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2017 World Relays: Team GB Disaster

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Team GB Results at 2017 World Relays:

Men’s 4x100m: DNF

Women’s 4x100m: DNS

Men’s 4x400m: 6th

Women’s 4x400m: 4th

GB got 2 out of 4 medals from the relays in Rio, one being an historic first medal in the women’s 4x100m. Going into the World Relays in Bahamas these championships could be seen as an opportunity for the women’s teams to continue their development and build on their Rio success and for the men’s teams it was an opportunity to seek redemption (4x100m) or justice (4x400m) for their respective Rio woes. What transpired though was an across the board regression of all the GB teams and a big warning klaxon with a home World champs in just 4 months.

Men’s 4x100m: There are many words that can be used to describe the GB men’s 4x100m team’s performances since bronze at the 2009 world championships. None of them positive. Atrocious, disgraceful, pitiful are more in the ball park. Since 2009 at global champs  (Olympics, Worlds and World Relays). The team has medalled once (2014 World relay bronze) and only completed a final on one other occasion  (5th in Rio 2016). The other 5 champs they were either DQed or dropped the baton. For a team that won a shock gold in Athens cos they were so well drilled this is simply unacceptable performance. They’ve had numerous woes over this period: poor selections, lack of talent, injuries, inexperience but when it boils down to it they’ve consistently choked ,they don’t perform when it counts and it needs sorting. When they came 5th in Rio they were beaten by both Japan and China, teams with relatively weak individual sprinters but with extremely slick changeovers. This is what the GB team used to be famed for, solid consistency. I had no great hopes that Bahamas would be a reversal of our recent fortunes and unfortunately I was proved right. We won our heat with a team of Ujah, Hughes, Gemili and Talbot anchoring. Nothing wrong with that quartet. But the order? Why put your weakest man on the anchor. It’s madness. Something is very wrong with the selection policy. For the final Talbot was moved to the 3rd leg (right decision) and Gemili was swapped for youngster Edoburun (potentially cos Gemili was injured). Now there’s nothing wrong with bringing an in form youngster into the team but to anchor. In a global final. Idiocy. Put him on the back straight. Anyways the result? Edoborun set off too fast and the changeover was screwed up. It was simply inexperience and we shouldn’t blame the boy, we should blame the fool that put him on the last leg. For London there is much to do. They should train to be a baton passing machine and what’s more they should have a no 1 quartet and order so there’s no need for chopping and changing. I personally suggest: Hughes, Ujah, Talbot, Gemili but what do I know.

Women’s 4x100m: The GB Women’s 4x100m bronze in Rio was the exceptional GB relay performance of the Games. Just 4 years prior they had failed to even qualify for the Games, and last year the young quartet of Phillip, Henry, Asher-Smith and Neita ran a stunning new national record of 41.77 to win GB’s first medal in the event since LA 1984. That medal was symbolic of the rising standard of GB female sprinting, after decades in the doldrums, there are signs that GB are on the brink of becoming a real force in the world stage. Led by the ridiculously talented Dina Asher-Smith, who has already reached 2 major world finals before the age of 21, and is single handedly writing the GB record books. Asha Philip has recently become European Indoor Champion over 60m and Desiree Henry has great potential as well as having one the world’s best yardsticks in training partner Daphne Schippers to aim for. Unfortunately GB pulled out of the World Relays due to a number of niggly injuries and while this was no doubt the right decision. It’d of been nice to have seen how they have continued to develop.

Men’s 4x400m: I don’t think we’ll ever know why the GB men’s 4x400m team were DQed in Rio it was just one of numerous questionable officiating decisions and it’ll probably forever be a tar on the games. Whether they would have won a medal we’ll never know, but if we crudely compare their heat winning “time” to the medal winning times, it suggests not. Of course that doesn’t take into account potential line up changes or the fact you step up in a final. Since those games Nigel Levine, relay mainstay and solid 400m runner was involved in a horrific motorcycle crash in Tenerife and may never been able to run again, this has obviously weakened the team significantly, then you have Martyn Rooney. For years our anchor and British No 1 but despite an abundance of talent he has always failed to deliver when it really mattered, and for that reason it’s time he goes so the team can build for the future. British Athletics seemed to share my sentiment as Rooney did not run in Nassau. The team of Matt Hudson-Smith, Delano Williams, Jarryd Dunn and Theo Campbell came 6th and sadly I feel this maybe a warning sign of a lull in GB men’s 4×4. Out of that quartet only Hudson-Smith has the potential to be world class, and for perhaps the first time in history, GB had no men’s 400m runners at the European Indoors. Traditionally we have always been strong in the men’s 4×4. Roger Black, Jamie Baulch, Iwan Thomas, Kriss Akabusi and even John Regis all had incredible unforgettable moments in the event, but maybe a trough is iminent. Time will tell.

Women’s 4x400m: In Nassau, this was the event we came closest to medalling in and I can’t really put my finger on why we didn’t to be honest. There was a turbo charge finish from Swiety of Poland, and Ohurougu lost out in a battle with MacPherson of Jamaica. I cannot help thinking the unthinkable, that former World and Olympic Champion Ohurougu may be starting to decline. She’s no spring chicken of course and she has suggested she would retire but it seems right now that our latest golden age of British Athletics is ending, the 2012 generation is stepping aside and that’s really sad. What’s worse is that I don’t see the athletes coming to continue the success. Over the last 10 years British athletes have been superstars, the very best in the World. Farah, Ennis, Ohurougu, Idowu, Dai Greene, Rutherford, the list goes on but where are their successors? It feels like we’re heading for a grey period like after the likes of Jackson, Lewis and Edwards retired where win do very little on the global stage but hopefully I’m wrong. Back to the women’s 4×4 though I think their future unlike their male counterparts, is fairly bright with the Nelson twins plus quality 400m hurdler Eilidh Doyle, there is a solid core to move into the post Ohurougu era.

Overall: With regard to the Men’s 4×1 British Athletics needs to sort itself because it is a mess, and it shouldn’t be unlike other nations we have dedicated relay squads and runners that are funded just to be on the relay, they should be specialists and they’re not even solid. They also need to sort the selection out. On the women’s side they have a clear pool of runners of which the relay is selected from, whereas the men it seems to be whoever’s in favour with the establishment at the time. Take Dasaolu for instance despite being no 2 on the all time list behind Christie, he was originally frozen out the team for being injury prone. Then he was brought in for the 2016 season (although left out of the Olympic final, which they screwed up). Before being stripped of ALL funding in 2017 due to poor performance, when the likes of Harry AA who seems more concerned with his muscle to fat percentage than sprinting, keeps his funding, as well as a bobsledder who has never ran competitively for GB in senior competition. It’s madness. With regard to the other teams, the World Relays was not the best but at least they know what to tune up for London. In terms of how we’ll do in London both Women’s teams can definitely medal, on paper the Men’s 4×1 should medal but they won’t cos they’re a mess and the Men’s 4x400m I don’t think has the quality to medal anymore but hopefully they can surprise me. London 2017 will be very interesting.

The Future of Athletics: Women’s 100m

The women’s 100m final was almost like a changing of the guard in women’s sprinting as one Queen gave way for another but even if for a brief moment you ignore Fraser Pryce the 2008 and 2012 champion and Thompson the 2016 champion. Looking down the result of that final it shows that in terms of talent and competition the event is about to enter a faster, more explosive and perhaps closer era depending on how the respective athletes’ careers progress. However before we look to the future we must explore the past.

Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce – Double Olympic Gold Medalist, 7x World Gold Medalist, World Indoor Gold Medalist and Commonwealth Gold Medalist. When it comes to women’s 100m sprinting over the past decade, Fraser-Pryce has been the undisputed queen. From her shock win in Beijing 21 yr old to her world title in the same city 7 years later. In the last 8 years Fraser-Pryce has lost just 2 major 100m finals, Daegu 2011 to Carmelita Jeter and Rio. In addition she has dominated the circuit most seasons, consistently finishing as World No 1 most seasons and her blistering Jamaican Record of 10.70 puts her 4th on the all time list. In terms of rivals, they were many that challenged over the years (Torri Edwards, Kerron Stewart, Carmelita Jeter, English Gardner, Torie Bowie, Daphne Schippers) both in terms of running fast times or the odd defeat on the circuit but none that truly called into question Fraser-Pryce’s position as undisputed no 1. It is testament to Fraser-Pryce’s dominance that out of those aforementioned women there isn’t really one great rival no Frazier to her Ali, or Evert to her Navratilova.

Stephen Francis, coach of both Fraser-Pryce and Thompson decided that Fraser should focus solely on the 100m that season meaning there would be a new world 200m champion (more on that later). While Fraser-Pryce was still clearly world no 1 with 10.74 world lead in Paris, Dutch former heptathlete Dafne Schippers was also blazing a trail on the circuit, running national record after national record and showing her credentials as a world class sprinter. While Schippers was no doubt impressive what was also becoming apparent in female sprinting was that the ladies were getting closer. The pool of women that could run sub 10.9 was increasingly widening and many commentators started to honestly question whether Fraser-Pryce with her maturing years (somewhat harsh considering she was only 28) could really take another title against this new breed of sprinters. In the final Fraser-Pryce once again rose to the occasion with her trademark rocket boost start and then held off the fast finishing Schippers to take yet another world 100m title.

While the future of the event was evidenced in that final particularly through Schippers and the multi-talented Bowie. It is Fraser-Pryce’s training partner that we now turn our attentions to. One Elaine Thompson. Thompson was not a name familiar to me at the beginning of the 2015 season, and I imagine it would be the same for most outside of Jamaica. I first saw her run live at the London Anniversary Games in the 200m where she ran a new pb of 22.10 beating Torie Bowie and I recognised that she was a talent over the longer sprint. Like with Fraser-Pryce Francis only entered Thompson for the 200m saying she wasn’t “ready for the double”. It can be argued that Francis’s decision was the right one as Fraser-Pryce defended her title in the shorter sprint and Thompson won a first major medal in the longer sprint. My assessment is that Francis was being far more calculated, from his point of view he wanted to have both his sprinters have success so entering them in each of their favoured events effectively guarantees this. Fraser-Pryce was reigning champ in the 200m and Thompson had run a 10.84 PB and had consistently ran sub-11 in the early season it is not unreasonable to say they would’ve been rivals.

Thompson did not win the 200m title in Beijing, that went to Schippers by 3 hundredths, but the performance Thompson produced demonstrated to the world that she was not just a good sprinter, it showed that she was one of the very greatest of all time. Period. Why? Because the Women’s 200m Final was the race of the championships and one of the most mind-blowing races in recent memory. Thompson led coming off the curve before tying up with 30m to go as Schippers overtook her to take the gold. Then eyes turned to the clock. Schippers crossed in 21.63, the fastest time for 17 years. Thompson crossed in 21.66, a personal best, 2 hundredths of the Jamaican record and a time that put her 5th on the all time list behind Flo-Jo, Marion Jones, Schippers and Merlene Ottey. Being amongst that company showed her incredible pedigree, but she had not taken the gold and it was the perceived wisdom of some in the athletics world that it would be Schippers not Thompson that would go on to tear up Rio the following year.

Focusing back on the 100m, in the 2016 season the contenders for the 100m Olympic title emerged as Torie Bowie of the US, Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce, Dafne Schippers and Elaine Thompson. Bowie the World bronze medalist ran a swift 10.80 in the opening Diamond League in Doha, and a new PB of 10.78 at the American Olympic trials (all be it finishing 3rd), laying down her credentials. Fraser, struggled with a toe injury for much of the season and had no major wins going into the Olympics, however considering her Championship pedigree and unerring dominance in the event over the preceding 8 years, it’d be a fool to doubt her. Schippers did not blaze a trail through the 2016 season either in the 100m, it is her weaker event but despite this she won the Monaco Diamond League 100m, defended her European 100m title and went into the Olympics with a world class season’s best of 10.83 from Doha (2nd to Bowie), someone with that 200m strength and the mentality of a champion will always be a contender. Finally Thompson, Thompson was the form athlete going into the Games with wins in the Rabat and Rome Diamond League 100ms, she also won the Jamaican title against none other than double Olympic champ Fraser equalling Fraser’s national record of 10.70. It was clear that Thompson’s 2015 performances were no fluke but could she go one better and take the gold this time out.

As always at a major champs the semi-finals were fascinating in assessing who was in the shape to take the title. Bowie won semi-final 1 in 10.90, Fraser edged out Schippers in semi-final 2 in 10.88, and Thompson won semi-final 3 also in 10.88. The stage was set.

It was a fairly even start, but then Thompson took the race over pulling away from one of the greatest sprinters of all time and speeding to the line in a blisteringly quick 10.71, just 1 hundredth of her shared national record. The silver went to Bowie who was left in the blocks a bit and came back strong in the final strength, and bronze went to the imperious Fraser, not at her best, she just did not have the next gear need to go with the new champion but despite the injury issues, she still medalled. Pedigree. It was a changing of the guard in a number of ways, but more so it is the dawn of a new era. Thompson went on to take the 200m gold too, she’s destined to have an incredible career. But look down the final, every athlete is young, quick and a number know how to perform in majors. I think Thompson can dominate a la Bolt but what’s more exciting is that the calibre of her rivals is such that the event could go to places we’ve not seen in a generation. I’m talking 10.6s maybe even 10.5s and whisper it but I think Thompson with that 200m PB, in the right race with the likes of Schippers in top form, could even threaten that world record from Flo-Jo time will tell, remember she’s only 24 years old.

The Future of the 100m

  • Elaine Thompson JAM (24) – Olympic 100 and 200 champion, World 200m silver medalist, Jamaican 100m national record holder. 5th on 200m all time list. Joint 4th on 100m all time list. PB: 10.70 NR
  • Tori Bowie USA (26) – Olympic 100m silver medalist,  Olympic 200m bronze medallist, World 100m bronze medalist, PB: 10.78
  • Marie Josee Ta Lou CIV (28) – African 200m gold medalist, African 100m bronze medallist, 4th in Rio 100 and 200, PB: 10.86
  • Dafne Schipers NED (24) – World 200m Champion, Olympic 200m silver medallist, World 200m silver medallist, European 100m Champion, 3rd on the 200m all time list, European 200m record holder, PB: 10.81 NR
  • English Gardner USA (25) – Olympic and World 100m finalist, American Champion, joint 7th on the 100m all time list, PB: 10.74
  • Dina Asher-Smith GBR (21) – European 200m Champion, British 100 and 200m record holder, PB 10.99 NR
  • Candace Hill USA (18) – World Junior 100m Champion, World Junior Record holder, PB 10.98 WJR

Laura Muir: The New Paula?

 

xfvslm4mIf you’re a Paula Radcliffe fan, you won’t like this article. If you’re a Laura Muir fan, you won’t like this article. Now we’ve got the caveats out the way let’s crack on.

Tuesday 16th August 2016. Laura Muir starts the Olympic 1500m final as world no 2. Like most middle distance finals the pace was slow. Until around 600m to go World record holder Dibaba made a surge, followed by World no 1 Kenyan Faith Kipyegon and Muir. Result -Kipyegon won gold, Dibaba silver, Muir? 7th. She couldn’t handle the pace of Dibaba and Kipyegon. She overcooked it and she paid for it in the last 200. More sensible athletes such as Jenny Simpson who sat back were rewarded. Afterwards British commentators praised Muir for her bravery. No. She flopped. She ran like an imbecile. She went in with the 2nd fastest time in the world which is great but it was set with a pacemaker. Yes she’s only 23 but she’s been to multiple championships. She should have developed a racing brain that tells her. She can run fast times (a couple of weeks later she set a world lead in Paris). So she should either run hard from the off, which I wouldn’t recommend. Or rely on her strength and wind it up rather than ‘kicking’ which she doesn’t possess the ability to do. In Rio she did neither she believed herself to be in Dibaba’s league because she’d run a fast time and tried to take her on at her own game. Idiocy. Fast forward to 2017. Muir is now double European indoor champion. Congratulations. But it doesn’t answer my glaring question of her. Can she beat world class runners when it truly matters. Allow me to explain.

Many pundits are likening Laura to Dame Kelly Holmes due to her record breaking exploits and her event. Kelly herself rates her very highly. However Kelly was never an athlete that ran around the circuit aiming to break records. Kelly was all about the medals. And while for most of her career she missed out on the G she consistently picked up silverware at every level, till finally in Athens she produced two of the greatest performances in the history of British athletics to become our first double gold medallist for donkeys years. Kelly is a legend and notably a championship performer. Right now, Muir reminds me much more of Paula Radcliffe.

Paula like Muir was a supremely talented athlete in terms of pace. She has a litany of records and is one of Britain’s 3 reigning world record holders  (Women’s marathon). However Paula never really did on the big stage. Her track career she became known as a perennial loser. She like Laura was a committed front-runner who suffered from the lack of pace makers at championships. Paula unlike Laura in Rio aimed to take out the pace herself but although she was fast on the circuit she would always fine she’d lack the strength in the major finals to maintain it or she came up against opponents that could run as hard as her and still have the little bit extra (which is why I wouldn’t recommend Laura to run like that). It’s the extra that makes a great. Paula didn’t have the extra, and I don’t Laura has either, they’re bottlers.

2004 Olympics Paula was the marathon world record holder and outstanding favourite for the marathon gold. She ended up dropping out and crying on the kerb. To her credit she did end her career with a global title but I do not think Muir will ever get there. Yes, Muir has now won some silverware but it was against nobody. Whether people admit it or not in terms of the hierarchy of championships, the European Indoors languish pretty low. Yes she’s fast but she doesn’t run fast in championships with other world class runners. It’s almost  like the combo of quality runners plus the pressure of a championships turns her into a different athlete. And maybe it does. It’s common for talented athletes to choke on the big stage. Asafa Powell, Leroy Burrell and countless others. This is why I can’t buy into the hype that she will become a Kelly or a Mo because you can’t teach championship mentality and you can’t really develop it. Championship mentality doesn’t mean winning gold. It means producing your best on the big stage. Some athletes are good enough to win golds without their best. But Laura isn’t in that bracket and frankly even if she did run a pb in a championship final the Dibabas, Kipyegons and Hassans would probably still best her. But she’d earn my respect.

It’s about time the British press stopped giving plaudits for so called bravery and guts when someone clearly underperforms as Laura does time and time again and started giving the plaudits to athletes that may not have the glamour of being record holders but that produce their very best when it really matters. The Asha Phillips and the Greg Rutherfords. I for one will not remember Laura Muir’s British record in the Paris Diamond League but I’ll always remember Greg’s leap on Super Saturday, Ohurougu’s dip in Moscow and Kelly’s shock in Athens.  Let’s give them the true champions their dues rather than bigging up the running version of a prize fighter.

The false narrative on immigration must be challenged not accepted

8xposters1This week Home Secretary Amber Rudd defended her vile, inflammatory speech on immigration by saying “it’s not racist to talk about immigration”, it’s not this is true. A week before Rachel Reeves, a former Labour Shadow minister predicted riots on our streets, if immigration wasn’t curbed, rhetoric that has unnerving similarities to that of Enoch Powell almost 50 years ago. Rudd is right that discussing immigration is not racist, however scapegoating and vilifying foreigners who work and contribute enormously to our society and our way of life, is disgraceful and wrong. When we talk about immigration why is there so few voices heralding the positives, the fact our economy relies on migrant labour, the fact our precious NHS relies on migrant labour, or the fact that without immigration Britain would be a homogenous, boring, less dynamic and frankly a worse country to live. Over the past 50 years or so a false narrative has permeated from the far right to the very top of mainstream politics, it is now dominant and in post referendum Britain it is now more vital than ever that our leaders, our journalists and our citizens challenge it. 

In 1968 in response to Labour’s latest Race Relations bill, prominent Conservative politician Enoch Powell delivered a speech that would become infamous, he stated that unless stopped,  Commonwealth migration would lead to racial violence between blacks and whites in Britain. When Powell made his speech he was widely condemned and sacked from the Shadow Cabinet for a “racialist speech”, however he did resonate with a small segment of the British public, those that saw Blacks and Asians moving into their areas as something to fear, as an erosion of British culture and as a threat to British society, for no other reason than that the migrants were different to themselves. I have no doubt that the comments from Rudd or Reeves connect with that same segment, but the segment is larger now, because influential, opportunistic elements, with very little challenge, have managed to turn a narrative that was once the preserve of the ignorant or the racist into a mainstream apparently acceptable belief. Whereas once the anti-immigration movement was simply, a minority that feared and hated those that were different to them, now it is potentially a majority of people who feel that it is “the other” (immigrants) that are the cause of their problems. This is the false narrative. This is what we need to fight against.

Immigration is not a particularly modern phenomena to Britain, the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans were all immigrant populations. The establishment and rise of the British Empire from around the 17th Century meant many peoples from British colonies ended up in Britain for trade reasons, for example many Indian seamen were brought over by the East India Company and a number of Africans were brought over as a result of the African Slave Trade to be servants for wealthy families. However the contemporary immigration debate has its roots in post-World War 2 Britain.

After the Second World War, Britain was a broken country, its cities bombed out, its people demoralised, its finances drained, it was a far cry from the global hegemon it had been at the start of the century, however it still had the world’s largest empire and the government encouraged colonial subjects to fill labour gaps, particularly in the NHS and London Transport. This was a call that was answered emphatically from the Caribbean and the Indian Sub-Continent from those who wished to serve what they saw as the “mother” country. The colonial education system had taught them that they must be deferential to Britain, that Britain was a nation where the streets were paved with gold and the opportunity to live and work for “mother” was the ultimate honour. When they arrived, despite holding full British citizenship they found their qualifications from British run schools and universities were not recognised, they faced appalling and disgusting racism and they struggled to find accommodation due to the colour of their skin. They arrived to a country they had been taught to worship only to find that despite needing them, it did not want them. Despite this, these immigrants  (my parents and grandparents among them) worked hard, paid their taxes and made a life in the UK despite the vitriol.

As Commonwealth immigration rose in the 50s far-right groups such as Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement and the White Defence League switched their focus from anti-semitism to anti-immigration, believing that immigrants should be repatriated so Britain could be kept “white”. Groups such as these inflamed tensions between whites and migrants, and in Notting Hill they co-operated with teenage gangs known as “teddy boys” to engage in “nigger hunts”. This led to the 1958 Notting Hill race riots where a mob of 300-400 white people attacked the homes of West Indian residents. It is in these fringe fascist, far-right groups where the false narrative originates, their ideology was grounded in racism, xenophobia and prejudice. These migrants talked different and looked different, so they do not belong, no matter what they did, they would not belong.

One of the great myths about the immigration story, one perpetuated by far-right groups such as the aforementioned as well as their successor is that immigration is unchecked. While it is true that between 1948 to 1962 all Commonwealth citizens were full British Citizens and had a right to work in the UK, from 1962 it was a different story, the Conservative government in response to “public sentiment”, passed the Commonwealth Immigration Bill which meant only Commonwealth citizens with government issued vouchers could come, at the time Commonwealth migration was 150,000 a year, less than 1% of the population. The legislation was described as a “cruel and brutal anti-colour legislation” by the Labour Leader Hugh Gaitskell, and this is exactly what it was, the public sentiment the Government referred to was simply an unease from the far-right (both within and outside the government) that so many non-white peoples had a right to work in the UK, on the contrary immigration barely affected large swaths of the public and those from areas with immigrant-growing populations, who were anti-immigrant, were being strongly influenced by the far right. Nevertheless controls continued to be tightened, in 1968, this time under a Labour government, a new Commonwealth Immigration Act was passed saying only those born, or had a parent or grandparent born in the UK, could come, clearly a deliberate attempt to prevent non-white immigration, and finally the 1971 Immigration Act removed the distinction between Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth migrants altogether, both would need a work permit to come. Britain shut it’s doors on the peoples it had subjugated for hundreds of years. 

Ironically, the same decade as immigration controls were being tightened, the National Front (NF) began to grow. The NF’s core beliefs were compulsory repatriation of all post-1948 Commonwealth immigrants and opposition to what was then known as the EEC. Their members consisted primarily of blue-collar workers who resented immigrant competition in the labour market. The NF were prominent through the 1970s and early 1980s and gained notoriety for their marches and altercations, such as the Battle of Lewisham in 1977 where they chose to march through a predominant non-white area carrying a provocative banner stating 85% of muggers are black, leading to violent clashes.  Despite their prominence, they wielded little influence, their membership peaked at around 20,000 and although the 70s and 80s were a time where race relations were perhaps at their tensest in the UK, it was only a minority of the population that actually supported the extreme, racist, anti-immigration stance of the NF.  As Britain entered the Thatcher era, with strong immigration controls, the NF died away, and public opinion became focused on other issues such as unemployment and deindustrialisation.

By the 1990s Britain was maturing into a truly multicultural country as descendants of the Commonwealth immigrants of the previous decades began to outnumber the original immigrants. Multiculturalism has undoubtedly made Britain a greater country in all arenas: sport, music, food, language and much more. Without multiculturalism we wouldn’t have: curry; grime; Mo Farah; Bhangra; Notting Hill Carnival; bistros, it has united communities, and from personal experience growing up in a multicultural, diverse community gives you a broader cultural understanding you just can’t get in a homogenous, inward looking society. New Labour recognised immigration was a positive for Britain and actively encouraged it, New Labour saw there were skills gaps that simply weren’t being filled by British workers. This wave of immigration in the Noughties and 2010s has come not from the Commonwealth but from the EU where freedom of movement is entrenched in the constitution. This has meant our country has been enriched further by the cultures of peoples from Poland, Romania, France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, the only negative being that strict controls remained in place for non-EU migrants, who still face some of the toughest immigration controls in the world because of the unproven, supposed “public sentiment” in the 70s.

Of course not everyone views immigration as favourably as me, the segment of society that fear and hate difference was still around, they’d supported Powell, they’d joined the NF and the BNP and now they probably vote UKIP. They tended to be white working class men in the former industrial heartlands of Britain, or those that had moved away as their areas changed for example former dockers, who moved from East London to Essex in the Thatcher years, holding resentment to the immigrants that had “changed” their communities. This group was unchanged however a far larger group would become sympathetic to their arguments, the communties of these former industrial heartlands had been destroyed by Thatcherism, she closed their places of work, their mines, their factories, their mills and their shipyards. They were not retrained and New Labour ignored their hardship believing their vote to be guaranteed. Then there was a financial crisis, followed by a recession which hit these communities harder than any other, they lost the precarious jobs they had, their taxes were used to bail out greedy bankers, or pay for a Westminster MP’s duck house. They were left behind by globalisation, forgotten by their leaders, their communities destroyed and not rebuilt, they understandably became disenfranchised and disillusioned with their lot. Nostalgic for a time when everyone had a job, and everyone got by. This disconnect didn’t formulate over a few months or years, it formulated over decades. 

Enter Nigel Farage, the living embodiment of influential opportunism. Farage is no racist. He is not a far-right firebrand like Enoch Powell or Nick Griffin, I suspect he’s not even particularly anti-immigration, his wife after all is German. Farage however does categorically believe one thing, that Britain would be more prosperous outside the European Union. Europe however isn’t something that many people have strong opinions on, at least not pre-2015, so a party centred around that issue was never going to be particularly successful, and they weren’t for a long time, then Farage stumbled across a genius, calculating electoral strategy. He saw a large swath of society that felt disillusioned, disconnected and forgotten, white working class Britain, the Tories had never been there for them, Labour had left them, the politicians were corrupt, the bankers were corrupt, who’s there to represent them, the ordinary working man, well a public schoolboy from Kent of course, but a public schoolboy from Kent with charisma, which brought him influence. This is when the false narrative really kicked into gear, Farage targeted these communities and he told them he’s one of them, and they were persuaded by his anti-establishment cause, it is a characteristic of many revolutions to whip up a mob against notional faceless enemy, whose prime feature is there difference to the mob, in history this enemy has been anything from capitalist industrialists, to imperialists. The key to Farage’s “revolution”, was that he attributed all the strife this group felt from their decades of injustice and hardship, to foreigners. Finally they had an outlet and reasoning for their pain, no other figure had cared enough about them to explain it. Farage’s assessment made sense, foreigners in Brussels were making their laws (never mind that they don’t), foreigners were stealing their jobs (never mind that they don’t want those jobs), foreigners destroying their communities (never mind there’s no foreigners in these communities). It didn’t matter that it was false because no one bothered to challenge the narrative.

As UKIP rose, Westminster instead of challenging UKIP’s narrative, chose to pander to the UKIP cause, after UKIP won the 2014 European Elections, the Tories promised to crackdown even further on migration despite, migration even EU migration actually being quite low and beneficial for the country, Labour traditionally pro-immigration shifted to the right because of a fear of losing swathes of its base to UKIP and most pertinently of all the Tories promised a EU referendum, the goal of UKIP and Farage’s entire political existence. Fast forward to 2016 we had a campaign that was run entirely around immigration, UKIP had succeeded in pushing the issue from the fringe to the very centre of the debate, Leave campaigners (from all parties) told the people immigrants are the cause of all your problems, vote Leave and we’ll stop them, yes there were other reasons people voted to leave, yes it’s far more complicated than people being psychologically seduced by the false narrative but what’s clear now is that the Westminster politicians have no intention of correcting this false narrative or challenging it, with the exception of Jeremy Corbyn of course, and this lack of challenge will go on to have even more damaging consequences than just Brexit. We had a referendum, leave won, so we leave, fine, we did not have a referendum on immigration, and it is disturbing, scary and dangerous that, intelligent, sound-minded individuals who are not vehement racists or xenophobes, believe the British people are ardently anti-immigration, no they’ve just been conned, by a very clever electoral ploy.

I hope I’ve gone some way to busting the myths on immigration. I hope I’ve teared apart the false narrative a little. Immigration is a net benefit to our economy and our society, immigrants work hard and pay their taxes, unlike Google or the banks, immigrants quite literally built the Britain of today and contributed immeasurably to the culture of our great country. What is the great shame of this current political vogue, is that these cold, hard facts are being ignored by the same establishment that ignored the working class for so long. If we continue with this scapegoating and this demonisation of immigrants and foreigners, we go down a dangerous path, a path that has been travelled down in the past, when Amber Rudd says companies must report the amount of foreign workers they has ominous similarity to Hitler wanting all Jews to wear a yellow star so they can be identified. This is how it starts, it starts with rhetoric and it’s followed by policy, this is no longer a fringe belief, this is our government, we can’t let this be our 1933 moment we have to challenge this now before it’s too late. Hate crime is rising because people believe it is now legitimate to be racist, this has to be stopped, it has to end, it is our similarities not our differences that make us strong, it is our diversity, not our homogeneity that make us “Great” Britain, I fear that it is now being quickly forgotten.

 

Let’s talk about Keynes

0 R“The decadent international but individualistic capitalism in the hands of which we found ourselves after the war is not a success. It is not intelligent. It is not beautiful. It is not just. It is not virtuous. And it doesn’t deliver the goods.” – Keynes

Now I’m no economist, I did geography at university, but I was recently in a basic economics lecture and the lecturer’s approach was troubling to me. Principally it was his assertion that monetarism had won the 20th Century economic debate by miles, with his only qualification being some complex maths. Now this view contrasted with my own studies so I’d thought I’d do some research.

In economic geography we refer to mainstream economics as “political economy” and there are three main accounts of political economy: Keynesianism, Monetarism and Marxism. I’m going to discuss Keynesianism and Monetarism.

To ascertain who won we must look at what each school believes. Keynesianism dominated Western economies from the end of World War 2 till the late 70s. It’s central tenets were that capitalist economies are prone to boom, bust and crisis, and they tend towards overaccumulation. To mitigate the inherent instability of a capitalist economy there should be strong state intervention, known as “fiscal activism” whereby the state hoards money in times of boom, to spend on infrastructure in times of crisis, with the ultimate goal being “full employment” for the population. Keynes also believed in tough regulation, as left unchecked businesses and intermediaries (such as banks) would engineer a crisis. He equated stock markets to casinos where those with better resources and information such as corporations or banks have an advantage over ordinary people, and for that reason, the general public should be protected from the stock market to avoid mass speculation like that which led to the 1929 Wall Street Crash. Keynesianism also advocates a welfare state to try to even the inequalities created by capitalism. Crucially it states inflation is not as important as fiscal activism, as the “Phillips Curve” showed that decreasing unemployment caused high inflation.

It was this curve that led to the downfall of Keynesianism in the late 1970s. The curve was firmly discredited by the stagflation crisis which saw high unemployment and high inflation in much of the western world, which shouldn’t of been possible if the Phillips Curve was correct. Monetarists argued this meant Keynesianism didn’t work, actually this crisis was likely due to the fact that governments didn’t adhere to Keynesianism properly as spending cuts and tax rises are detrimental politically, instead they just kept spending especially pre-election.  It was in this time of crisis that the monetarists emerged from the shadow of irrelevance they’d occupied since the 1930s to try establish their doctrine as mainstream.

Monetarism is neo-liberal, free market economics, it argues that the state should play as little a role in the economy as markets, are perfect and self-correcting. In practice this means deregulation and the roll back of the welfare state, as well as the encouraging of all actors to take part in markets, to create a “shareholder democracy” where everyone is financially independent of the state. In terms of this debate, perhaps the most important postulate of monetarism is that controlling inflation is the essential to a stable economy, not fiscal activism, as Keynes advocated. Monetarism was first applied in Chile after an American-backed coup ousted the incumbent socialist government and replaced with right wing dictator Pinochet. The new government then implemented the policies of key neoliberal theorist Milton Friedman, with questionable success, however with the elections of Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the US, monetarism replaced Keynesianism as the political economy of choice in the late 1970s.

Now you may be thinking well if monetarism became hegemonic and Keynesianism was discredited and died away, my lecturer was right and monetarism did win “hands down”, well, no. The 2008-09 crisis was the most severe financial crisis since the Great Depression, this came after almost 30 years of neoliberal policies (including the proclamation of the end of boom and bust in the period now referred to as the Great Complacence) and was undoubtedly a crisis of neoliberalism, the low interest rates (supposedly controlling inflation), encouraged a era of cheap credit, where everyone from ordinary consumers to the biggest banks borrowed like never before, the banks loaded their balance sheets with complex financial products tied to extremely dodgy mortgages, aided by the light-touch regulatory regimes established by neoliberal leaders meaning when the housing market crashed, the economy blew up. Controlling inflation hadn’t prevented the crisis, light-touch regulation had failed and because more people were exposed to markets than ever before, it affected the real economy more severely than ever before. To combat the crisis the US and UK governments resorted to Keynesian policies, they bailed out the banks and they pumped new money into the economy.

The crisis showed that Keynes was right about boom and bust, he was right about regulation, right about protecting the public (who ended up bailing out reckless, failed banks) and right about the cause of crises. Therefore Keynes didn’t really lose the debate. Yes monetarism became ascendant but that was because of a series of political coincidences, accidents and tides (Pinochet, Thatcher, Reagan), as well of the failure of Keynesian thinkers to adapt and reform the system in the aftermath of the stagflation crisis.

Fast forward to 2016, neoliberal thinking is still ascendant, despite the crisis which is testament to its strength, but maybe it is a lack of perspective from economists such as my lecturer why this is the case. I propose two things: 1) what if an independent body, was charged with implementing Keynesian policy, pumping and hoarding money when necessary, this removes the temptation of governments to print money when their economy’s lagging, and builds on the existing independent status of many central banks that are charged with controlling inflation; 2) that we move away from viewing political economy regimes so narrowly, there are far more factors that affect both systems than questions of inflation or unemployment, social issues, geographical inequalities, long-term processes or political legislation for example, economists should move away from their pure-science model to one that is holistic and all-encompassing, if they are to become better at preventing crises.

Who won the debate? Well the way the economy is today, it’s still ongoing.

 

Corbyn must stay, the plotters are the issue

Jeremy Corbyn Takes The Lead In The Labour Leadership Race

5 days on from the referendum, British politics (not to mention the country as a whole) is bedlam. Her Majesty’s Government has descended into infighting over their next leader when they should be focused on trying to tackle the mess that is Brexit: when are we triggering Article 50; is there a way to keep Britain (or at least the parts that want to) in the single market; how do we stop the rising incidents of despicable racism; what does post-Brexit Britain look like; what’s the plan? Do any of the Tories know? Nope. They’re busy trying to work out which of the short straws is longest: Bozo Boris?; Theresa “close the border” May?; Stephen “born on a council estate” Crabb?; Other? It’s certainly a great watch, luckily though we have Her Majesty’s Opposition to hold them to account and actually ask the questions the people need answers to for reassurance that our elected officials can actually steer us through the oblivion that is Brexit, oh wait, no, Labour have decided that this period of national crisis is the perfect opportunity to try and oust the democratically elected leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Right. Ok. Makes sense.

Since Friday, Margaret Hodge (yeah I’d never heard of her either) called a vote of no confidence in Corbyn due to what she saw as his lacklustre campaiging during the EU Referendum, on Saturday night, Shadow Foreign Secretary Hillary Benn was sacked after saying he no longer had confidence in Corbyn’s leadership, this then sparked a wave of (seemingly staged and planned) Shadow Cabinet resignations over the coming days, who all called on him to resign. The vote of confidence was lost by Corbyn by 172 to 40, and again they called on him to resign. Today former Labour leaders, Labour deputy leaders and even the lame duck outgoing PM himself have asked Corbyn to go. The situation as it stands is that Corbyn is still in office backed by: his parliamentary loyalists, McDonnell, Abbott and Thornberry; the majority of the membership and the unions. It is expected that the now former Shadow Secretary of State Angela Eagle will launch a leadership challenge tomorrow.

So let’s look at what the MPs issues are with Corbyn. A number of MPs were unhappy with his campaign to keep Britain in the EU, some going so far as to blame him for the Leave vote. Well while Jeremy is a known Eurosceptic, he rightly backed Remain as he understood Britain in a reformed EU is far better than leaving altogether, I believe this pragmatic view was the right position to campaign on as opposed to the “EU is perfect” line advocated by some further to the right in the Labour party, as it has become clear, large swathes in Labour heartlands had animosity to the EU due to flames stoked about immigration (actually a largely positive force) by UKIP over the last 20 years or so, then the Leave campaign over the last few months, these voters bought into a false narrative concocted over a number of years when Labour was ignoring it’s deprived, disllusioned heartlands. Corbyn is mending those bridges (2/3rds of Labour voters did vote remain) but it’ll take a long time to win back those that haemoraghed to UKIP. Regardless the referendum was not lost because of Corbyn, it was lost because of the Tories (From Thatcher right through to Cameron) and the failings of Blair/Brown Labour government to bring prosperity to its heartlands. Another issue the PLP seem to have with Corbyn is that he can’t win an election as he’s out of touch with the general electorate. Well Labour are currently neck and neck with the Tories in the polls, Jeremy won the Labour leadership with the biggest mandate ever, he’s been winning elections in his constinuency since 1983, he’s won every by-election during his leadership tenure, Labour won back the London mayoralty, and Labour remain the biggest party in the local elections. There is simply no evidence that Corbyn wouldn’t connect with the electorate, but plenty on the contrary. I would hypothesize that given the anti-establishment sentiment that is becoming dominant in this country, as evidenced by UKIP and the Greens rise as well as the referendum result, Corbyn would inspire a swath of voters as a genuine anti-establishment leader of a mainstream party, with policies that would help the most deprived in our society. The people are begging for a genuine alternative to the painful, cruel, heartless, needless austerity of the Tories, Corbyn is this.

It’s clear that this attempt to force Corbyn out, has very little to do with the referendum or his leadership, it is a pre-planned coup by the Blairite bloc of the party who fear the left of the party winning as it would prove their “modernisation” and ideologies to be what they are, outdated and ineffective. The country’s moved on, New Labour should go. What is particularly sickening about the actions of the PLP over the past few days is that it is exactly what is turning people against Westminster politics, Corbyn was democratically elected by over 200,000 ordinary, hard-working people including myself, who are the PLP to remove him, they have no legitimacy, they know no better than us, they are not better than us, they are not smarter than us, if anything they’re stupider if they think Labour is better off without Corbyn, if Corbyn goes they’ll be giving the country to the far right for a generation, seriously, the stakes are that high. The PLP have no right to overrule the will of the people, Labour are the party of the people. If this coup succeeds they will relinquish the right to call themselves that. They will become hypocrites and traitors to the ideology they claim to serve. What they’re doing is selfish, nasty and treacherous, and is exactly the kind of underhand behaviour that makes so many people hate politics, and why so much Labour voters have been turning to the “straight-talkers” of UKIP.

Thankfully, Corbyn, being the great man of the people sees resigning as a betrayal of the membership which he clearly values, he’ll be on the ballot and will undoubtedly beat Eagle in an election. What happens then? There is serious talk of a split if Corbyn wins the election with those that are against Corbyn forming a new party, with Corbyn perhaps then forming a left-wing alliance with the Greens and SNP. Whatever happens, this nation needs a Corbyn-led Labour party in whatever form that has to take. More importantly it needs a Corbyn-led opposition even more, pressuring the weak Tories and preparing to win an iminent general election, instead the PLP may have pushed Britain even further into the abyss. There’s a vacuum of leadership in the time of our greatest need, the one man who could of helped is being backstabbed by his own party. It’s truly shameful. The most worrying thing of all, they think Corbyn and the membership of the Labour party are in the wrong for wanting to follow the rules. We live in a democracy. The problems with politics today is that the Westminster elite are more concerned with what the richest and the media think, rather than the cast-iron democratic will of the people. Look at recent years, the media has been wrong on every election result (Corbyn remember has been attacked by the media more than any other political leader in history and still won the biggest mandate in Labour history), as has Westminster MPs, the people have stopped listening to those that believe themselves betters, those that talk in soundbites but do nothing, those that look great on camera but care only about their own ambition, the people want their voices heard. Labour is the party that needs to listen before it’s too late but the only one listening is Corbyn, but the Westminster cabal led by the smiling Labour assassins have sharpened the knives. I stand with Corbyn.

A Dark Day For Britain

20131243153252734_20“A victory for real people, a victory for ordinary people, a victory for decent people” – Nigel Farage

Britain will be leaving the European Union. That is the will of the people, well 52% of them. I like most Remain supporters, now fear for this country, I fear for what we’ve become, I fear for what we’ve done, I fear for what the future holds. Brexit will cause great pain and suffering in all arenas of British life. The economy will crash, jobs will be lost, the poor will be become poorer, the right wing government will be given more powers to force their ideological cuts on the most vulnerable in society, the undercurrent of racism and xenophobia that has bubbling in certain sections of the UK will bubble over, and of course the UK itself will cease to exist in short this decision is a catastrophe in every way, and I truly believe that this day will be remembered as the beginning of Britain’s darkest period.

Now why would the people of Britain make such a disastrous decision, what could drive them to ignore all informed wisdom, facts and sound argument. The answer to this question is a false narrative could persuade them to plunge Britain into darkness. Now don’t get me wrong I’m no raving Europhile, I, like Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, have many issues with EU particularly it’s neoliberal agenda and treatment of Greece, however the EU is Britain’s biggest trading partner, it makes the country prosperous, it provide jobs, we can move freely around the continent, it protects our human and workers rights, it helps tackle climate change, plus the fact that 27 countries that have spent the majority of their histories invading each other now solve their problems through talks and negotiation is a truly remarkable thing. Frankly without the EU we would struggle in the modern world, as we shall now find out. It’s very cold out there we’ve just burnt our lovely technicolour fleece.

So what was the false narrative that persuaded 17m to say “up yours Delors” for good, was it the lie that the EU is slowly eroding away our sovereignty, or the lie that there are secret plans to form a European super state, nope. Instead the Leave campaign ran a very effective campaign targeted at the white working classes in the most deprived areas, the former industrial heartlands destroyed by Thatcher in the 80s, who were then the biggest victims of the financial crisis and subsequent austerity programme, not forgetting the 12 years of New Labour completely disregarding them altogether. Their disillusionment is understandable, politicians don’t listen to them, they don’t help them, why should they care. The genius of the Brexiters, influenced by Farage and UKIP over the last few years is to convince the disillusioned that all their problems are not the fault of Tory austerity, a banker-fuelled financial crisis and Thatcherism. That actually it’s because Johnny Foreigner has stolen their jobs, their houses, their child’s school places and their parents’ hospital beds. This of course didn’t happen, for one there are no immigrants in rural areas and two, immigrants have an overwhelmingly positive effect on our economy, always have, always will. Leave however demonised these heroes of our economy, and inflamed as much vitriol, racism and xenophobia as they could, they ran a campaign of hate and division, which worked we’ve left. And now the moderates tell us they’ll be more migrants from the Commonwealth except when there were waves of Commonwealth migration in the 60s, 70s and 80s the same demonisation took place “keep Britain white”, “we’re full”, “fuck off to your own country”, my parents were victims of such attitudes so I’m quite passionate about this, my point is, what was one fringe far right views of groups such as the National Front, UKIP and the BNP are now mainstream views of the electorate outside London and Scotland. The Brexiters have not simply made it acceptable to discuss migration, they’ve made it acceptable to scapegoat, and simplify the argument. Britain is becoming a country were ignorance is king. The people chose feeling over fact. That’s dangerous because contrary to what Boris and Gove probably think, this will continue, now the white working class see they can affect change, they’ll keep going after EU migrants they’ll be new targets, Muslims?, black people?, gays?, a touch papers been lit and I’m no longer convinced Progressives on the left can reverse the false narrative that’s been planted in these communities. I’m all for voting against the establishment, I’m all for protest, I’m all for making your voice heard, but all they’ve done is make it worse for themselves, they chose the wrong enemy, they were fooled, they believed the myths and lies, they were narrow minded, and the repercussions are already becoming apparent we have a divided nation, a broken nation, and amongst 48% of us there is a sense of great shame that our countrymen chose this path.

Politically, the PM has gone, we knew it’d happen. I’m no fan of Cameron’s but the uncertainty is only going to get worse if we have no stable government in this period of limbo, there has to be a leader to say this is what happens next, this is what leaving actually means, because let’s not forget, there was no plan, Farage, Gove and Johnson just had a crib sheet of soundbites “Australian style points system”, “we can govern ourselves”, “we’d adopt the Great Britain model”. Then we’re potentially gonna have another election for the new PM (Boris) to have a mandate, I’d vote Corbyn of course but I fear that his message is too late to break through to the disillusioned, the communities of the North needed Labour to address their concerns at the last election, instead Miliband chose to pander to UKIP as well as committing to austerity. A Corbyn government would alleviate their problems, yes but they’ve already been seduced by Farage’s pint and gravy vision of Britain, if there’s an election, I expect more UKIP MPs, a Tory/UKIP coalition and Farage in the cabinet. My optimism’s dried up this is the Britain we live in now, the right wing is king, the left’s too busy infighting. I say Britain, Scotland, NI and London were sensible and all voted Remain. Scotland will go now and rightly so, they got dragged out by England which just isn’t fair, this would of course mean the UK would cease to exist as we know, which like many of the Brexit consequences is a terrifying prospect. Sinn Fein are calling for a unification referendum which could become a flashpoint for a renewal of the Troubles, which thankfully have been non-existent, my generation. Finally Labour, well guess what the PLP are blaming Corbyn surprise, surprise. Blair and Miliband lost Scotland by ignoring them. Blair and Miliband sewed the seeds for the North voting out by letting UKIP slowly grow in the absence of Labour attention. Corbyn’s task is vast but you can’t blame him for long term trends, especially when the facts show only 37% of Labour voters that voted Out, this was a Tory/UKIP Brexit not a Labour one. However the PLP have wanted him Out from day 1 so any excuse. Frankly if he is forced out, I won’t be too fussed, right now I don’t think this country deserves him.

Economically, we’re in big trouble, overnight Sterling dropped to it’s lowest level since 1985, lower than even the 2008 crisis. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney was forced to make a statement to settle the markets but predicted further volatility. I’d hazard a guess than that volatilty will be fairly long term. It’s also inevitable that they’ll be mass job losses due to our ties with the EU there are a number of firms that are based in the UK, specifically because of our access to the common market, without that, they’ll now look into relocating and finally we’ve just walked out on our biggest trading partner, sort of shooting your foot to well, shoot your foot.

This result will usher in a new age for Britain, a dark age, of decline and misery. It’ll be doom and gloom, it’ll be awful, and we’ll look back on this day in history as the most significant since WW2 in British history and most certainly as the greatest mistake this country has made since the days of Empire, the day it changed. And do you know the worst thing, the people that dragged us out did it for the wrong reasons, giving the establishment a bloody nose? No you ensured the establishment (Boris, Gove, Farage) will be setting our agenda for years to come. Meanwhile you shunned the one and only anti-establishment leader. Well done. Enjoy “freedom” you real, ordinary, decent people. You got your country back. Mine meanwhile may be gone forever.

Cruyff, The Player: A Tribute

Soccer - Holland

“In a way I’m probably immortal.” – Johan Cruyff (1947-2016)

Today is a sad day, today we lost one of the true legends of our beautiful game, Hendrik Johannes Cruyff. Now I’m no football journalist, I write this unapologetically as a fan and Cruyff was archetypal in transforming football into the game it is today, and the game I fell in love with as a young kid. I have decided to split this piece into two parts, one focusing on Cruyff as a genius player, another on Cruyff’s mercurial managerial career. It is not an overstatement to say that in terms of influence on football, no one will ever again match Cruyff. The ideas and beliefs he introduced to the sport, the philosophy he made possible as a player, then perfected as a manager, “Total Football” is the foundation of some of the greatest sides of history, his followers include the greatest managers of our time, Guardiola, Wenger and his influence has spread to every corner of the world. Any team that plays a possession based, fluid, interchangeable system, is a disciple of Cruyff. Far more than a great player, he was the closest this sport has to a prophet, a role he didn’t shy away from as demonstrated by some of his philosophical musings:

“Playing football is very simple but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is”

“If I wanted you to understand, I would have explained it better”

“The most difficult thing about an easy match is to make a weak opponent play bad football”

“Technique is not being able to juggle a ball 1000 times. Anyone can do that by practising. Then you can work in the circus. Technique is passing the ball with one touch, with the right speed, at the right foot of your team mate”

“Football is a game of mistakes. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes wins.”

“Every trainer talks about movement, about running a lot. I say don’t run so much. Football is a game you play with your brain. You have to be in the right place at the right moment, not too early, not too late.”

“Quality without results is pointless. Results without quality is boring”

“It’s better to go down with your own vision than with someone else’s”

Cruyff began his career at Ajax, before Cruyff a relatively unknown club in Amsterdam. After Cruyff one of Europe’s greatest ever clubs. Cruyff did that. Cruyff became a regular for Ajax in 1965 under Rinus Michels, a revolutionary manager who pioneered an idea that was later to be known as Total Football, the idea was that rather than every player play a very fixed, rigid position as was commonplace at the time, he believed that the team should be fluid, they should switch and interchange, if the right back bombed forward, someone should fill his place etc. In Cruyff, Michels had the perfect player to orchestrate his ideas, while Michels preached Total Football in the dressing room, it was Cruyff that would literally conduct the players on the field, blessed with a football brain and intellect that was second to none, his vision was such that he could almost see moves before they happened, he was truly remarkable. With Cruyff on the field, and Michels in the dugout, Ajax became dominant at home, winning 4 out of 5 Eredivisies between 1965 and 1970, then in 1971 Total Football won Ajax the ultimate prize in club football, the European Cup, easing past Panathinaikos 2-0 at Wembley. After taking Ajax to the very pinnacle, Michels moved on to Barca. Cruyff was to stay for a bit longer.

It was early that very same 70-71 season that Cruyff would first wear his famed no 14 shirt, on the 30th October 1970, Cruyff lent his teammate his no 9 shirt and pulled a no 14 out of the spare shirt bucket. Ajax beat PSV 1-0, and superstitious Cruyff insisted on the side keeping the same numbers next game, much to the dismay of the Dutch FA, who had previously stipulated starting 11s must wear 1-11. Cruyff got his way however and the affair was symptomatic of Cruyff’s turbulent relationship with authority. He was an arrogant egotist, but he was also more often than not right, and a genius to boot. Cruyff was a innovator destined to smash the established order to smithereens. He was before his time. A trailblazer. It is no surprise he would go on to boss things. His influence on the game was taking shape.

Stefan Kovacs took over from Michels at Ajax and continued his Total Football philosophy retaining the European Cup, in what was interpreted as a highly symbolic victory over Inter Milan. Journalists said Cruyff (now a Ballon D’Or winner) had single handedly ripped apart Inter in addition to scoring both goals and that Total Football had killed off Italy’s defensive catenaccio system. Ironically apart from the early 90s Milan side featuring Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard, Total Football never took hold in Italy as it did in other nations. This match however was a changing of the guard. Inter represented the past with their rigid, defensive, structured system. Cruyff with his long flowing locks and Ajax was the future with their attacking panache and fluid system. In 1973, Ajax made history by becoming only the second side in history (after Real Madrid) to win 3 consecutive European Cups (beating Juventus and young Dino Zoff in the final) sealing their place in history, as one of the greatest club sides ever. Early in 73-74 season Cruyff would take the next step in his career, Barcelona.

When Cruyff arrived in Barca, they were not the all conquering European behemoth they are today, as it was his later managerial tenure that would help build them into that behemoth. They were instead a team that hadn’t won a league title in 13 years. The move saw Cruyff reunited with Michels and the two set about bringing Total Football to Spain. Cruyff moved to Barca when Spain was still ruled by General Franco, and the Catalunyan people in particular had suffered greatly at his hands. Signing the best player on the planet was considered a major coup for Barca, and a great lift for the Catalunyan people, they fell in love with Cruyff, not only for his skill on the ball, but his role as a figurehead for a resurgent Barcelona. He made Catalunyans feel pride in their side and their identity. No more so can this be demonstrated than in Barca’s comprehensive 5-0 drubbing of Real Madrid (Franco’s favoured team) at the Bernabeu. It was iconic. Cruyff had humilated Barca’s greatest enemy, and perhaps in the process humilated Franco and to this day, it is a match that has never been forgotten, one journalist said Cruyff had done more for the Catalunyan people’s spirit in 90 mins than politicians had done in 90 years. It was in this that Cruyff would score his most famous goal, “The Impossible Goal”, an extraordinary backwards overhead kick against Atletico Madrid. Barca went on to win their first title since 1960. Cruyff practically became an honorary Catalan, he gave his son a Catalunyan name, Jordi, and developed a great mutual affection with the Barca fans one that would only grow with his return in the dugout the next decade.

1974 was the year of Cruyff’s 3rd Ballon D’Or, and also the year of the pinnacle of his playing career the 1974 World Cup. Before the tournament once again demonstrated his rebellious, innovative side while every player wore the 3 stripes of Adidas, the kit manufacturer of the national side, Cruyff had a special shirt with 2, he had personal endorsement deal with Puma, you could say he invented player power. The tournament where the world first witnessed Total Football in full flow. Michels left Barca at the end of the season to become the Netherlands head coach and moulded a team that marvelled the world. Widely considered to be one of the most attractive, beautiful teams that have ever graced the World Cup, Netherlands were a side that everyone wanted to watch, they played differently, they astonished and bamboozled. It was a revelation and Cruyff with his sumptuous style and casual flair was the epitomy of that. Ghosting past defenders like they weren’t there with deceptive pace, and incredible close control. His impeccable passing, always knowing where his teammates would be as he and his teams became masters of space ie. controlling the space, to control the game and increase the likelihood of winning. In the 2nd game of the group stage Cruyff would produce a moment of genius that would become the moment of the tournament, and something that would be remembered, and attempted for generations to come. First Cruyff picked the ball out of the air with one touch, incredible control in itself, then was immediately faced by Swedish defender Jan Olsson, Cruyff turned his back on him and shaped to pass or cross, so Olsson went for the block tackle, rather than pass however Cruyff dragged the ball behind his planted foot with the inside of his other foot, turned through 180 degrees, and accelerated away, to the point that Olsson ended up tackling thin air and staring into an empty space where Cruyff formerly was, Cruyff had left Olsson for dead. He then put the cross in unhindered by the mortal full back. It wowed the world then and still does now. It became known as the “Cruyff Turn” and one was one of Cruyff’s great contributions to the game. It was symptomatic of the Dutch side’s ingenuity and creativity but even more remarkable, was that unlike the great tricksters of today, Cruyff who did not believe in showboating, had not practised the move beforehand, he saw an opportunity to get past his man and he invented it in that split second. Very few players have such ability. It was truly incredible. Often forgotten is that the Netherlands didn’t actually win the game, it ended 0-0 but no one cared Total Football had captured the world. From then on it was not about who would win, it was about what other marvels could the Dutch side produce on their way to winning.

In the 2nd group stage Netherlands faced Brazil in what was effectively a semi final. Brazil were the reigning champions after the magnificent 1970 sides victory but were a declining force after those heady days, gone was Pele and in Netherlands, they faced a side that equalled them in technical, individual skill, but exceeded them in teamwork. Total Football isn’t just about flair as Brazillian football traditionally was, it was about the unit, interchangeability, defending as a unit, attacking as a unit, you did not have 5 defenders and 6 attackers, you had 11 attackers and 11 defenders, games were not won by individual brilliance but by greater mastery of the ball and of the space. Netherlands won 2-0 in a victory even more symbolic than Ajax’s over Inter. Netherlands had outplayed the nation that made the game beautiful, it was a game that would arguably kill off Brazil’s free-flowing unrestricted style. In Brazil they soul-searched eventually concluding that it was required to introduce the discipline of Total Football (while also sacrificing flair whereas Total Football harnesses it) into their own game and their 1994 World Cup winning side was the result of this, rigid, defensive, organised, yet dull. Rather than embrace Total Football, Brazil regressed to the European style that existed before Total Football, and while it brought them success, it is sad that we shall perhaps never see a Brazil side play with the freedom and recklessness of the ’70 side. Total Football was beautiful but it had victims.

The final was against West Germany, the Netherlands greatest rivals not solely because they are neighbours but because of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during WW2. A great deal of fans had lived through the war and the wounds were still deep etched in the national conciousness, this was a chance to regain pride on a sporting scale. Nobody doubted the Netherlands would win, it was a foregone conclusion, they were perhaps the greatest side ever to grace the competition, another result wasn’t possible and right to script within 2 minutes Netherlands were ahead, Cruyff picked the ball up in midfield, ran thru the German defence like they weren’t there and was brought down in the box. Penalty, which Neeskens duly dispatched. It was exactly what was supposed to happen. Except the Dutch stopped. They did not want to simply beat West Germany, this was a derby, this was the biggest stage in football. They wanted to humiliate them. So they played with the Germans, toyed with them, playing keep ball, but not causing any further damage, never threatening a 2nd goal, they had become arrogant, they had taken the foot off the gas. The other problem was that Germany hadn’t read the script this was their World Cup, their showcase, their fans, their stadium, they didn’t believe the hype, they believed in themselves, their side included Beckenbauer, the greatest centre back ever, Muller one of the greatest goalscorers in history, they were no mugs and sure enough they punished the Netherlands, they equalised with a penalty of their own half way through the first half, before adding a second before the half-time whistle through the dangerous Muller. The Netherlands were in shell shock. They tried to turn it on again in the 2nd half but it was too late once the intensity dips it’s almost impossible to regain. The Germans were typically German, stout and resolute. Impenetrable. Cruyff and the Netherlands had lost. Forever to be remembered as the greatest side to never win the World Cup. This was to be Cruyff’s only World Cup but his mark on the competition is eternal. The defeat would stay with him for ever. It taught him it was not enough to simply play beautifully, you also had to win or it means nothing.

Cruyff won the Golden Ball for his majestic World Cup performances. Back at Barca Cruyff won a Copa Del Rey in 1978 before moving to the ill-fated North American Soccer League as all the greats did in the 70s. He retired from the national team after helping them qualifying for the ’78 World Cup in Argentina, Cruyff refused to play in a country ruled by a military junta, his principles were more important to him than sport. In 1981 he returned “home” to Ajax after his American escapades and a brief spell in Spain’s Second Division with Levante. He won 2 more league titles and famously passed a penalty, which current Barca stars, Messi and Suarez, recently honoured, but Cruyff as with so many things, did it best. After the 82-83 season, Cruyff was refused a new Ajax contract because at 36 he was deemed too old. Cruyff disagreed, signed for Ajax’s rivals Feyenoord, and in a deep-lying playmaker role helped them win the double, even scoring against Ajax in the process, celebrating emphatically, Cruyff had produced one last miracle in his playing career. He went out on top with a 5th Dutch Footballer of the Year, and in typical Cruyff fashion, he went out proving a point. Influential, outspoken and brilliant. A genius in every sense. He was an artist whose brush was his boot, and his canvas was the pitch. If Cruyff had done nothing else after his last game he would never of been forgotten. However he did do something else he signed a contract to be Ajax manager in 1985.

405gls in 711 club games

369gls in 661 club games

33gls in 48 games for the Netherlands

The Netherlands never lost a game when Cruyff scored

3 Ballon D’Ors

3 European Cups

9 Eredivisie Titles

1 La Liga

Simply the most influential man in the history of football.

My All Time Euros XI

17aa0cb9078ac63f08ebb00c827b88c6Unless you’ve been living under a rock or perhaps aren’t into football (if the latter is true I advise you to stop reading), you’ll be aware the Euros are imminent. Once again Europe’s best plus Northern Ireland will take part in a month long festival of football culminating and the incredible Stade de France in Saint-Denis. As part of their build up UEFA have come up with a 50-man shortlist of the Euros greatest players and have invited us fans to pick our greatest XIs. Here’s mine.

The Formation: Now usually with such online dream XIs the formation is fixed. Normally a rigid 442 or more recently a 433. UEFA however provided a wide selection. After viewing the defender choice I was more than happy to go with a 433, especially as there was no real width in the midfield selection.

The XI:
Schmeichel DEN
Lahm GER Puyol SPA Beckenbauer GER (C) Maldini ITA
Zidane FRA Iniesta SPA Gullit NED
Henry FRA Muller GER Van Basten NED

GK: Peter Schmeichel (Denmark) – Undoubtedly one of the greatest goalkeepers ever. In my opinion the greatest. While most associate him with the all conquering United side of the 90s. It’s often forgotten that he was pivotal in Denmark’s remarkable 1992 triumph. He made crucial saves and was key to the well organized, rigid Danish system with the Danish back 4 often passing back to him so he could waste time (one of the reasons for the backpass rule being introduced swiftly after). Many great keepers have played in the Euros but Peter was the number one.

RB: Philip Lahm (Germany) Although I’m more used to him playing Left back or a holding role in the current Bayern side. Lahm is of course famously versatile and also right footed so in this side he’ll play right back and would do a typically exemplar job. Lahm is one of the greatest fullbacks of his era and dragged a very mediocre Germany side to the Euro 2008 where they came up against stellar Spain and still were fairly resolute. It seems almost unfair that someone who performed so exceptionally at every Euros he’s attended has ended their career without a winners medal. Luckily Lahm has a World Cup medal to console him. Solid, dependable, attacking but functional. Everything great about the new German football was symbolised in Lahm.

CB: Carles Puyol (Spain) – Captain of the greatest club side that ever graced a football pitch. Puyol brought that leadership to a Spanish defence which while hardly discussed was impenetrable. Puyol had it all as a centre back. Bravery, timing, reading of the game and of course as a student of La Masia he could pass. The archetypal ball playing defender but with the ability to get stuck in with the best of them. Not as easy on the eye or languid as Pique but more complete. Also he’s won 2 European Championships. Impossible to leave out.

CB: Franz Beckenbauer (Germany) – The man they called the Kaiser. Probably the greatest centre back to play the game. He had it all. Beckenbauer invented the sweeper position and played it better than anyone since. Also one of the most versatile players thats ever lived. Being able to play in midfield and being a genuine goal threat whatever position he played. Captaining West Germany to victory in Euro 72 before lifting the World Cup on home turf. Der Kaiser is an automatic selection and captain of this side.

LB: Paolo Maldini (Italy) – The greatest left back of the last 20 years? Maybe. Cafu and Lahm would be certainly be in the debate. Luckily Lahms already here and Cafu bizarrely made no Euro appearances oh wait, Brazilian. Lol. So the mercurial Maldini is free to take his well deserved place as the left back in this XI. Famed for his longevity playing at the very highest level for 20 plus years. Maldini was a class fullback who almost always won his duels against wingers before converting into an equally world class centre-back in later years. A major international title unfortunately eluded Maldini, but his star turn in Italy’s Euro 2000 run ensures him his place in this list.

CM: Zinedine Zidane (France) – The finest footballer of his generation and one of the greatest players of all time. Zidane is another automatic selection. Zidane had it all and did it all during his career. Goals, passing, vision, strength, creativity, skills, dribbling there was nothing he could not do on a football field. One of my earliest Euro memories was Zidane almost single handedly putting England to the sword in Euro 2004. But it is perhaps more Euro 2000 where his majesty and poise in the French midfield set the tournament alight. As he helped France follow up they World Cup win with a 2nd European triumph. Following in the footsteps of earlier mercurial French talent, Michel Platini in 1984.

CM: Andres Iniesta (Spain) – One half of the greatest midfield partnership that ever played the game. You can’t mention Iniesta without mentioning Xavi but I think Iniesta’s just that little bit better. Not just a playmaker. Iniesta controls games and always has the potential to be a matchwinner, scoring some wondrous goals across his career. At Euro 2008 and Euro 2012. Iniesta effectively had to play the Messi role in Spains tika-taka Cruyffian system. He and Xavi provided the magic that turned simple possession into devastating attacking moves in split seconds. His brilliance helped Spain win 2 consecutive titles and he was the best in both sides. Particularly  in Euro 2012 when Spain’s strikerless system allowed Iniesta to showcase his incredible dribbling ability. Although his best days are behind him. Expect him to still be phenomenal come June alongside Spain’s new generation, the old master will still shine. The best player in the best side in European Championship history.

CM: Ruud Gullit (Netherlands): The 3rd midfield berth was one of my toughest choices and I’m still contemplating switching to 442 to accommodate the master that is Pirlo. Gullit edged Pirlo because he has a winners medal. Not just any either. Gullit was a key part of what was until Spain in 08, the greatest side to win the Euros. The Netherlands in 88 were a joy to behold. Finally getting Total Football the trophy it had deserved since the days of Cruyff. With Rijkaard, Gullit and Van Basten, the Netherlands had one of the all time great triumvirates and they were devastatingly good. They didn’t just win, they won beautifully. Their football was sumptuous. Those lucky enough to see them in the flesh were blessed. The rest of us must settle for YouTube. But it is for these reasons, for lighting up the Euros. Gullit is in.

FW: Thierry Henry (France) – One of my all time favourite footballers, the 2nd best striker I’ve seen play the game after Ronaldo (Messi and CR7 are forwards not strikers). Henry was electric. Pace, pace, pace, touch, control, dribbling and glorious finishing. Has there anyone more clinical from a one on one than Henry. When he opened he body up everyone knew what was coming up. An ingenious footballer. Scoring some of the most creative goals ever seen. Quality. In French side blessed with great strikers: Trezeguet, Wiltord. Henry shone as he helped France lift Euro 2000. France’s greatest striker alongside Just Fontaine.

FW: Gerd Muller (Germany) – One of the greatest goal scorers ever. Muller knew one thing scoring goals. More famous for his World Cup scoring exploits. Muller won the Euro Golden Boot with West Germany as they lifted the title in 72. And it is this winning pedigree that gets him in the team ahead of Pirlo in midfield.

FW: Marco Van Basten (Netherlands) – If you don’t believe in magic. You Tube Van Basten’s volley in the Euro 88 final against the USSR. The greatest Euro goal by one of it’s greatest players. Van Basten is another automatic selection. As that volley demonstrated. Van Basten was capable of scoring goals no one else could score. He was special. When Arrigo Sachi set about building the great Milan side of the early 90s it was Van Basten that was the key. Rijkaard and Gullit weren’t enough you needed the sprinkling of magic Van Basten provided. Unfortunately his career was cut short by horrific injuries but his performance in Euro 88 alone ensures he walks into this side.

Substitutes:
Lev Yashin (USSR), Frank Rijkaard (Netherlands), Lilian Thuram (France), Andrea Pirlo (Italy), Michel Platini (France), Xavi Hernandez (Spain), David Villa (Spain)

The Manager: So that’s the team so who to manage such a motley crew. Well no manager has won 2 Euros so this honour goes to one of the game’s greatest ever managers, Rinus Michels, one of Total Football’s architects. Who managed the great Ajax side of the early 70s with Cruyff. The great Netherlands side of the 70s again featuring Cruyff and on his return to the national team he went one better than the 74 side always remembered for losing beautifully by winning beautifully in 88 with a side perhaps equally as talented. A true pioneer whose footballing philosophy influenced so many great sides of today. There was only one choice for such a team.

The Voice UK S5 Blind Auditions 3: My Thoughts

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“You look like a Charlie’s Angel. I’d like to be your Charlie” – will.i.am

Rapidly concluding that this is the worst series of The Voice ever, ITV must be seriously regretting their purchase all though Ricky Wilson’s absence will improve S6 immensely one would imagine. So what did we have this week. Well there was the usual quirks an Asian boy singing country, Paul from Waterloo Road, Chris Waddle’s daughter who lacked the talent of her father and there was even what I think was a Voice first, there was a coaches bust up, yes you read correctly, a bust up between the most cordial judges in television. Who? Who? I hear you screaming at your screen well it the red corner was will.i.am and in the blue was Ricky who frankly just sounded like a whiney bitch. Will won of course but it was a surprising bit of drama which although teased last week, actually turned out to be a genuine bust up. Ricky took issue at Will claiming that he should’ve turned, implying that he did his own thing and didn’t like people telling him what to do. That’s fine why do you need to make a big thing of it. Did you turn? No. So shut up innit. Will was just basically like bruh stop whining, you sound like a little bitch. “Oh I hate it when you do that. It makes me feel bad”, grow some balls!

Anyways enough of the drama, the music, was anyone good? Yes actually. Finally. Some decent talent. 18 year old Lauren from Ireland had a great voice, it had a little bit of huskiness and she sounded great, definitely my fave act so far along with Essex Rapper Mk2 last week and most importantly like Essex she picked the right coach, Will over Paloma.

Coachwatch: Other than the bust up. The topic of the day was waistcoats, Ricky is obviously the poster boy of them and this week appeared to have some kind of waistcoat sensor where every act he turned for had a waistcoat. George had a quiet week, as in I can’t remember a single thing he said or did, although he does appear to still be struggling with the show’s concept mind, bless think he might have dementure, poor thing. Paloma and George are struggling so much with it, in fact BBC made a special feature of them expressing how shocking when someone looks different to how they sound, maybe you should join another programme if this concept is a little beyond you guys.