicester were lying just outside the playoff zone and the Swede was let go 'by mutual consent'.

That was the last day I would ever claim to be a Leicester City fan. What was the point in spending all that money and not seeing the project through? Was a year the most anyone would ever get? Did I want to give my hard earned cash to a club without a plan? What pathetic short termism I thought.

Leicester City have done well since. I usually check the scores and at a push I could probably name a handful of the players, but that's as far as my interest goes.

I was pleased when they won the league, but I could never claim to be part of it. It's good they've reached the FA Cup Final and I would like them to win. But almost certainly I won't watch it, if I'm lucky I will be at a village cricket match, if not it will probably be digital box set of Criminal Minds for the fifth or sixth time.

A decade after SGE left Leicester City I'm no longer a football fan, to be honest these days I'm completely ambivalent to it. It has the same impact on me as the weather in China or who is at the top of the Brazilian hit parade.

So the news of an emerging Super League is, to me at least, irrelevant. 

I learnt years ago that the only thing that matters in football is money. And short term money at that.

If those 12 'super' clubs believe that they can make more money by going it alone then they will do, it's not about history or the purity of sport. It's about a cash and dividends for shareholders. 

And what each of those 12 clubs know is that is the view of the supporters too.

The fans will complain but eventually they will follow their club and pay a higher premium for it too - as long as they see star players from all over the world. And there will be plenty more in the global market willing to do exactly the same.

Because the truth is very few fans ever say that enough is enough. Almost none will ever say 'that's the very last penny my club every gets from me'.

And even if they do there is always a generation coming through with disposable income and nothing to do of a Saturday afternoon, they are searching for their 'special' generation of players. They just don't know it.

In October 2012 I said 'enough is enough, they don't get another penny' and, believe me, almost a decade later I would much rather be sat watching S4E2 of Criminal Minds on a cold winter Saturday afternoon than freezing my bits off at whatever Leicester's stadium is called these days.


Monday 22 February 2021

The truth about dog theft

"A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on it's shoes."

I’m seeing lots of stories about dog theft and whilst every one of them is traumatising for the owners it’s also right that we need to be realistic and, to a degree, allay fears.

First the bad news.

Dog theft has increased significantly during coronavirus (largely as a result of people being at home and being willing to pay 300 to 400% the normal price of puppies).

According to the BBC Leicestershire is one of the worst affected forces for dog theft, and undoubtedly breeders and kennels are at risk.

But for most of us dog theft thankfully remains relatively rare (in the first 7 months of 2020 the rate increased in the county from 22 cases to 41).

And indeed puppy smuggling from the EU is in all likelihood a much more attractive source for ruthless ‘breeders’ to source your exorbitantly priced puppy than as a result of theft.

Of course social media is never the source of accurate information but more about heightening the fear of something.

Yes, dog thefts have risen but there aren’t countless thieves roaming around out there under cover of darkness to steal your pet.

Do everything sensible with your dog, keep your garden gate shut, get a Ring doorbell etc. and the chances are you and your dog will be fine.

Of course this post isn’t going to get shared at all because it doesn’t say burglars are hiding in your shed. Sadly the ones that increase fear get shared thousands of times.

And the worries for most increase.

Sunday 21 February 2021

We all have a duty to stand up for children in care

When I first became a County Councillor I was fortunate enough to be appointed Chairman of the council's committee that scrutinised children's social services.

Shortly after I had started the role I was taken to one side by the rather wonderful Lead Member for Children and Families - a statutory role - for a quiet chat.

This longstanding councillor, and a nformer headteacher, asked me if I understood the seriousness of the role I had found myself in?

I replied that I thought I did, but a conversation later I realised that I very much did not. That conversation in many ways changed my views on life.

I'm eternally grateful to my council colleague for his counsel and wisdom that day (and since), and I would like to explain why.

Having worked in schools for years of course I was familiar with the concept of being 'a corporate parent'.

To the uninitiated a corporate parent is the body responsible for looking after a child who is in foster care or, say, a childrens' home when for whatever reason they are no longer living with their birth parents. 

I'm guessing that to many, if not most, councillors being a corporate parent - as indeed they are - is something quite intangible. You sort of know that you are, but it doesn't mean a great deal in practice.

The difference was that following my conversation with that experienced and devoted councillor I came to learn that being a corporate parent was very much a practical issue.

My colleague asked me to consider what I would and wouldn't do for my biological children? Obviously my reply was simple, there was nothing I wouldn't do to make sure that they were safe and well and had every opportunity in life that I could possibly provide for them.

He reminded me that actually, when a child is taken into care, it was us as corporate parents that should be willing to do the same. In many cases if we didn't, then who exactly would be sticking up for those kids?

But then he invited me to go one step further. He asked me if my biological kids had ever been through trauma? I was fortunate enough to reply that apart from the odd scraped knee or being told off by a teacher; no, they have had it relatively easy.

My colleague told me - and I saw many times in the following years - that inevitably a child who is taken into care will have had their early years defined by trauma. It may be they have witnessed domestic abuse, or have had birth parents who were drug or alcohol dependent. It may very well be the case that they have been victims of child sexual exploitation, or have even discovered a parent dead in bed.

Sadly none of those things are particularly uncommon.

And if any one of them happened to my biological children then what wouldn't I do to fight for them?

My colleague told me that day "When you are a corporate parent to the most vulnerable children in our society then you have to be a real parent to them too."

I've never forgotten those words and never will.

Because if I don't stand up for the most vulnerable kids in this country - thousands of whom have had the most horrific early life experience - then who will? 

What does it say about me as a human being?

During my time as a councillor a childrens' social care provider applied to convert a very nice family dwelling in my patch into a childrens' home for three teenage kids. The planning application outlined that the young people would, in all likelihood, have emotional and behavioural difficulties.

For heavens sake that's almost a given if you are a teenager living in care. You wouldn't be living there if you had the benefit a comfortable childhood. You simply wouldn't.

What struck me with that planning application was how vile and vitriolic neighbours were in their comments urging the council to refuse it.

'Those sort of children shouldn't live on our sort of estate.' 'Crime will increase.' 'The police will always be around.' 'It will drive the price of my property down.'

I may be paraphrasing slightly but everyone of those types of comments were made multiple times.

Numerous local residents asked me to object to the application on their behalf. I refused to do so. It was almost every neighbour calling for the application to be turned down for similar reasons to those above, frankly I was ashamed to say that I represented them.

Although I had stepped down as a councillor by the time the decision was made I was delighted the day the planning application was passed. It meant that vulnerable children who had the most horrific childhoods could live in a family setting - the best possible place for them to have a chance of recovering from the trauma they had lived through.

I've kept a track of that home since. For the most part there hasn't been problems in the community, neighbours generally forget that it is even there.

The sad thing is that the number of children in care is growing and the need for similar homes is increasing too. 

There have been two more similar applications in my old division since I stood down and the comments of neighbours never fails to nauseate me.

Below are just a few of the comments lifted word for word from actual objections:

"I realise that there is a need for such facilties, but why in the middle of a residential area...Where will it / does it end on this and any other pleasant housing residential area's. (sic)"

"we chose this house because of the type of area it was and how suitable it was to bring up our family. We found it to be a friendly and a care home will change this community environment for the worst."

"With this type of business being run on a small cul de sac I fear it will also affect the house price and ability to sell."

"The garden...is wholly unsuitable for use as (sic) chilrens' home since it cannot be secured or fenced off..."

"Sadly, I know there would be considerable antagonism towards the staff and children if this application were to be approved."

"We would be nervous and would not feel safe in our homes. It could affect the prices of properties and also the ability to sell those properties in the future."

"I appreciate that such facilities may need to be located somewhere, but am sure the are more appropriate places for them..."

"I am especially concerned for the safeguarding of the local residents, particularly as there are a large number of both young children and elderly residents..."

"Whilst I accept the opposing argument that the children have to be housed somewhere. I do not believe that this is the correct location for a home of this nature."

"This will also affect house prices in the area."

The sad thing is that I have no doubt that everyone of those neighbours will think of themselves as decent people, and they probably are.

It just saddens me tremendously that they think a childrens' home for the most vulnerable kids should be fenced like a prison, or that it will bring down the neighbourhood, or will lower property prices, or would in theory be fine somewhere else as long as it isn't here.

I wonder if any of them would want those sort of comments made about their children or grandchildren? Because it's only down to good fortune that it isn't.

The funny thing is I only ever became a corporate parent because I was elected as a representative of my community. The truth is that we should all have the same level of care for those kids whose lives have been so tough that they have been absorbed by a system.


Monday 7 December 2020

Britain has a bright future - deal or no deal

Back in 2016 I campaign in the EU Referendum for Remain.

Democracy is nothing without loser's consent, and when you lose as I did you must accept the winner's proposition. It was clear from the 24th of June 2016 that we must leave the European Union.

In campaigning to Remain I thought that Britain would be better off staying in the EU. But I believe in the wisdom of the masses and I can honestly say that I have never, before or since, hoped more that I was wrong.

Over four years later the United Kingdom has left the European Union and I fervently hope that collectively we can make our future  as an independent nation work. That's certainly what I, in my very small way, will be working for - it is what every other citizen of these islands should be doing too.

Of course with less than four weeks until the end of the transition period we are waiting for news of a future trading agreement with the EU.

An agreement with our nearest geographic partners would be preferable. But not at any cost.

The British Government has set out its red lines and broadly speaking they all relate to sovreignty. The Brexit that people voted for is one in which our nation is free to set its own course, being tied indefinitely to a foreign rule book doesn't fulfil that promise as desirable as that may be in the short term.

2020 has been a difficult year for all of us. Walking away from negotiations into No Deal isn't preferable, but it isn't the end of the world either.

Having gone from campaigning for Remain I'm confident that the United Kingdom has a bright future ahead of it. It's not worth compromising that future for the hurried want of a trading agreement.