Sporting Gimmick?

29 03 2010

I’m going to write two football related pieces today, simply because I can. Later I shall have a think about the Premier League’s issues and outcomes (winners, losers etc) but for now I want to pass some form of comment on this story, already dismissed by the Conservatives as an election gimmick.

Basically, Labour are suggesting that football clubs should be made more accountable to their fans and that these fans should be able to buy up to 25% of their club to prevent the levels of debt and financial ruin which are blighting numerous clubs up and down the country. The plans are, apparently, still under consideration, which seems to be short for “we know these are going to be practically impossible to implement, but we’ll say we’re looking at it anyway to see if that gives us a polling kick”.

Aside from the sheer impractical nature of forcing the shareholders to sell their stakes in individual clubs to a wide pool of ‘fans’, this proposal seems to ignore the fact that by creating thousands of new shareholders, the clubs would become harder to run in the long term. There seems to be little hope that this idea is a go-er. Instead, I find myself agreeing with the Tories that this is simply an election gimmick, one designed to win favour with the middle and lower class men who traditionally occupy the terraces up and down the land.

Which leads me onto the question of whether sport in general should be used to score political points? If Labour are going to harp on about making football more accountable for its money, should we not also look at the continually spiralling costs of the 2012 games? Should we not ask what Labour, or indeed, any political party are doing for the rugby world? Or the cricketing world? Should we not ask why the FA, UEFA, or FIFA are not publicly looking for solutions to the financial problems, yet politicians apparently are?

Of course football should work in the ‘real’ world, and not in it’s own isolated bubble of financial irresponsibility. However, the problems will not be solved by gimmicky plans such as the one suggested by Labour today. They will be solved by strict and stringent guidelines produced from within the sport, by the governing bodies, and not by enforcing regulations from the outside with the short-term hope of appearing to be receptive to the sport. Football must alter itself, it must look at what is happening from a financial point of view and it must change. It cannot do this by simply enforcing political guidelines on one nation.


The Trouble…

17 03 2010

The stereotypical image of an archivist (if there is one), is of old men wearing tweed jackets with elbow patches, sitting in musty rooms surrounded by piles of three-inch thick books and wads of paper or roles of parchment. Few seem to know what they do or why they do it. Many identify them as interchangeable with librarians, who, stereotypically at any rate, share certain traits.

As with many things, it is this stereotype which holds everything back. When talking to some of my work colleagues about what career path I wish to pursue, I have to talk simply about the job, “it’s someone who looks after old documents” I say. I suppose, in a nutshell, it the job is about looking after old documents, be it newspapers, tithe maps, photographs or anything else. Except it’s a little simplistic to say that that is what the job is.

It isn’t just about looking after these old documents, it’s about making them accessible to the public. It’s about making things easy for the researcher, be them passionate historians with a nose for details or a casual family historian who simply wants to know what their great-grandparents did in the war. Most of all an archivist is a link to the past, someone who will know about where to find the right information and how to weed out the bits you need without going through all the rest of it.

For me there is more. It’s about challenging those stereotypes, it’s about bringing the old records into today’s society and making them accessible, relevant and informative. I see people spending hours looking for a name in a 500 page long list of names. This isn’t how it should be. It’s off-putting, it’s tedious, and it’s long winded. And, at the moment it is how it has to be.

Yet the technology is here already, waiting to be used. Computers with large memories can hold tens of thousands of names, all ready to be searched for at the touch of a button. Websites such as, or can already help you look for people. And there is much more work going on all the time to bring archives into the modern world. Yet people still see archives as musty places, with shelves and shelves and shelves of information organised into some archaic system that is long since forgotten and rarely understood.

Archiving is not like that. It’s about exploration, it’s about learning and broadening your horizons. It’s about chasing down random things and tying up the loose ends. In many ways, it strikes me, it is a similar process to having a ‘wiki’ hour, just searching for something and then following the links on wikipedia, not knowing where you’ll wind up. It may not be sexy but it is interesting. It’s actual, living history you are looking through. You can read diaries from people in the 1800s. You can learn about their lives from censuses, newspapers, or random pieces of paper in other collections. You can take the learning about the past into a whole new sphere, one outside of history books, or university tutors. It becomes yours. It is your information, your hard work, and your results. There is a great deal of satisfaction to be taken out of piecing together the story or someone’s life, and tracing how their lives have impacted upon your own. Or learning about the history of a particular place through the photographs. There is, for me, something hugely satisfying about the whole process of exploration into the documents.

And yet we return to that stereotype. One which means few people really realise what archivists do, or why they do it. That stereotype which confuses the librarian (someone who looks after books) with the archivist (someone who looks after history). The trouble with the stereotype is that it is a tricky thing to shift. Archives, unlike museums or art galleries are not somewhere where you could go and lose a couple of hours, pretending to be cultural. But they are a doorway into history, and do have a really important role to play in society. Archivists are people who are trying to expand this doorway so that everyone can have access to their past, their heritage. Archives are a valuable part of any society to remain in touch with the past. Archivists manage this so this past is accessible to anyone.

Remember Me?

10 03 2010

Aware as I am about my lack of blogging in recent months, I shall try (amidst work, and studying, and volunteering, and applying for better jobs, and sleeping) to blog more frequently from now on.

This time last year I was involved in the successful campaign to get one of my friends elected into one of the Sabb Officer positions within the University’s Guild (of which, I’m aware, I’ve been less than receptive in the past). The two weeks spent campaigning were brilliant and tiring. The result was close but a testament to both sides.

And now it is all happening again. Which has raised two questions in my mind. Firstly, where the hell has the time gone this past year? And secondly, why the hell do I know so very little about anybody running for any of the roles within the Guild? After all, I am still a student at the university, and as such do still have the right to a vote in such issues, especially for positions which may affect me. I will, at this point, hold my hands up and admit that this is my last year at the University, I will graduate in December, but will not be an official student there beyond July. However, this isn’t the point. The point is, I want to vote, but know nothing about anyone running.

My trouble seems to be two-fold. The first is that I’m a post-grad student, who, it seems, are more frequently ignored by the candidates than the people within the Guild would care to admit. It is acknowledged that us post-grads are a part of the uni, but make up a small percentage of students, so do not warrant any attention. The second part of my problem is that I’m a part-time student. Meaning I’m on campus roughly once a month. This means therefore that I am exposed to very little of the university life, the university politics, or the university’s students. These two things mean I know little about the candidates, who is running for which positions, and why I should consider voting for them. I accept these things are a problem.

However, the Guild, the candidates, or whoever could make my life easier. I have been sent no official email from the Guild to my university email address. I have received two facebook messages (both telling me to attend events I cannot possibly make) about the elections, but nothing more. I have not received any other messages, or emails to tell me about the elections. It is only because I know that they are on that I have checked out the Guild’s page on the candidates, although, admittedly, I haven’t really ‘read’ the information yet.

All of which means that those students, post-grad or otherwise, who do not know about the elections, will obviously not have a democratic voice. I know there are members of my course who are not on Facebook (mainly because they are the top side of 40). I also know that they all have a uni email address. It’s set up right at the start, and is for university related emails. So why has no-one from the Guild twigged that just by sending a simple reminder to all students via the university’s email system, they could maybe gather just a few more votes and make it so that the continually low voter turnout is maybe helped, albeit by just a few more votes.

I accept that I’m out of the loop a little here, but there are things that the Guild could, and should be doing to make it easier for me to know about and to vote in the elections.

Life Goes On…

1 03 2010

The retirement of Dean Ashton from the world of football at the end of last year was undoubtedly a sad day for him and for the sport. I believe he had all it took to be an England regular, and but for injury this may have happened. It did however bring to the fore the issue of life after football, and what former pros do to get by.

Of course there are many which stay in the game, be it coaching (Bruce, Keane, O’Neill etc) or in TV punditry (Shearer, Dixon, Hansen etc). There are others who take less known roles in the game (Wolves’ fitness coach is Tony Daley, the former Villa and Wolves winger). There are some which do something good with themselves (Glenn Hoddle’s academy in Spain for example). There are a few who remain in public life (Vinnie Jones). There’s even one who’s a political figure in Libya (George Weah).

But for all these there are countless more who fall out of the game early, or at the end of their careers with few discernible life skills and fewer ideas about what to do next. For these the lure of drink and gambling can often be disastrous. SkySports News are running an interview with a former player, Warren Aspinall about his struggles, which came to a head with him trying to throw himself under a train. The interview, which can be watched here, is thought provoking stuff, and clearly hard for Aspinall.

It’s an issue which doesn’t really seem to be going away either, Paul Gascoigne is the famous example of this sort of problem, but add him to the list which includes George Best, Tony Adams and more recently, Matthew Etherington (who is of course still playing); and the picture begins to look a lot bleaker for those professionals who have only known football.

There are ways and means of helping these players out after they retire from the sport, but crucially, as Aspinall refers to, it is the lack of support from people who he thought he could count on which was the hardest thing to take. “Acquaintances”, he called them, “not friends”. That’s perhaps the hard part for the ex-pro. Having a whole world around you disappear overnight. Yesterdays news, no longer the concern of the industry which you have served for however many years. It is not hard to imagine why so many have turned to drink or gambling.

If nothing else there needs to be a greater awareness of this problem. Sky’s work in bringing it to the fore is helpful, but more needs to be done to simultaneously raise awareness and increase the help that those who are suffering need. The PFA is good in what it does do, but I feel that a there is a lack of guidance for people who have only ever known football.

The issue of junior pros released by clubs at a young age is Sky’s next concern, and the video should be available to watch tomorrow. I’d recommend watching it, if only to help you realise that there is a grim reality to football. For every Rooney, there is a young lad who is left high and dry with no skills outside of football. For every O’Neill there is an Aspinall, a person struggling to come to terms with the real world, a world outside of the bubble of organised sport.