Back At The Grove

At Halesowen Town’s ground The Grove you can still see where the top of a grassy bank at the far end marks the level of the pitch before it was lowered and levelled in 1986.  It had a hell of a slope in the old days. No wonder the team were virtually invincible at home. The problem was that the slope barred the club’s way to promotion so it had to go. The huge amount of soil that was removed in levelling the pitch was used to build a terraced bank along the eastern side of the ground. The construction of the bank and the lowering of the pitch gave the ground an enclosed cockpit-like feel. You are everywhere close to the play and have a good view. I was reminded today of how much I used to like this ground. It seemed a perfect venue for a local derby in the FA Cup,  for a game of cut and thrust, of twists and turns, a game that even merited a full preview in the Birmingham Mail.

As a neutral I was a little disappointed. 5-0 to Halesowen it finished and that was a fair scoreline. It could have been more. A stroll in the autumn sun? Not really, that would be unfair to Tipton who didn’t play simply because Halesowen didn’t let them. The Yeltz pressed, tackled, denied Tipton sustained possession, and, as the cliche has it, earned the right to play. This was a potentially difficult game and Halesowen’s performance correspondingly impressive. Having earned the right to play they did, and some of their attacking was a joy to watch.

After early pressure and missed chances Tipton’s number 5 opened the scoring with a superb looping header into the top corner from a long throw. Unfortunately he scored at the wrong end.  Before half time the Yeltz added a second. After the break Halesowen’s number 10, a player I think called Haseley, who had earlier missed a hat trick’s worth of easy chances scored a hat trick,. the second goal of which was a wonderful chipped volley from thirty yards out, as good a goal as I have seen at semi-professional level for many years, His third and Halesowen’s fifth was from a tap-in in injury time. By this time many spectators had lost interest and turned to their phones to catch up on the extraordinary happenings at Villa Park and Old Trafford.

I will, no doubt, be back. The football was good, the number 9 bus from Bearwood stops just over the road and there’s a real ale pub next to the ground. What’s not to like?


Not a Nice Man

I used to like David Blunkett, I really did. Some thirty years ago when he was the firebrand socialist leader of Sheffield City Council he seemed like a beacon of hope in the fight against Thatcherism. I admired him too for overcoming disability. I even heard him speak once, at Dudley, in 1987, talking socialist good sense as his dog Offa slept under the table.

In due course he succumbed to the siren call of the establishment. Power and money corrupted him. He was one of a depressing sequence of authoritarian Labour Home Secretaries on one occasion contemptuously dismissing civil liberties (freedom of speech, freedom from arbitrary detention and son) as ‘airy fairy’.

He has taken full advantage of the lucrative sinecures, sorry ‘consultancies’, that are available to him as a former Minister. He was also paid a huge advance for political memoirs that sold a desultory couple of thousand copies. Blunkett is clearly not short of a few bob these days.

That is not an issue for me. Blunkett was not the first socialist  to sell out and he won’t be the last. No, what appalled me were his comments at a meeting organised by Demos at the Labour Party Conference. He spoke in favour of anti-porn internet filters. There are a number of both philosophical and practical objections to these which have been much discussed elsewhere, here for example. As he warmed to his theme he waxed lyrical about a descent into Sodom and Gomorrha and made the extraordinary claim that the sexual licence of Weimar Germany was to blame for the rise of the Nazis and, by implication, for the vicious persecution of gay men, sex workers, transvestites and so on. In the Blunkett Weltanschauung a gay man sent to a camp and made to wear the pink triangle really only had himself to blame, presumably for kissing his boyfriend on a street in Weimar Berlin and disgusting all right thinking Germans. If Blunkett had extended this bizarre logic to the Jews there would, rightly, have been outrage. There should be anger at this too.

You can read about sex in Weimar Berlin here. Essentially it was a tolerant place where gay men., lesbians, trans people, kinky people and so on could freely and openly express their sexuality. Most rational people in 2013 might consider this a good thing.

Elsewhere in Europe this wasn’t possible, one reason why Christopher Isherwood moved there. Neither was it possible in most of Germany, particularly in those socially conservative areas that voted Nazi in large numbers by 1933. What went in Berlin didn’t necessarily go in Breslau, or Hannover. Blunkett’s .comments are not only offensive; they are historically inaccurate.

What Blunkett also needs to understand is that people with alternative sexualities are not ‘perverts’ who exist somehow outside society . They are our friends, neighbours and work colleagues. You know the friendly well spoken woman from two doors down, the one who told you she runs a business from home? She is a professional dominatrix. The man you see on the bus and chats about the football? He’s one of her regular clients. Outside the bedroom, outside the chamber they are just like you, just like me.

He also used the word ‘bestiality’. This means sex with animals. I can find nothing about sex with animals in Weimar Berlin. I think it unlikely that it happened. Neither do people today, be they gay, kinky or whatever abuse animals.

Many sexually alternative people genuinely love animals. I read recently about a professional dominatrix (and maker of adult films) who is a dog lover and spends a couple of afternoons a week  as a volunteer dog walker at her local dog sanctuary. Why does she do this? I suggest that it is because she is a caring person, a nice person. And that, I am afraid, is not something I can any longer say about David Blunkett.

I Changed My Name In Search of Fame

It is 26th March 1972. An English band has just played a disastrous gig in Zurich and decided to call it a day. In three years of recording and touring they had built up a loyal if rowdy following and had a reputation of being an exciting live band even if this was largely lost on the Swiss. On the other hand the albums they had recorded were a mixed bag, a few pearls amidst a lot of dross. The band themselves knew that their music lacked direction. In addition there was growing tension between certain members of the band and their charismatic lead vocalist.  So they decided to split.

But they didn’t.  David Bowie was a big fan and when ne heard they were quitting offered them a song. So they carried on, signed to CBS and released it. It became a hit and the band carried on for two more years. The song was All the Young Dudes and the band was Mott the Hoople.

In 1974, after a number of personnel changes, the band split, this time for good. Well that’s what we all thought. In 2009 the original members decided to reform to play two nights at the Hammersmith Apollo. They had no idea how this would be received and were genuinely surprised that the two nights sold out very quickly. They eventually played five nights.

It was a great experience and Mott fans came from all over the world. There were a dozen voluble Italians on the row behind me while on the train to Hammersmith I fell into conversation with a Geordie who had bought tickets for all five nights. What did they come for? For one thing they came to hear a band that produced great rock songs. Listen to The Moon Upstairs from the 1971 album Brain Capers. And listen again to All the Young Dudes. This is so much better than David Bowie’s version, a time machine for a melancholy journey to the alien yet familiar country that is 1972.

Mostly I think people love Mott for being a failure, a glorious failure to be sure but still a failure. Their career was short and they never made much money. They had moments of greatness, moments of disaster but that is the point. They had an insight into the business that the hugely successful bands don’t.

In the Ballad of Mott they sang about it. What other band has written a song about being a rock’n’roller that gets so close to the essence of the matter? And that is why Mott still have so many loyal fans and why they have sold out five venues for their 2013 tour. Maybe this will be the last. Then again, we thought that in 1974.