Friday, November 16, 2012

Mark Wastell RIP

L to R John Knight, Mark Wastell, random interloper, Neil Arthur, Michael Taylor
I received some really sad news this week that an old pal had passed away. Mark Wastell, pictured above, second left at Wembley in 1992, died quite suddenly. I last saw "Tonto" as we called him, at Swansea at the end of the last season. I've got loads of great memories of playing football with him, travelling to Rovers matches all over the place, including, memorably, to Lyon in 1998 for the UEFA Cup game.

Our friend Martin Cook has written a lovely obituary.

When I was at secondary school Mark was three or four years ahead of me and it was his younger brother David Wastell who was in my class. It was only when I moved down south to that London, and joined the Rovers London Branch football team, that I recognised the surname.

‘Tonto’ was the eccentric chap I had first met on the terraces at Plough Lane one midweek September evening in 1985 as Rovers were humbled into an embarrassing 5:0 defeat in the League Cup, away at plucky Wimbledon.

As one of the 2,110 official crowd that night, and arriving directly from work, Tonto was be-suited in pin-stripes and carrying a black umbrella. Over time I’ve convinced myself he was wearing a bowler hat too (but that is probably just my memory exaggerating the rather plausible caricature).

Shortly after this introduction to the Rovers London Branch I travelled to Wormwood Scrubs fields one Sunday afternoon to make my footballing debut. I was shocked to see the team didn’t have a ‘proper’ Rovers strip and those who didn’t have their own shirts wore a second-hand navy blue Scotland team cast-off.

Tonto wore his old Rovers shirt with pride that day, despite it being riddled with holes, in need of a good wash and failing to comply with any FIFA regulations.

Those who didn’t know Tonto could be excused for thinking he was part of an upper-class elite from Oxford University, merely slumming it with the lumpenproletariat as part of some social experiment. He spoke the Queen’s English, he talked the talk and he introduced me to some big, accountant-speak words – I never knew a brand-new football team strip could be ‘amortized’ over a three year term (well, not as such)!

But Tonto was one of us; brought up in Blackburn, a proper Rovers fan, often distraught, sometimes delirious but nearly always there to follow the ‘world’s greatest’ as he would say often.

Despite all his later denials, he really did do a mini-breakdance routine, in front of Don Mackay, Steve Archibald, Ossie Ardiles, Colin Hendry, Howard Gayle and er…Tony Diamond in the Bishop Bonner pub, Bethnal Green, after Rovers had secured a play-off spot away at Millwall in May 1988 (4:1 away victory). We were all delirious that night.

Eventually I became player-manager of the London Branch football team from 1988 to 1991 and soon realised Tonto was one of the most reliable members of the squad. Virtually ever-present, competent around the field and a reliable stand-in goalkeeper; he even weighed-in with a few goals now and again.

We were an eclectic bunch but enjoyed three ground-breaking summer football tours; the first two to Brixham in Devon and the third to Brighton. Tonto was part of all three trips and played a blinder in goal at St James’ Park (May 1990) as we narrowly lost 3:1 to a far superior team from Exeter City supporters club.

In Brixham we had all stayed in the guest-house of a former London Branch member (Roger Snowdon) – an old friend to some of the more established team. Following some typically boisterous drinking behaviour from the younger element (of which Mrs Snowdon was most disapproving) the elders, including Tonto, John Knight and Allan Fell, retired to one of the rooms for a late night cup
of tea.

I shall always remember the incredulity that Tonto displayed when, upon the orders of his wife, Roger Snowdon burst in to ‘check the room for beer!’ Also, having been met by rather childish and muffled laughter from the elder statesmen’s tea party, they were all sent to bed for laughing about it!

Normally, what happens on tour stays on tour, but I can recall (summer 1991) Tonto happily taking part in that most vulgar of working class pursuits, the karaoke night in Brighton! His enthusiastic contribution was a very flat version of the Beatles ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’

I’m unsure of Tonto’s belief system, but if he is up there in the sky, he’s probably holding court over a pint of Thwaites best, with Noel Brotherston, Ronnie Clayton and Jack Walker and advising them on the pros and cons of equity differentials and the secured bond markets etc.

Over the years I have played football, darts, pool and cricket with Tonto and attended beer festivals, curry houses and countless Rovers matches, home and away. We were in Trelleborg for Rovers first ever adventure in European football and we have shared enigmatic tales of genuine wit and repartee, as often reported in the branch newsletter, Many Miles From Home.

Despite being tagged as an ‘International Man of Mystery’ and regarded as ‘a bit of a boffin’ (terms which I suspect he was secretly happy to be known by) above all, Tonto was a friend, a loyal Rovers fan and a true Blackburnian.

Arte et Labore

Tonto, RIP

(Martin ‘the boy’ Cook – November 2012)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Writing about politics and business

This blog used to have a fairly clear identity and a sense of purpose. It was a chance for me to write about the stuff I didn't write about at work. A place where the work life balance played out. My work and my life now is a little more integrated and entwined. It also involves a fair amount of blogging and commenting for the different businesses and organisations I work with.

As the chairman of Downtown Manchester in Business I have a regular blog called Taking the Michael, which I update every Friday.

The standards of the Downtown blogs are first rate. I am humbled to be posting alongside one of the best political writers in the country in the shape of Jim Hancock. He absolutely knows his patch.

I also have to say that Downtown's chief executive Frank McKenna is a superb analyst of business and politics.

I've been blogging regularly on the North West Football Awards, some of which I have a been judge. Some of these have been crossposts.

On top of all of that I'm regularly commenting and blogging on the GrowthAccelerator website, providing a regular drumbeat of content and opinion about my mission to support growing businesses.

It's unlikely I'll talk about Marple's changing retail scene on the Downtown blog, nor will I prattle on about Rovers and family trips to Belfast on GrowthAccelerator. But this does chip away at what I used to use this site for. I'll get there, but bear with me.

Norwegian Branch: History lesson with uncle Bill

Norwegian Branch: History lesson with uncle Bill: The Vikings are alive and well and living in the North West of England, if we are to belive our friend William "Bill" Routledge. We asked h...

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Greater Manchester Groundhopping

I miss going to my football club. I could just swallow my pride and start going back to Ewood Park, but I'm stubborn like that. One day I hope the Venky's will be gone, but until they do, then we won't go. To give my non-league adventures a bit of a purpose I'm going to try and chalk off the Greater Manchester grounds this season. I love the feeling of walking through the turnstiles at a new ground, sampling the atmosphere, tasting the pies, weighing up the balance of two teams of toilers at an unfamiliar standard and feeding off the crowd's knowledge of who is who.

My 134th ground was Ashton United's Hurst Cross, which had a tidy little main stand with a covered terrace opposite and open ends behind each goal. I sat in the main stand with FC United supporters around me, expressing their disappointment at certain players, especially in the second half when Ashton pegged them right back and should have wiped out the 2-0 half time deficit.

It was also the first time I'd seen the FC United rebels in action. The team play with a lot of energy and passion and don't seem to have the odd primadonna that blights most teams at this level. They were supported by hundreds of fans who sang all through the game with a fine spread of hyperbolic and colourful banners. I have to say I was a bit disappointed at their berating of Ashton players "you fat bastard" and the ubiquitous "this is a shit hole, I want to go home" that the modern funboy gobbie fans like to sing as part of the matchday 'banter'. I thought the co-operative principles of this club were above that sort of nonsense. It has to be said that the fans do give FC a lift, a desolate ground with only the home fans willing their team on may have broken the siege of the second half. You have to remember though, these fans are from a tradition of supporting the world's most arrogant football club.

Anyway, next up will be any one from Curzon Ashton, Radcliffe Borough, Ramsbottom United (steam trains too!) or Trafford. The real soul of football and not a "global advisor" to be seen.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Amy Macdonald at the Lowry - superb

We went to see Amy Macdonald at the Lowry last week. I thought she was pretty amazing. I think I saw her on Jools Holland first of all and just thought, what a voice, what well crafted songs and what a lovely girl  - I bet her parents are so proud of her. I know, such a Dad thing to say.

But the set she did was perfectly constructed. New, old, stripped down acoustic versions, signature hits, even a brilliant cover of Jackie Wilson's Your Love Lifts Me Higher. She ended the set with a stirring rendition of my favourite track off her first album - Let's Start a Band - a great song even without the horns and the choir. But I was curious as to what her core audience is - she does festivals, she is massive in Europe, Paul Weller has worked with her and yet she was ignored by the hip music press, and chose the least rock and roll venue in Manchester. The audience was more folky than rocky, which rather suits me. I'm well past that stage where I care whether something is hip or not, but I wonder about her - she's neither one thing nor the other. Far better than all that bland X Factor stuff, yet not folky hip either. Yet I think as her tour bus leaves Glasgow for a sell out concert at the Royal Festival Hall on Tuesday next week she's not going to be too bothered about whether Mark Ellen reviewed her album in the last issue of the Word.

Something horrible I need to get off my chest

A long while ago, I worked with a lad who told another lad on the team that he was serially abused from a young age by one of the senior men in the organisation. I then witnessed another lad asking what to do after the same bloke propositioned him - "be a man about it" came the reply. It was a horrible atmosphere around the place and I was relieved to leave. These were all consenting adults, even though there is something deeply unpleasant about abuses of power and sexual relations. I never heard directly from the lad who had supposedly been abused. In fact he told me, in glowing terms, that this man was his mentor. The guy even rang me once and offered some career advice - if I hadn't heard the rumours I'd think he was kind and generous. Maybe he was, maybe the whole 'dark other thing' was imagined and made up by gossips.

Equally, I've worked in other places where junior people see demons and devils around every corner. Charismatic bosses must be sexually corrupt or on cocaine. They must be at it, because that's what fertile imaginations demand.

So, in the light of all this sickening stuff about Jimmy Savile, you start to think what is the right thing to do? Apparently everyone knew about Savile, it was an open secret. He was dropped from Children in Need because he was a bit creepy. Well, is that enough? Of course it isn't. And if you do tell, then who do you tell? What do you tell?

A city break in Belfast with the family

The kids were thrilled when I told them we were going away on a plane for the half term break. There was a certain disappointment when they learned it was to Belfast. The birthplace of the Titanic still carries the baggage of the recent past, even with pre-teen kids. But having hopped over there on business myself I am positively evangelical about the place and was itching to show them around a city I have got to know quite well and grown rather fond of.

The Titanic Belfast visitor attraction is brilliant. It is one of the best of its kind I have seen. It manages to span a huge range of touching points that the Titanic opens - starting with the history of the city itself, to the empire, trade, maritime engineering right through to emigration and social class when the exhibits got to the maiden voyage.

In the city centre we enjoyed Linen Hall Library and the City Hall and compared how it is so similar to Stockport Town Hall! We looked around the new Victoria Square centre, which was very pleasant.  It was fascinating how Halloween is so enthusiastically supported, probably as the Guy Fawkes celebration of the next week - with all its burning parliaments and Catholics is a little too raw.

The open top bus tour in the rain wasn't such a hit. It gave the kids a perspective on the city, but the sights of armoured cars, peace walls and derelict buildings were hard to take in as we were rather rushed from one place to the next. As one of them commented as we wound our way up the Shankill Road - "it's like Brinnington with murals".

I think seeing this important part of British history is educative. I want Northern Ireland to be normal and happy. All the lovely people I've met over there want to embrace a new future away from the turmoil and madness of the past. But breaking with that past, but still appreciating its impact on people's heritage is important. We took a bus ride out to a sweet emporium in the Castlereagh Road area of East Belfast. Next to the bus stop home was a mural we had been led to believe had been phased out and replaced with George Best and CS Lewis tributes. Not so.

We left with a sense that we'd had a good old look around and were still left with a few more things we could have done. But Belfast is a city with a lot of energy and the Titantic may have been a tragedy 100 years ago, it's an opportunity now.