Monday 24 September 2012

Andrew Mitchell: What a pleb!

Did you see Tory Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell's public statement today?

I managed to see it just as I was about to leave for work this morning at 8:00. Ok he did apologise for not showing the police officer in question enough respect; but what we all wanted to know was whether he called the officer a pleb or not.

We still don't have the answer.

As I turned off the tv to head out I thought to myself 'what a pleb'.

This is such a ridiculous incident, but it's the sort of thing that can begin life as a trivial matter before escalating into something quite serious. Andrew Mitchell seems to be doing his best to drag this out.

As Chief Whip of the Conservative Party, his role is to maintain the MP discipline in the Party. The role requires someone who isn't afraid to step on a few toes and colorful forthright language is only to be expected.

His statement today hasn't brought a line under this episode, and what he did or didn't say still remains unclear.

He said he didn't use the words attributed to him, which includes the word pleb, but this contradicts the quotes by the police officer. Is he calling the officer a liar? Or is he still not being honest about what he did say?

This story should have been put to bed at the end of last week, but the longer it goes on the more damaging it becomes. Not only for Andrew Mitchell, by also the Conservatives who are already sensitive to the charge that they are arrogant and out of touch with ordinary people.

The 'Plebgate' story subsequently took a dramatic turn when details began to emerge that Andrew Mitchell may have been the victim of a conspiracy to destroy his career.

Plebgate: Andew Mitchell claims he was victime of police ‘stich-up’

Saturday 15 September 2012

Hillsborough disaster: How we used to see football fans

After 23 years we finally discovered the real truth about the Hillsborough disaster after this week's independent panel report.

I didn't really have any expectations about what the report was going to say, but I was still shocked by what it said.

We discovered this was a full on cover up and conspiracy by South Yorkshire Police. They went out of their way to discredit Liverpool fans and deflect attention and blame from their own failings and mistakes.

It's little wonder the families of the 96 victims who have spent years fighting to establish the truth, now feel vindicated.

If there's one thing that's stood out for me with the verdict - it's the contempt and lack of sympathy that South Yorkshire Police and sections of the government and press had for the victims.

It highlighted just how much football has changed since the 1980s, particularly the image and treatment of fans in today's game.

I got into football in the mid to late 80s. Compared to today the game seems a world away from the glitz and glamour of today's Premier League.

Football simply wasn't fashionable. The game was blighted by hooliganism and many stadiums up and down the country simply weren't fit for purpose.

Although shocked by the cover up by South Yorkshire Police, looking back it wasn't a a surprise.

Football fans were seen as scum and hooligans - so to blame the disaster on the fault of Liverpool fans fitted nicely into many people's expectations of how football fans behaved during the 70s and 80s.

Today in the more sanitised world of Premier League football, fans are seen as consumers who are buying a product. At the time of the Hillsborough disaster, football fans were seen as a problem.

Crowds were controlled as if they were animals and facilities didn't take into account the comfort and experience of fans - nobody cared!

A tragedy like Hillsborough couldn't happen today, not with all-seater stadiums. If something tragic like that did happen the reaction of the Police and the establishment in this country I think would be very different.

There would be more empathy and sympathy. Football today is sophisticated and cosmopolitan, in the 80s its working class identity was still very evident and some could argue that under Mrs Thatcher's Conservative government, there was an attack on traditional working class culture and its institutions of which football was part of.

As a football fan who remembers Hillsborough, the event is incredibly sad. I read a feature in today's Times from a Liverpool fan who stood in the Leppings Lane stand and almost died during the crush, his account almost brought me to tears it was so harrowing.

I'm glad that the families concerned can now feel vindicated, and that football in this country has moved on and improved for the better since the disaster.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

US Open: The wait is over - Murray wins first Slam

What is going on with sport in this country?

We've gone from a nation of plucky losers to winners in the space of one amazing summer of sporting triumph.

Andy Murray added to this success by winning the US Open last night. The first British tennis player to win a Grand Slam in 76 years.

Andy Murray receives the US Open trophy

Like a lot of tennis fans, I've had sympathy for Murray in that he's playing in a golden era of men's tennis, with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic taking the game to new levels. It's this reason that explains why he's found it so hard to win a major.

Had Murray been playing ten years ago, I'm sure he would have won a Grand Slam a lot sooner.

Will his success have any bearing on tennis in this country? Call me cynical but I doubt it.

The thing that I admire about Murray is that his success has been achieved, despite coming from a country that has no history in the modern era of producing world class male tennis players.

We can all relax, he's finally done it now. If he can stay fit and healthy there's a good chance he'll add more Grand Slam titles in the next 5 years.

Sunday 9 September 2012

London 2012: The greatest Paralympic Games ever

I've just finished watching the closing ceremony of this year's Paralympics. There's no doubt this has been the biggest and greatest Paralympics anyone has ever seen.

What I've liked about the Paralympics is that it stands alone on its own merits as a competition. It's not an inferior or second rate version of the Olympics. It's separate with its own standards and doesn't need to be judged against those of able bodied athletes.

After the euphoria of the Olympics I wanted to make an effort to watch the

To begin with I found some it challenging to watch. I felt a little uncomfortable watching swimmers with no arms or cyclists with one only one leg competing.

I didn't want to feel like I was watching a 'freakshow' or watch with a sense of sympathy. At the end of the day they're athletes who have a desire to perform and compete to the best of their abilities.

Thankfully this feeling soon passed. After a while I accepted I was just a sports fan watching sport. Disability wasn't the issue.

Wheelchair basketball was just basketball with players in wheelchairs. Sprinters running on blades where just sprinters running on blades - the disability didn't really matter. It was sport, competition with athletes just getting on with it.

What I'm really proud of is the support that the British public has given to the Paralympics. I can't imagine there's been a Games with bigger attendance figures.

So looking back at the last week and a half what if anything has the Paralympics taught us?

There are all sorts of variations and differences to what we accept as the norm of physical appearance.

We know that human beings come in all shapes and sizes but the Paralympics has taken that idea on just a little bit further.

It's naive to think that a few weeks of sport are going to transform the lives of millions of ordinary people with disabilities, but hopefully as a society we can now have a more positive image of disability and not view it as a barrier or obstacle preventing people from living successful and fulfilling lives.