Service before self – exemplary recognition

001On Tuesday evening I was one of a number of people who picked up an award at an event organised by the Essex County Football Association. The venue was Chelmsford City F.C. and it was pleasing to see so many friends have their prodigious efforts acknowledged.

I am not going to name-check everyone who I knew there, if for no other reason than I am bound to forget someone. However, I will mention Nick Janes who I sat with. Nick, a thorough gentleman, is someone I have known for many years. His career in football is a testament to the referee’s motto of ‘service before self’. Anyway, my mere twenty-nine years in football administration pale in comparison.

It all began with a conversation with a work colleague, Mark Ward (Marcus). Marcus, a member of a non-playing band the Kippars (with the anarchist circle around the ‘a’) was a reasonable footballer, whilst I was just this side of hopeless. Anyway, Marcus and I had tried a number of other enterprises – we had written a fanzine (Confidential Waste, which only lasted one issue) and had sold some of Nasty’s clothes at work (Nasty was a punk clothes shop in Clifftown Road). We began thinking about sport, and football in particular, and decided to try to see whether we could get enough friends interested. With alarming speed we had gone from conversation to impromptu gathering at Priory Park, to deciding we could and would form a team.

Marcus had gone to Southchurch boys high school and we both were working in Victoria Avenue, and so we settled upon Southchurch Victoria F.C. as our name We had to go for cheap kit, and so we opted for green shirts, black shorts and socks, in the hope that this was least likely to clash with other teams. My memory fails me when it comes to our change colours, but I do recall that the cheapness of our first kit meant that it was very itchy. We eventually acquired a new set of shirts, cast offs from Ekco Sports Club. (When the club became Methane F.C. the club colours changed to something similar to what Blackburn Rovers wear – blue and white halves.)

I was made Secretary, this would have been in Spring 1984, and we applied successfully to join the South East Essex Sunday League. After a season I decided to look into becoming a referee, and in October 1985 I qualified as a Class Three referee, By 1989 I was promoted to Class One.

Fast-forward to 2013 and I find myself awarded an Exemplary Service Award, and my footballing widow (and now politics widow) was there to see Lawrence Segal present it to me. This is awarded for twenty years service to the beautiful game. I will soon be eligible for the Outstanding Service Award, for although I quit refereeing in November I am still on the Executive Committee for the Southend and District Borough Football Combination and have the role of I.T. Officer. One becomes outstanding after thirty years, although I may have to wait because my refereeing career was interrupted twice.

I hope I have not allowed my ego to make nonsense of the referee’s motto, for aside from this award it has been a story of turning up and enabling many young people to enjoy their sport.

Fitness and foxes

I sit on the board of Active Southend, being appointed after my election as councillor last year. This is chaired by Cllr Derek Jarvis and brings together various sports, fitness and health groups. I am on this body as a councillor, but do have a sporting interest as I have been involved in local football for almost twenty-nine years. Although now retired as a referee I still sit on the executive of the Southend Borough and District Football Combination.

At yesterday’s meeting I sat next to someone from Active Life and had a brief chat about that organisation before the meeting formally commenced. A number of topics were covered and when the discussion on obesity unfolded I confess to feeling somewhat sheepish. My lack of exercise and fondness for food has left me overweight, bordering on obese, and I have been making resolutions for many years to do something about it. Crisis is an overused word, but it is appropriate when considering the weight of the collective British. Many of us are fat, and we are getting fatter. Active Southend hopes to play a role in reversing this disturbing trend.

In the evening I caught the train to Westminster to attend a Fox in Parliament meeting. Here I met the ‘other’ Angela Smith. Prior to the 2010 General Electi0on there were two Angela Smiths in the House of Commons. The former MP (and now Baroness) for South Basildon and East Thurrock is well known to me; meeting the MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge was a first. Discussion covered the impending badger cull, as well as the likely vote to repeal the hunting ban next year.

The badger cull is a tragedy, best explained by Team Badger. The repeal of the hunting ban is a step towards barbarism. This government is not animal friendly.

I think this chapter now ends

My football career has had a number of interruptions over the years. These have been due to factors outside of the game itself, for despite the occasional provocation from ill-disciplined players my enjoyment and desire to give something back have kept me going.

My playing career began in 1984 and lasted for barely over a season before I opted for the role of match official.

I do not have my match diaries for the earliest seasons of my career, but I do recall that my first game as a referee (as far as I counted it anyway) was in the late summer of 1985. This was an encounter between Runwell Raiders and Southchurch Victoria (I think this ended as a 4 – 4 draw, but my memory is fallible). This friendly was played at the Runwell hospital grounds, which I think no longer hosts football.

My first official, post qualifying, game was at the end of October 1985. I recall it being a Southend Borough Combination fixture played at Bournes Green Park, and that one of the teams was Southend Estuary.

I think my career total stands at 1065. This is my final total as last weekend I made my mind up that I would retire. My final game at Belfairs North was a Southend Sunday League Charity Cup fixture between Leigh Ramblers and Area Boys (6 – 4).

I have stopped before, when working away from home made my weekends too precious and busy. I have stopped in recent seasons around about March time to put in time in election campaigning.

It is with regret that I now retire, my decision being entirely due to my political commitments which have meant that something has got to give. I have been actively involved in football for over twenty-eight years, and I will still have some contact as I am still the IT Officer for the Southend and District Borough Football Combination.

Will I miss it? Of course I will. Will I change my mind? Possibly, although I am time poor. I need to do something about my fitness, which whilst never great has steadily deteriorated in recent years.

At 53 I am not particularly old in refereeing terms, although my damaged left leg often means that I am in considerable discomfort. The freed time will be put to use in campaigning and committee work as I realise that I should be putting in more time as a politician.

The referees’ motto is “service before self”. I am afraid that service to the residents of Milton must now take precedence over Southend and Essex footballers.

Remembering

I observed my minute’s silence a little earlier than most people today – at 10.30am to be precise. This was because I conducted this show of respect for the fallen in two world wars just before kick-off in my second football game of the season; an affair that ended Playfootball Elite 1 – 3 Ekco Munchengladbach (Southend Sunday League Cup Section B).

I am still clinging on as a referee, just. I approach my infrequent games with a little more apprehension nowadays. My political commitments leave me little time for football, and as the gap between games grows I worry whether I am still up to standard.

As for the remembrance: I have contributed to both red and white poppy funds this year. I rarely wear the poppy, and in fact when I gave to the British Legion this year I did not take one. I am not opposed to them, just not keen on wearing one. Part of this is the ubiquitous nature of them – somehow I am trying to show in my own small way that you can honour the dead without the public display.

As I have written before, my existence owes itself in many ways to the First World War. One grandfather was killed in battle in northern France, the other fled Belgium when it was invaded and fought from his new base in England. My paternal grandfather, who died at Arras aged 26, was largely unknown to my father – dad was just three years old when Arthur was killed. The death, however, had a huge impact in the days before the welfare state. My widowed grandmother and her two surviving children shared two rooms with her brother and his family in crowded conditions that defy my skills in attempting to describe. My father’s poor health (he lost all his teeth through malnutrition and went deaf following a mastoid operation, crushed a leg at fourteen that was nearly amputated, and eventually succumbed to cancer) was in no small part due to the poverty they endured. Grandmother remarried and produced three more kids.

I have Arthur’s framed picture on display at home – a remembrance of a grandfather who gave his life for his country some 42 years before I was born.

Scouse

I am of Scouse descent; the Ware-Lanes originated in the Liverpool of the nineteenth century. I am no Liverpool supporter; for perhaps perverse reasons I support Aston Villa and Southend United (and Millwall, if allowed a third team).

My wife and five children are Liverpool fans, as is my boss and many friends. Liverpool’s results are the second I look for (after the Villans) – I hope for their defeat. This is only for sporting reasons – I do recognise that they are a team with a great history.

I can vividly recall where I was when I heard about the Hillsborough tragedy. I remember a warm Spring Saturday afternoon, and I was refereeing at the John H Burrows Recreation ground in Hadleigh. Coming off after a match that had a 2pm kick-off I can remember some on the touchline listening to their radios, in obvious shock and horror at the unfolding news. The rest of the day was spent watching the TV with a mixture of disbelief and stupefaction. This came, it will be recalled, only a few years after Heysel and the Bradford City fire. The beautiful game, my game, had a dreadful eighties.

Today’s revelations are appalling; this is no hyperbole. I cannot imagine how it must feel to find out that a dead loved one could have been saved.

The Police did not have a good eighties. They had become the tool of the establishment and a times treated ordinary working people as the enemy. Times have changed, thank goodness. I only hope that the PCC elections do not start us back on the road to a politicised force.

Tina C. Smith

I cannot recall when I first met Tina Smith; it was easily a decade ago and could have been considerably earlier. I do know that our paths crossed on one of the playing fields in or around the Southend-on-Sea area. Tina Smith managed one of the Cupids Country Club FC teams, and I have refereed her teams many times over the years.

Women in football at senior level are rare; more common at grassroots level it is still unusual, especially to see a lady as manager of a men’s team. Tina’s passion for the beautiful game and her knowledge meant that she managed men for a long time, and with some success.

I got to know Tina better when I joined the Southend Borough Football Combination management committee in 2006. Tina was secretary of this competition, a post she held since 2000, and still held until her untimely death.

Tina’s passing is something that all who knew her knew was coming – she had battled cancer for many years. She had got some remission, but the dreaded illness returned a couple of years ago. It took a serious turn for the worse about a week ago, and I was forewarned to expect bad news. I got this news last night.

Tina was not just the secretary of the SBFC, she held the post of Vice chair since 2007. Previous to this she was the assistant secretary for the 1999 – 2000 season. Tina also held positions with the Essex County Football Association, and it is no exaggeration to say that she was one of the premier voices in local football in Southend, if not the premier voice. People will come forward to fill her shoes, but whether they will manage all her roles, with as much aplomb, remains to be seen. Whatever, Tina contributed a huge amount to grassroots football and she will be sadly missed by many.

Tina and I had gentle banter about our respective teams. Her love for Manchester City versus mine for Aston Villa saw much ribbing, although City’s recent successes skewed the arguments greatly in her favour. We would also discuss politics; Tina, a natural Conservative, respected my socialism, and our debates were without rancour. She was quite critical of the local administration, especially in its attitude to football in our town, and she was genuinely pleased with my recent success.

Inspired and ready to perspire, not yet to retire

Although pleased when we won the right to host the Olympic Games in 2007 I cannot pretend to have been that excited in the long run-in. Curious? Yes. Concerned about costs? Yes too. Worried about security? Yes again.

However, that all changed when the Games finally arrived. What I have managed to catch has been exciting, memorable, and is showing our country in a good light. Our successes have been a delight to witness, and if only I were thirty years younger I might have been inspired.

I have been involved in organised sport for twenty-eight years. I am pretty useless at sport, but I have tried to not let ability be a barrier. I can claim football, hockey, cricket, table tennis and running amongst my (in-) glorious sporting failures.

I am still a County registered football referee. My last game in March was a Southend Sunday League Division Three encounter between Zeds and New Basildon revolution (0 – 2) – my twenty-seventh of the season. For some time I have been wondering whether it would be my LAST, and I do mean my final as opposed to most recent. I stopped in March owing to the elections, and getting elected has meant an already crowded diary getting to the point of silly some weeks.

I also considered hanging up my boots because after twenty-eight years’ service to the beautiful game I was beginning to think that that was enough. I have a dodgy left leg (caused by a patellectomy in 1980), am overweight, am getting old, and these all conspire to make ninety minutes on muddy pitches chasing around after fit young men half my age more and more difficult.

However, in part inspired by the Games, and in part inspired to keep active and do something different from the 9 to 5 grind and the chores involved in being a minor politician, I have decided that I will do some more games. My resolve may crumble after the next difficult game, but my real enemy is time. I find myself in the crazy situation of being asked to serve my community as a councillor, and in doing so finding it increasingly difficult to serve it as a sports official.

Elected this year in Olympic year, unless the election cycle changes my re-election will also be in an Olympic year. This thought led to a quip from a resident this week that I was the ‘Olympic Councillor’. No-one will recognise Olympian as a description of me, but that comment did make me smile. Since campaigning is invariably a marathon exercise, and not a sprint, I will take that tenuous link for now.

Clash of the meetings

The late starting Labour group meeting overran last night, and such was the amount of unfinished business we have decided to reconvene next week! I am desperately trying to be a different type of councillor, one who speaks to residents more than he attends meetings. So far I fear my aspiration is a dismal failure.

Last night’s meeting was important and informative. We went through the Cabinet papers, deciding which items to call in. This is one of the ways we can call the ruling administration to account. We also had a debate on some policy items, and one of the reasons we overran was because there was one item that generated a lot of debate. Once we have reached a settled view I am sure something will go to press.

Being at the Labour Group meeting meant that I was unable to attend the AGM of the Southend Borough Football Combination. I am pleased that in my absence I was re-elected onto the management committee.

More agony than ecstasy

A combination of things prevented my watching the England versus France game yesterday. The game kicked off whilst I was still in the office. Heavy traffic on the A127 and the need to speak to a resident about a parking issue meant that whilst I listened to a large chunk on the radio, I have only seen a few highlights.

I watched quite a bit of the Sweden versus Ukraine fixture which was on by the time I reached home. I was able to enjoy this in a way that is absent from my England experiences.

I cannot watch England friendlies – they infuriate me to a point beyond anything pleasurable. Competitive matches give me a strange mix of dread and hope over experience. Watching England compete is an exercise in waiting for disappointment. I have got so used to frustration and failure I am not sure I could cope with success.

Actually, I have watched England win something. I was six in 1966, and have been told I watched the final. I remember nothing of it. In 1970 our rented TV broke down just in time for the World Cup quarter-final encounter with West Germany. I was listening to it on a portable transistor radio and relaying what I could to my almost deaf father.

I quite like the idea o bring back the Home International Championship. Every game was tough as Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were all desperate to beat England. These were competitive in a way entirely missing from the annual round of meaningless friendlies. We even stood a chance of winning something.

Boro Comb meeting

I was a bit jaded by the end of the Southend Borough Football Combination management committee meeting last. This is due to the three hours endured in the airless heat of the Len Forge Centre. We had a lot to get through, and we agreed to reconvene in a couple of weeks when it became clear there was still business to be transacted.

There is a malaise hitting grassroots football, with decline evident everywhere in male open-age football. The Combination is likely to have some modest growth in the coming season, and this will largely be due to the merger with the Southend and District Football League (which, as reported elsewhere in these musings, sees more than a century of history go down the pan on Friday with its last annual general meeting).

As well as a voice for Milton I intend to be a voice for local football on Southend’s council. The local football scene was once amongst the very largest in the country. The story today is one of neglect and decline, and I do not think football has been well-served by the local council in the twenty-eight years I have been involved.

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