Friday, February 20, 2015

Back to the Eighties with Chelsea

The revulsion and shock at the antics of Chelsea's throwback mob on the Paris Metro proves one thing: we've come a long, long way. But it has brought back some horrific memories of their fans and what it was like going to football when I was a lad.

In the 80s Chelsea were horrible. I saw what looked like the entire away end do Nazi salutes and chant at one of their own black players, Paul Cannoville, when he came on as a sub at the last game of the 1981/82 season. 

After the 82 game I watched from the top deck of a double decker bus as a mob of them in green flight jackets and big boots terrorised Bolton Road in Blackburn. One sight that will chill me forever was a black Rovers fan being pursued with particular zeal. He was on his own and there were that many after him, screaming the kinds of hateful words the killers of Stephen Lawrence said, that I thought he'd die. He didn't, as I still see him at Rovers games now. 

A few months later they battered everyone in sight on the Blackburn End (above) in a grotesque example of "end taking". The uniform had switched to golfer chic by then and terrified Rovers fans scrambled over barbed wire fences to get away from a mob dressed like Ronnie Corbett.

There's tales of growing up in the North aplenty in the book I published a couple of years ago, Northern Monkeys, an anthology about the evolution of northern working class fashion. We skirted around the right wing element of the casual movement and dropped a chapter from a National Front supporter (since reformed) and Blackpool fan (unreformed, I suspect). Apart from Leeds, it was never an overtly racist scene.

But the Nazi thing was what gave Chelsea a particular chilling edge. My brother-in-law is featured in Colin Ward's book Steaming In where he met the Chelsea mob at an England away game in Istanbul in 1984. The author highlights the bafflement of the "Blackburn lads" (he's actually Blackpool) at how the real hardcore refused to acknowledge goals by black players and were openly and proudly racist. That was the way they liked it.

But that was then and this is now. I'm one of the first to snigger at the atmosphere at Chelsea, the "golf clap" that greets a goal and all those corporate fans. I'm not sure these are good times for football, but they are better times in this respect, that's for sure.

The question has been asked whether those racist days are coming back? No, but if you'll excuse the pun, it hasn't gone away, it's just gone underground. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

It's about Marple - Co-op closes, we get a new Asda in two months

We live in such a vibrant community, full of energy, people with ideas as well as a setting in an area of stunning natural beauty. One of the reasons I wanted to work with other people in the area to make things better was a sad sense that the local Liberal councillors (and our retiring MP) rather take the people for granted. One example is disappointment about a lack of progress in Marple recently, which will be laid are now that the Co-op has closed. 

In the Marple Spring of 2011 when the community came together to oppose plans by Asda and the College to build a hideous new retail shed I expected it would be an opportunity to forge a new vision for the centre of Marple. Not so. Instead the interest by developers has evaporated and communications on plans for the Co-op site, the surrounding plots and even of Asda itself has been very poor.

Speaking to shop staff yesterday they are due to be transferred and retrained as Asda employees and the target date for a new store is the 30th of April. I hope they're going to be OK.

Speaking to shoppers as the shelves emptied (above, with Carl from Mellor) they wonder what the whole of the centre will be like and what can be done to make it flow better.

I'll be honest, there was a great deal about the Co-op I didn't like - it was more expensive than most other supermarkets and the range was limited. 

It's clear the Co-op brand has taken a battering and the slow death of the Marple store has been tied to larger corporate problems, but the local civic gain has been positive. Will Asda be as generous? So far their silence has been deafening, but then it's early days.

The Civic Society have been active citizens doing some excellent work. Our Labour Party street stalls and surveys have identified an appetite to contribute to something better locally. We're keen to progress this and would urge local people to put pressure on our councillors to work a lot harder for our community.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Regency Cafe and Pimlico - contrasts aplenty

I took a trip down memory lane last Friday to Pimlico, central London, where I shared a flat with my mate Chris Lodge through 1991 and 1992. On the last trip I looked at the shifting urban geography of east London on a wander around Bethnal Green from The City. Westminster offers more subtler and more nuanced contrasts, but they are there.

The first sign that greets you as you stroll out of Pimlico tube station highlights the concerns of local tenants of the Peabody social housing estates in the area that they are being forced out. The shops across the road from the flats were a laundrette and a posh off licence doing a promotion on champagne, as if to highlight who lives here, cheek by jowl. I glance in a local estate agents would tell you that a small house off Vincent Square would cost you £2.5million.

I wandered across Vauxhall Bridge Road, where our flat has long since been demolished, and into Vincent Square. Here are the "soccer" pitches of Westminster School, behind locked gates. 

Within a short walk are the chequerboard rows of tenament blocks of the estate between the square and Horseferry Road and Channel 4's modernist HQ. Designed by Edwin Lutyens and built on land given by the Duke of Westminster in the 1930s. There's a great blog on the design of it, here.

The purpose of the trip, as it is on other visits to different London locations I used to know, was a stop over at a classic London cafe; this time Regency Cafe, one of my old favourites. It was also the location for a pivotal scene in one of my favourite British films of recent years, Layer Cake. The menu was better than I remembered and the customers packed it out. I only had time for cup of tea and a pudding but saw enough to tempt me back. 

I've just checked the scene and I even sat at the same table that Daniel Craig did. It was a long table for six and just like the last trip to Pellicci's, you share a space with strangers - it was another fascinating encounter, a lad who used to work in the area with similar fond memories and an uncanny knowledge of the Blackburn Rovers team of 1995, especially for an Arsenal fan. London tends to throw up these opportunities for stories and shared experiences.

I nipped into a lunchtime Mass at Westminster Cathedral before a meeting with the team I'm working alongside on a new project. Again, the brief service was an experience of incredible social richness and diversity.

Back in the day Pimlico was an area of acute contrasts, it is even more so now. Amazing that working class London still clings on alongside incredible wealth.