Poem: America First

A personal view. What it means to me.

America First.

America First is life and liberty
America First is Mohammed Ali and Billie Jean King
And Kate Millett and Malcolm X
America First is Arthur Miller and Harper Lee
And Hawthorn, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe
America First is Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsburg
America First is Sharon Olds and Patti Smith

America First is the pursuit of happiness
America First is Johnny Cash and Elvis
And Muddy, the Wolf and John Lee
America First is Tamla, Stax and Funkadelic
And Hank Williams and Ella Fitzgerald, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington
America First is the Velvet Underground, the Doors, the Stooges
America First is Bruce and Dylan and Woody Guthrie

America First starts with We The People
America First is Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins
America First is FDR and Martin Luther King
America First is the Village, the Haight and the Castro
America First is Woodstock and Wounded Knee
America First is Selma and the Battle of Chicago
America First sings we shall overcome.

RIP Albert McCann – Step-overs In Heaven.

What I share with many other Pompey fans is that Albie McCann was one of the first generation of players which was in place when I first started to watch the club (he was with PFC 1962–74.) So for me, as for those many others, he was as much part of the club as the roof with ‘Fratton Park’ written on it.

My memories of Albie therefore stretch from 1966 to 1974, although when I first attended regularly, i.e., the second half of the 1966-67 season, he was out with injury, having undergone a cartilage operation (as most players did at some point in the careers in those days.)

If I remember a single outstanding game which he played, it was at home to Blackpool in late 1968. The season before both clubs had been well up in the promotion race, and shortly prior to the Christmas before had met in a titanic game in front of 35,000 at Fratton, with Pompey winning 3-1 to go top of the table by 3 points. Neither side went up in the end, but both were still comfortable enough the following season. In particular, Blackpool had regrouped, and recruited new players – including Tony Green.

Green was the new big star of the division, and went on to big money transfer to Newcastle, where his career was cruelly ruined by injury. By the time Blackpool came to Fratton, it was feared that he would be unstoppable. But George Smith had other ideas, and came up with the original and unexpected plan of having Albert McCann mark him. Albie duly lined up in the no. 7 shirt, and then followed Green over every inch of the Park, tackling him fiercely, closing him down instantly and reducing him to complete impotence. Ray Pointer scored the single goal to win the game, but Albie McCann was the star for the day, having shown great skill and footballing nous in an unfamiliar role , as well as adaptability and commitment for the good of the team and the club.

I also remember another game, at home to Norwich the season before (i.e., 1967-68). A low cross came from the left about 20 yards out from the Milton End goal, Ray Pointer backheeled it on the run to Albie in the D and his shot flew into the top left hand corner of Kevin Keelan’s goal. Nothing exceptional, just perfect execution of the classic striker’s skills of movement, anticipation and accurate powerful shooting.

But the overall memory that you have of Albie has to be the bandy-legged standing step-over, which was always followed by a pass to a team-mate, and frequently incisively so. Someone else has recently written online about Albie in heaven in a blue shirt. I reckon everyone in paradise wears a Pompey shirt (and red stripes are for the other place) – and we will agree that Albie will be in heaven, doing that step-over, and fooling the angels every time.

Portsmouth, the Clyde and BAe – The Correct Decision.

Warning: this blog will not please my friends, relatives (and many fellow Pompey fans) in Hampshire. Sorry.

The realities in the case of UK shipbuilding appear to be these:

In the business case:

  • Commercial shipbuilding is now overwhelmingly concentrated in the Far East, where their yards operate on a completely different costbase to those in the west. The only exceptions are for specialist ships: for example, some passenger ships (where Germany has a market lead) and fishing vessels (made in Spain).
  • This leaves ships commissioned by the government as the sole core product available to UK yards. Of these, civilian vessels (e.g., public service ferries) are subject to EU procurement law, and must be put out to tender on a Europe-wide basis. Warships, however, are exempt from this requirement, and can be awarded by a government to its domestic yards.
  • The result for the UK is that its shipbuilding orders cannot support more than two yards. Currently there are three (Govan, Scotstoun, and Portsmouth.)
  • In choosing two out of three, there would need to be a very strong business case to locate these some 450 miles apart. There is none: in fact, between them, Govan and Scotstoun have the greater range of capacity, skills and integration.

In the local economic impact case:

  • Unemployment in Hampshire in September 2013 stood at 7.7% . In Glasgow, in 2012 it was 12%  (Both ILO count.) This means that on the one hand, Glasgow needs the work more and on the other Hampshire has a greater need for workers and skills in the labour market.
  • Portsmouth is better placed to absorb job losses than Glasgow. The south Hampshire area is a world centre for the small boat and yacht building and maintenance industry, with more marina capacity and employment in the Harbour, the Hamble and further afield at Cowes IOW than in the whole of Scotland.
  • This is in addition to naval repair work pledged to replace the shipbuilding orders in the current review. There is therefore much greater demand for some of the transferable shipbuilding skills than in Glasgow, where the leisure and small boat industry is miniscule.
  • Outside of the re-employment of redundant staff in the maritime sector, regeneration and creation of new employment is likely to be quicker in Portsmouth. In particular, the release of MoD land and other measures[1] is likely to create jobs at a greater rate than any similar proposal in Glasgow, where investment in riparian land near to the yards is already stalled, for example between Finnieston and Glasgow Harbour.

So, to the politics.

  • It actually appears that the politics are in line with the business case and the local economic impact case – for now. We can have our suspicions as to how much the Scottish Independence Referendum influenced the outcome, but two circumstances must be borne in mind. The first is that independence is not a popular cause, with the latest polls showing support stuck at a historic low of 25%[2] so the incentive to try to buy the Scottish vote is reduced or even redundant. The second is that BAE and the UK government knew that they would be damned either way, and so did the right thing – and followed the business case. In which case, the politics follow the decision, rather than vice versa.
  • For the Coalition Government, it means having to be able to convince the people in marginal constituencies: Portsmouth South (LibDem with personal problems) and North (Tory won off Labour in 2010) that the measures taken will guarantee a future for the workers affected. They will also need to make a convincing case that the decision was not taken on grounds of Referendum weakness. So far Mike Hancock’s posturing suggests that this sentiment will play a large role.
  • In Scotland, it is irrefutable that had the Referendum already been held and had resulted in a Yes vote, BAe would have decided to have consolidated shipbuilding in Portsmouth rather than on the Clyde. The two Glasgow yards would have been asset-stripped and liquidated.
  • The timing of the contracts means that this will still be an option on 19th September 2014. If there is a Yes vote, the Scottish Government must have a contingency in place to replace the Type 26 work. The  Scottish Government has begun to talk in terms of diversification, and the Deputy First Minister has – inevitably –  compared Scotland with Norway. In reality there are three directions in which to diversify.


  1. Convert production to alternative larger vessels: this option is only possible if costbase can be slashed to that of the Far East.
  2. Convert production to medium-sized vessels: this would necessarily be for niche markets, all of which are currently filled by other producers (ferries in Germany, superyachts in the Netherlands, fishing boats in Spain.)
  3. Convert production to small and leisure craft: Scotland is too far from key markets (south of England, Mediterranean etc.) and the existing industry in Scotland is too small to compete with existing players.

As can be seen none of these are promising, and it is difficult to see what the Scottish Government’s contingency might be in the light of the market conditions outlined above. But without one, independence will be the death of shipbuilding on the Clyde.

Note: some of this is informed by my MSc thesis, which examined the small boat sectors in Southeast Hants and the West of Scotland. And both my father and my brother worked in the volume lifeboat industry in Gosport; they lost their jobs in the 1980s.


After Mastermind…

So I did not win my heat, but was beaten by two brilliant contestants at the top of their game. The heat winner, by the way, was a semi-finalist a couple of years ago. I would have won several of the other heats, and I did as well as the contestant who had Celtic as his subject last year (and he ended up a finalist.)

As far as best losers go, as a rule of thumb 29 points is odds-on to get through to the semis; 28 is evens; and 27 is odds against. This means that one or two more correct answers would have been very useful.

On the Pompey Round, my two wrong answers were the results of two separate failings.

On Guy Whittingham’s record goals total for a season (42), I knew it for certain. The only problem was what I knew (43) was wrong. The irony is that my last double check before I went into the studio was to verify Peter Harris’ all-time scoring record (193 league plus 18 FA Cup.)

The other wrong answer was again something I knew, and this time what I knew was right; the problem is that it would not come out of my mouth. First it would not come out at all, then it would not come out correctly, so I ended up with an anagram of Lassana Diarra (‘Lassiana Darra’). As John Humphrys said “close” – but not close enough.

There are two ironies here. The first is that when I discussed the subject with my cousin, Steve Cogan (another fan), he put the same question to me, and I came up with Diarra easily. The second is that I had rehearsed the pronunciation of Lindy Delaphena (Jamaican forward of the late 1940s) that morning, but I got tongue-tied with Lassana Diarra.

On the General Knowledge round, I was really lucky with my questions and got into quickfire groove – in fact I outscored the heat winner for GK, despite 2 passes, and never having heard of the salamander in question.
I might have done better on the AER question, which went through my mind as follows:

“In economics…” (Yes, I know about that, is it about Adam Smith, J. M. Keynes…?)
“…what do the letters…” (PSBR? ECB?)
“..AER stand for …” (That’s personal finance not economics, what does it stand for, can’t think, need more on the board, don’t waste time – PASS!)

By the time the final question came round, I did not know the answer so I thought of a Victorian artist (Atkinson Grimshaw) and mumbled the first bit to avoid a pass.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable experience: any quiz that includes both Prokofiev and Huckleberry Hound cannot be all bad.

All of the production team were very friendly and supportive, although John Humphrys was a bit aloof, but that is part of what you expect. They were also kind enough to tell me that I had done exceptionally well for a first-time participant. I certainly enjoyed the chance to tell the world about Pompey’s exceptional history as one of the great clubs in English football.

Two points to end on.

The first is that another Mastermind contestant (who I met on Brain of Britain) told me that if you get an answer wrong, it is certain that everyone else would get it right. How true…

The second point is about my cousin Steve. He was very ill with inoperable cancer when we spoke about Diarra and died in July. He would have given me no end of good-humoured stick for not getting that question right. I would have liked to have been able to dedicate a win to Steve, but it was not to be.

Play Up Pompey – Sport and ritual drama.

The power of spectator sport is a phenomenon. However we get to support our team, or our tribe or an individual, there is no doubt about the power of partisanship to help us identify ourselves, and to lead us down certain paths. But its personal effects go still deeper in making in moulding our world and our relationship to it.

In the spring of 1966, two events occurred which would have life-changing effects in the Russell household. In March, I sat the 11 Plus exam. And in April, before the results came through (….”The Education Committee has decided that your child will benefit from a grammar school education. You are required to purchase the following…”) I visited Fratton Park for the first time.

At my primary school I had already identified myself as a Portsmouth supporter, possibly following the triumphalism shown by Southampton supporters following their heavy defeat of Pompey earlier in the season. But on 23nd April 1966, I was invited by my friend over the road to go with him and his father to see Pompey play.

Even from the Milton End, away from Fratton End diehards, the pure jubilation of scoring and winning was literally a revelation. From that point on, I was hooked, lined and sinkered.

The thrill of entering the space that is Fratton Park was amazing: I had always loved going to the pictures, and a football ground seemed to be a gigantic outdoor version: a self-contained and purpose-built space, opened at fixed times only, with a cash value for entry (1/9d for boys, I think.)

In sporting spectacles, we witness occasions when the crowd, competitors and stadium are so well matched that the theatrical effect reaches the status of dramatic art.  So we watch Mo Farah’s final lap at the London Olympics, with the crowd rising around the stadium to will and cheer him home, and as we do so, we feel the same exhilaration as, for example, when the lightning zings and the Valkyries set off on their fearsome ride, or when Don Giovanni plummets through the trapdoor of the ultimate relegation.

It is a commonplace that sport is used to go further, and to act as a proxy for other and wider ideas, with results which are both negative and positive.

On the one hand, there is the tedious Rangers-Celtic bipolar disorder. At a more sinister level, Hitler attempted to use the 1936 Olympics to demonstrate vile racial theories (and was stymied by the sublime Jesse Owens). On the other, the cause of African-American civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War were the leitmotifs of Mohammed Ali’s career – to the extent that when he was defeated by the likes of Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, their white ringside supporters cheered that their man had “beaten the nigger.” Frazier and Norton were of course also black.

So sport can have a specific political purpose, either deliberately or as part of the baggage that it accumulates through being in the public realm.  At the same time, socio-biologists like Morris (in The Soccer Tribe, 1981) have sought to relate the group behaviour of football supporters to that of tribes of primates such as baboons. Their case is sound, for example, in the case of territorial disputes such as the demarcation of the home end or Kop and the ambition of away supporters to seize it by violence and weight of numbers.

For individuals, however, the function of sport may be different, and this is when its similarities with dramatic art are striking.

So what the opposing camps in the civil and human rights issues saw in the early 1970s for instance  were struggles between their values and those that they opposed, which affected some deeply as to strike them colour-blind, apparently. So, in this sense, spectator sport must be acknowledged as having the heightened capability to act as the medium to participate by proxy in those confrontations.

In this sense, the boxing ring, and in turn the football stadium, and the athletics track and other spectator sport venues can transcend their function, and become ritual spaces, in the same way as the theatre or the opera house. Such is our experience as we see sporting dramas enacted over 9.6 seconds in the 100 metres or over 5 days in a test match.

We do not need to run faster than anyone ever has before to know that the limitations of the body can be conquered – the thrill of our witness of Usain Bolt does it for us; we do not need to experience exile and refugee status redeemed by winning double gold – we live the moment and share our humanity with Mo Farah; we do not need to bat out a Test in South Africa for over 10 hours to know that obduracy and determination can defeat hostility – Michael Atherton does it for us.

(I fancy a later blog on great historical sport-as-drama moments.)

As long ago as 1949, Francis Fergusson described the ritual nature of Shakespearean and classical tragedy in The Idea of a Theater.

The public and participatory nature of that ritual was always clear from the design and social status of the great ancient Greek venues such as Epidaurus or the Theatre of Dionysus on the Acropolis. Likewise, while the social function of the early theatre in medieval Europe was realised by Barry Unsworth in Mystery Play (1995), Fergusson relates early modern Elizabethan theatre back to its ritual forebears of mummery at the parish church lych-gate.

In recent times, these participatory aspects of classic drama have amongst the revelations of Shakespeare’s Globe recreated by the late Sam Wanamaker on the South Bank.

So Lynn Gardner’s Guardian review of the 2012 tells us ‘Henry V put the Globe’s dynamics to such cunning use; I swear that if this Henry had strode off the stage and out of the theatre at the end, everyone would have followed him[1].’ In the popular press, Julie Carpenter of the Express agreed: ‘ When … Henry, in full war cry mode, speaks to the groundlings as if they are his soldier subjects, exhorting them to, “Cry, ‘God for Harry! England and Saint George!’’ some of the audience were so stirred up they joined in[2].’

At this point there appears to be a fusion of drama, spectacle and participatory ritual, which as a spectator experience coincides exactly at that spot where sport becomes drama. It may be no coincidence that football, cricket and classical and Elizabethan drama all share the same ‘wooden O’ – or Oval– design of premises for their ‘Theatre of Dreams’ to stage their events.

Even in the banal and frequently overblown context of a hometown football club, the same seems to apply.

Through the players’ flashes of skill (or incompetence) we can live the potential and limits of the individual, and over the longer duration of a game or a season, we can experience the vicissitudes of the battle and the campaign. This even includes a dilute version of the classic combination of war: long periods of boredom (waiting for Saturday to come) interspersed with action and fear (the matches themselves.)

Over a lifetime, our experience will inevitably vary from team to team, and we must always have sympathy for those whose experience is limited. This may be to eternal failure (the Hartlepools and Aldershots) or it may be eternal success (Manchester United and more recently City).

For the rest of us, there is a whole host of experience to glean – for example, our team may languish in the second tier for decades, make the top flight, win the FA Cup and for just one night best the mighty AC Milan, crash and burn in financial and sporting disaster, then be redeemed through becoming less of a business and more of community resource.

Our experience will then teach us: the victory of the underdog is always worth more than that of the dominant; success requires a mixture of talent, work and luck; do not live beyond your means and be careful about who you accept money from; to inflate a business (or any other economic unit) with no certainty that its real income can support it is not a sound proposition; success is fleeting so enjoy it while you can; and most of your fellow participants (fans) are soundly decent people from a wide range  of backgrounds, who will go to great efforts to preserve that which they value.

The nature of sport as dramatic ritual means that these have not just been observed but experienced; and the lesson is lived not learnt.

(On the negative side, you may emerge with prejudices reinforced, for example that good guys play in blue, and bad guys in red and white stripes.) Such is the journey of the Pompey fan.

My conclusion is that through this function, the ritual drama of sport can be a significant influence on societies as a whole. And, as in this instance, being a football supporter (at Fratton Park) can be as influential as formal education (passing the 11 Plus), in the development and social understanding of an individual.

Division 4 – Here we come…

from: http://www.pompeyonline.com/forums/index.php?threads/relegation-now-confirmed-so-relegation-chat-thread-please-discuss-here.63903/page-2#post-1003718

Division 4: it will be plenty of fun for those who expect more than technical excellence from their football.

Although there will be some flashes of that: Mike Neasom told the joke about a lower leagues player who turned on a stupendous piece of skill one week, and whose manager told him: “if I could get you to play like that every week, you would be playing for England.” Player’s reply: “if you could get me playing like that every week, you would be managing England.”

Div 4 had lots of “interesting” non-quite players like that, some of whom filled the gaps in their talent with effort and personality, so there might be more local hero figures around. But hopefully no-one as reprehensible as Robin Friday (“the best footballer you never saw”) – highly skilled but a drunk, a dope fiend and all round sociopath who played for Reading and Cardiff.

But we will see a lot of dross too: a stand-out memory is a truly dreadful match at FP (against Torquay, maybe?) – in the last minute, Garwood swung over a tremendous cross from the right and Showers powered home an unstoppable header into the Fratton End goal. We all went home happy, but had endured 89 minutes of complete crap for 10 seconds of brilliance. You have been warned.