Tuesday, 13 March 2018

West Ham in a state of meltdown both on and off the pitch

West Ham’s  defeat against Burnley last Saturday sees the team drawn further back into the relegation mire. Something, they appeared to have escaped a few weeks ago.

The situation is still retrievable, with another three wins likely to take the club to safety. Prior to the Burnley game, fans saw that game plus Southampton and Stoke at home as being the most likely route to that goal.

The other games include home matches against both Manchester clubs and away games at Chelsea, Arsenal and Leicester.

The most dramatic finale ofcourse would see West Ham having to win their final game at home against Everton, managed by the club’s former boss Sam Allardyce, to stay up. The dramatic choreography would be perfect, with Allardyce potentially getting revenge, particularly over West Ham’s owners, who did not treat him well in his final months at the club.

This scenario could also see West Ham manager David Moyes relegated by the club where he made his name as a manager. West Ham fans and owners will be hoping though they will be safe long before that final game.

The bad form on the pitch must be a consequence of the turmoil off the field. There was due to be a march against the club’s owners before the Burnley game but after meetings with the protest groups concerned this was called off. However, the discontent quickly resurfaced in the stadium during the game. The first Burnley goal saw a lone spectator run onto the pitch before being apprehended with the help of captain Mark Noble. Then another came on set on planting the corner flag on the centre spot. Hardly a pitch invasion – as reported in much of the media.

Where the real protest took place was in front of the director’s box, where a couple of thousand people quickly assembled. The situation looked as though it was likely to get out of hand as more and more spectators filled the confined space. Security staff were nowhere to be seen, with the police sauntering over about 15 minutes after it all started. The aggression of the spectators was palpable, with calls for the board to step down. Coins were thrown by some individuals,

The situation only diffused, when the owners David Gold and David Sullivan left the directors box, leaving former West Ham hero Sir Trevor Brooking to face the fans alone.

The seeds of the fans frustration lie in the move to the Olympic Stadium from Upton Park and the failure of the club to invest in the team. One fan summarised the latter situation well when he spoke of the owners talking in grandiose terms about playing in the Champions League, whilst running the club like they did Birmingham City, when it was in the lower divisions.

The owners have certainly failed to lay out the money required for West Ham to compete in the Premier League. The net spend since the club moved to its new home in August 2016 has been £29 million. Over the past year the club has a net lay out of around £13 million.

Much of the decision making baffles fans, none more so than the failure to sign defenders in the January transfer window. Indeed, while the team has continued to leak goals, experienced defender Jose Fonte has been let go for £5 million, whilst 36 year old Patrice Evra has been recruited. Three of the back five are the wrong side of 30.

Manager David Moyes, who replaced Slaven Bilic in November, has done a good job trying to steady the ship. He has been tacticly shrewd with the players at his disposal, moving the club to within reach of safety.

Whilst he said nothing publically, the manager must have been pretty aghast to see two of his strikers leaving in January for around £30 million, whilst one raw replacement was brought in for £10 million from Preston. The club also recruited Joao Mario on loan from Inter Milan.

The move from the old Boleyn ground to the London Stadium was always going to be difficult but in order to make it work the club needed to spend big. If the club had become a top six competing side, complaints about the stadium would have reached nothing like the present crescendo. However, in the modern world of football, to achieve such goals requires the owners to trust their managers and spend large amounts of money. The owners of West Ham have done neither.

What it looks like to the fans is that the owners have tied up a nice deal on the sale of the old ground. The gate receipts have increased substantially, with the average attendance rising from 35,000 to 57,000 at the London Stadium. Meantime, the club is getting more than £100 million a season from TV rights. In effect the club has been a cash cow for the owners.

Fans increasingly do not think the owners care about the club. The cry goes up that they are only in it for the money.

In terms of club management, which comes under vice chair person Karren Brady, things could also work a lot better. The security problems seen on Saturday reminded many of the teething problems when the club first moved into the stadium. Though security is largely the responsibility of the stadium, rather than the football club.

There have been PR nightmares punctuating the owners tenure at the club, with the recent drug test failings and racist comments from later sacked director of player recruitment Tony Henry damaging the reputation recently.

The fans have been particularly irritated to see members of David Sullivan’s family tweeting information about the club out over social media. These type of happenings, send the message that the owners see the club as their personal play thing rather than a community based club with a world-wide following.

There is much that needs to be done to put things right at West Ham. The relationship between owners and fans has broken down, possibly irrevocably. However, as the situation at Newcastle, where owner Mike Ashley has been trying - without success - to sell the club , shows there are not a lot of buyers out there. The fans are probably stuck with the owners until they decide to call time on the project.

In the short term, the aim must be to secure Premiership safety and probably give Moyes a decent long term contract. He must also be given responsibility for player transfers, with a substantial amount of money being made available.

If things turned round on the pitch, then the London Stadium might not seem such a bad place. It must be hoped for the sake of the club that it can make the new stadium home because as anyone who has been to the building site that used to be the old ground knows, there is certainly no going back.

The logistics of the stadium need improving and PR operation tightened. Also the owners Gold and Sullivan and their families need to take a step back from the public spotlight. If all of these changes can be made then things should start moving in the right direction for the club. Failure to do so could see the West Ham playing to a half empty stadium in the Championship.   

published in Morning Star, 15/3/2018 - "Meltdown on and off the pitch" 

Saturday, 10 March 2018

West Ham fans discontent with the board explodes off the pitch, contributing to a 3-1 defeat at home to Burnley

West Ham 0-3 Burnley

This game was noteworthy more for the action off the pitch, than on.

The game began with an emotional tribute to the late great Bobby Moore, who died 25 years ago. But by the 70th minute, things had unravelled, with  a full scale revolt against the clubs owners underway.

Several thousand fans turned their backs to the pitch and focused their anger toward the directors box, angrily calling for the owners and board to step down.

The tension rose further  as Burnley added a third goal, with things only beginning to calm down once the club’s owners David Gold and David Sullivan had left the directors box. Sir Trevor Brooking left alone to placate the seething masses.

The game began brightly enough for the home side, with Joao Mario setting Marko Arnautovic away, only to see his shot blocked by Burnley keeper Nick Pope.

Manuel Lanzini was later foiled by the impressive Pope.

The troubles started for the home side 20 minutes into the second half when a long ball from the back, saw substitute Chris Wood get in front of Angelo Ogbonna to neatly cross for the incoming Ashley Barnes to crash the ball home.

The goal was a signal for a fan to come onto the pitch, prompting an angry Mark Noble to make a lunge to apprehend him. The protester proved difficult to stop, only being finally apprehended as he tried to get back into the stand.

The disruption  though badly effected the West Ham players concentration because within a minute Burnley added to their lead. Barnes pass across the area to Johann Berg Gudmundsson who in turn found Wood, who finished the move.

The final goal saw a Gudmundsson drive spilled by Joe Hart to the predatory Wood who finished easily.

West Ham manager David Moyes would not be drawn on the off the pitch troubles, suffice to say that fans must not cross the line onto the pitch.

He acknowledged that the fan coming onto the pitch decisively impacted on the result, with his side going two down within the minute.

Moyes felt his side failed to take their chances and paid the price. “We are going to certainly have to defend better. We have attacking players, who can score but certainly didn’t today. Some players were not at their best,” said Moyes, who admitted it was Hart’s mistake that cost the third goal.

The manager called on the fans and everyone at the club to pull together. He admitted if the team had won the game the off the field activities would probably not have happened.

“I don’t know all the politics of West Ham but the majority of the time I have been here I have enjoyed it, not the last couple of weeks though,” said Moyes.

Burnley manager Sean Dyche told how being proactive from the bench had worked for him in the last two games. “You find different ways of winning,” said Dyche.

*West Ham fans turn on Gold and Sullivan - published in Morning Star, 12/3/2018

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Former Catholic Association for Racial Justice chair asks why the Catholic Church in England and Wales is turning its back on racial justice

The former chair of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) Margaret Ann Fisken has questioned why the Church is turning its back on racial justice at such a crucial time.
The former CARJ chair reacted angrily to the news that the Bishops Conference of England and Wales are now cutting the funding, having taken agency status away from CARJ last autumn.
“Racism is still a fundamental issue in public life. It is alive and well and in direct conflict with Catholic Social Teaching. To me, and I’m sure to many others, CARJ’s loss of agency status is a disturbing development. Who will now be the official voice of the Church on these issues?” said Mrs Fisken. “The sin of racism is something that the Church must not only continue to speak out against, it must also seek to set an example by engaging with the issues in practical ways."
The comments came after it was revealed that CARJ has now been reduced from the main recipient of the proceeds from the annual Racial Justice Sunday collection to being one of a number of “external organisations,” which can apply for funds from a grant drawn from the proceeds of that collection.
The latest move follows the decision of the BCEW back in the autumn to take away agency status from CARJ. At that time, the bishops agreed that CARJ would receive some of the money from the Racial Justice Sunday collection.

CARJ has largely been funded from the proceeds of the collection, which has topped £100,000 some years, since it was first instituted in 1995.
A spokesperson for the Bishops Conference confirmed that: “a proportion of the funds raised by Racial Justice Sunday will be used to set up a grant system, which would allow external partners to apply for funding for specific projects pursuing the mission of the Church to support those affected by and to fight racial injustice.”

The BCEW then confirmed that CARJ would be one of the “external partners” who could apply for these funds.

The BCEW had previously indicated that its priorities now lie with work on refugees and human trafficking. Racial Justice Sunday has also been moved from its traditional date on the second Sunday in September to the 28 January this year.

CARJ activities, which have included confronting racism in the Church and beyond, doing outreach work with schools and parishes, running the Travellers Support Network and the Urban Network, are now being put at risk.

CARJ works in dioceses and parishes to support people from diverse backgrounds. CARJ aims to empower black and minority ethnic Catholics to give them an effective voice in the Church and in the wider society.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Hope for Wanstead Park with new anti-flooding and Parklands plans

It was difficult not to afford a wry smile at the recent presentation by Epping Forest superintendent Paul Thomson on the major measures now about to be taken to avoid flooding from the lakes in Wanstead Park. Afterall, the concern of most visiting the park over recent years has been the lack of water in the lakes, not a surplus.
That said, the park's custodian, the Corporation of London, does now have to act to ensure safeguards are taken regarding the flood risk, particularly relating to the Heronry, Perch and Ornamental lakes. These are classified as high risk raised reservoirs. The various actions required come under statutory obligation and have to be completed in three years. The cost could come in over £10 million. Failure to act, though, will see fines imposed by the Environment Agency.
It must be hoped that application for Heritage lottery funding will run alongside this work. These funds will be used for the non-statutory work.
These revelations at the recent Friends of Wanstead Park (FOWP) AGM of the water works and the Parkland Plan were certainly a cause for hope. 
At last, it looks as though some of the outstanding issues of the park could now be addressed. The Parkland Plan looks, impressive, almost amounting to a wish list of things that would help to improve the park. 
FOWP chair John Meehan was right though to push the Paul Thomson on real plans for action -particularly relating to the non-statutory work. The Corporation has something of a reputation for slowness when it comes to taking action in the park, so they will no doubt need constant nudges and reminders over the coming years if the wishes are to become  reality. But the future certainly looks brighter than for some time.

*published - Wanstead and Woodford Guardian - 8/3/2018

Friday, 2 March 2018

Obituary of Alan Cornish

1/1/1940 to 14/2/2018

Played football with Bobby Moore, Liberal Party politician, environmental activist and  successful businessman – these are just some of the highlights of the life of Alan Cornish, who died recently at the age of 78.

Alan Cornish was a man of the community, always involved, a participant, not a spectator on life.

I first came across Alan as part of the Wanstead Park Community Project, established in 2005 by Stuart Monro, Alan and a number of others concerned about the state of the park.

The group was about the preservation and promotion of the history, ecology and archaelogy of the park.

Alan was passionate about the park. His understanding of the carefully balanced water system - that saw flows between the lakes - was second to none. In 1978, he co-authored, with James Berry, The Lake System of Wanstead Park & the Mystery of the Heronry Pond, that remains a key work to this day.

More recently he urged examination of  the impact of the drainage system in neigbouring Northumberland Avenue on water being lost from the Heronry lake and highlighted the need to clear drains around the Lake House estate. He also arranged for repair of the overspill channel from the Basin lake on the golf course.

A keen historian, Alan wrote, Tudors – Twenty-Eight Days, about the meeting of Elisabeth and Mary prior to the latter taking over as Queen. In 1982 Alan produced the first edition of Wanstead Park: A Chronicle, a detailed timeline of people and events connected with the park which has been updated and reprinted at intervals ever since.

Alan urged the re-establishment of the member based Friends of Wanstead Park in 2009. He became the first chair, remaining in position for the next four years before passing onto new blood. 

Putting it politely Alan was forthright in his views. He could be blunt to the point of alienating people, who may have been in broad agreement with what he was proposing. However, he knew his stuff and some could mistake his passion for plain argumentativeness. He was though always committed to the welfare of the community in which he lived.  

Alan played an active role in politics, becoming a lifelong Liberal supporter after he left the army at the age of 23 in 1963. At one point he was employed by the Liberal Party, undertaking the role of driver for the then leader Jo Grimmond.

Locally, Alan stood as a Liberal and later Liberal Democrat candidate for Redbridge Council. He also stood as a Liberal candidate for the Greater London Council. In 1979, he contested the Parliamentary seat against the Tory incumbent of the time Patrick Jenkins. Alan was never elected but together with wife Janet was the bedrock of the Liberal cause in Wanstead.

Another successful piece of local activism saw Alan taking a lead role in the campaign to ensure that the M11 Link Road went under Wanstead in the cut and cover tunnel that now exists. He supported the Lister-Goldsmith tunnel option. Opposition to the desecration of Wanstead by the new road became a family affair, with son Neale becoming a direct action protester against the road.

Alan was brought up in Barking, going to South East Essex County Technical School. He had a bit of a reputation as a naughty boy at school as was evidenced by his sister Anne, who coming to the school 12 years after her brother was asked directly by the head teacher whether she was related. Alan was remembered all those years later for leading the teachers a merry dance.

Also, in those early years, Alan used to kick a football around the streets outside his house with the legendary Bobby Moore.

After leaving the army, Alan became involved in the travel business and as a transport consultant. He worked for a number of companies, including Hoverlloyd – in the early days of the development of the hovercraft. Alan took some particularly powerful pictures of the hovercraft from Goodwin Sands. Later he worked for Cosmos and Viagresor.

In 1980, Alan set up his own local travel business, Corona Holidays, which specialised in the Canary Islands. The company was sold some years ago.

Alan has suffered poor health for the past five years, being diagnosed with Parkinsons. He fought valiantly against his ill health, ably supported by his wife and family.

Alan Cornish is survived by his widow, Janet, and his sons Adrian and Neale.

*The funeral will take place at 1 on Thursday 8th March 2018  the City of London Cemetry, North Chapel. Reception at 2 at Wanstead Cricket Club, 1 Overton Drive, Wanstead.

* published Wanstead & Woodford + Ilford Recorder - 5/3/2018
also - Wanstead Village Directory

Friday, 23 February 2018

Blue Planet inspired plastics revolution shows way to more sustainable way of living

The BBC series Blue Planet II drew dramatic attention to the damage being done to the environment by plastics.

The response to the programme and much news coverage has seen the use of plastics begin to drop, as people look to use other degradable or reusable material instead.

One of the beneficiaries has been the traditional milk round, the milk man or woman has suddenly become in demand as people return to reusable glass bottles. A number of milk rounds across the land have reported a sudden growth in people using their services.

There have also been moves stop using plastic straws in cafes and coffee shops. Some shops are putting in water taps so that people can fill up their bottles. The consciousness of a need to live a more simple, less destructive, life has suddenly dawned.

This move toward a more environmentally friendly way of living, at one with the planet, is most welcome. It is line with the writings of environmentalists Wendell Berry and Paul Kingsnorth, who both call for a return to more traditional ways of living that are in harmony, rather than in conflict, with the earth.

Kingsnorth moved with his family to Ireland a few years ago, where he works a small holding. Berry, who lives in Kentucky, also puts the basic principles of respect for the earth into practice. He has been working the soil and writing about the subject for more than 50 years. His most recent book: The World Ending Fire is made up of a compilation of articles going back to the 1960s – the prophetic nature of which ring ever truer today.

In England, Ed and Barbara Echlin take a similar approach to life in Bexhill, Sussex.

The developments  on plastic mark a move in the direction of a sustainable planet. Other initiatives of a similar kind are those to reduce car emissions. In the last column, I gave the example of Beal School in east London that has succeeded in reducing car journeys to and from school, whilst also increasing walking.

Some might regard these developments as almost back to the future. This maybe true but the moves are positive. We can wonder at a world that has gone from children routinely walking to school to one where so many go by car.

It has been the excesses of the consumer society that have caused so many of the problems we now have in the modern world.

Climate change and pollution are two obvious results of the consumer society and the uncontrolled neo-liberal market economy.

In his book, Confessions of a recovering environmentalist, Kingsnorth questions the whole concept of progress, which has come to run in tandum with destroying the planet over recent times.

Ofcourse it would be wrong to think that all that is needed to put things right is to go backwards. Many hanker to return to a past mythical time when they believe all was right with the world. This though is wrong, there are things that have been lost during our relentless pursuit of material wealth. These things need to be addressed and put right, but that is not to say that returning to past decades would be good for us all.

There was much abuse of different types going on in those days. There is no bygone golden age.

What we do need is to reconnect with the earth and our own humanity. This means respecting each other and God’s creation. A move to a world of mutual respect and thriving, rather than competitive, often self-destructive, development

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The question should be about how we can all live better together in community, not for how long people should be expected to work

There has been much debate recently about living longer and working till you drop. The whole context of extending the retirement age is ridiculous, given that 50% of jobs are going to disappear in the next couple of decades, why should anyone contemplate people working into their 70s and beyond?
The ongoing automation revolution is bringing about dramatic developments across the world, like the introduction of a universal basic income – this is in order to sustain capitalism.
How does making people work longer fit into this scenario – in reality the opposite should be the case, people having more leisure time and retiring early.
The ageing conversation is also always conducted within the comfy confines of white collar work. What construction worker wants to be working at 70?
The idea that everyone is living longer and this is in some way an irreversible trend is questionable. Since the austerity agenda was adopted by the Tories in 2010, the extension of life expectancy has halted and in many areas of the country is in reverse.
There is also the increasingly sedentary nature of so much work added to the obesity epidemic across society  – how when these things are taken into account can the assertion that everyone will live longer moving forward be sustained?
The baby boomers (born between 1945 and the late 1960s) are a long living generation but there is every chance that those falling outside that period may not be so fortunate. Much will depend on whether our society is run for the common good of all or for the benefit of a privileged few. Certainly, the conversation going forward should be about how everyone can live together better in community, not for how long they can work.

Published - Independent - 21/2/2018
Morning Star - 26/2/2018