Here Is The News

I GUESS anyone who watches Talking Pictures TV loves to immerse themself in a sea of nostalgia.

Especially me. I love the old sights, sadly gone, of London, the British countryside, other cities and towns. The clothes, the shops, the cars…everything.

But watching Going For A Bundle – Evening News the other day was total joy for a different reason.

I caught the last half of it, a fly on the wall look at newspapers in the mid-1970s. The glory age of typewriters, rulers, pencils, hot metal and teamwork from advertising through to circulation, the van drivers to the newsagents.

The joyful days that I saw the tail end of as a young work experience boy at the Coventry Citizen before joining the Coventry Evening Telegraph in the days when it sold big.

When the pile of papers arriving in the local newsagent would still be warm from the printing press. When newsrooms were noisy, vibrant places of work, with cigarette smoke and the odd old hack still spiriting away a bottle of something in his desk.

When there was real skill in sizing up photographs, rewriting typewritten copy and avoiding the very real dangers of ‘the spike’ on every desk. Before computerisation spoiled it all and cuts for profits turned newsrooms into dull, library-esque boxes.

I am sure the current crop of journos doing their best on Britain’s titles, in print or online, will always cringe at talk of the golden age. But I wish they could see Going For A Bundle. It ought to be compulsory viewing for any students at journalism college.

I’m sure it is only the trick of nostalgia, but there seemed to be more characters back then. Odd, worrying, the centre of attention, easy to get on with, difficult, but all knowing their role inside out.

The days before press offices took over control of our news coming from councils or police, government or sports. When a reporter could talk happily on the record to a bobby on the beat, lowly council officer who knew his/her stuff inside out and had captains of industry willing to discuss the most difficult issues.

Before the cry of fake news for anything people disagreed with.

A very different age. When free holidays to exotic places were offered in exchange for a few lines, when provincial motoring correspondents were allowed to test drive the latest top secret model and not just those coming off the production lines at Coventry’s big car firms.

I remember my first experience of watching a film preview at Coventry’s Odeon Cinema in the 1980s. An afternoon screening of something, where I was the only person in a 500 seat auditorium. There were enough sandwiches, cakes, biscuits and nibbles for a Buck House garden party and the alcohol? Well, there always seemed to be enough to sink the Titanic.

I was glad of the opportunity to go again, despite wandering back to the CET offices hopelessly drunk.

Even then, as long as you could do your job, the booze was part of the myth. We all went across to the Town Wall Tavern for a few beers at lunchtime, or sometimes the Stag, Rising Sun or other watering hole. The social club bar would be open at lunchtime, too, for those who didn’t want to venture far, if it was pouring down with rain, for example.

In the days when the pubs didn’t open again until 5.30pm, the door to the House of Commons at the TWT would be left open and there would be a troop of scribes from Corporation Street slipping quietly through to top up the lunchtime levels.

If it all seems a bit Laurel and Hardy, the quality of writing, photography, subbing and news values were second to none.

Going For A Bundle? I hope Talking Pictures TV screen it again. The blurb suggested the programme, filmed by Southern, had been lost for decades. It deserves to be headline news again in my book.


No More Heroes

WHEN I was an impressionable teenager, I used to skip school dinners and save the money for music purchases.

I’m sure my grandparents would have had a fit, but when you could buy a single for under a quid, the money I saved on a diet of chip butties in Blue Coat School canteen went someway to bolstering my record collection.

Seven inch singles, 12 inchers for the best mixes and cassettes for the long players. All on primitive players in my bedroom. A place of sanctuary, where music and lyrics spoke to me like nothing else.

I recall this as news filters through that Talk Talk frontman Mark Hollis has died.

I heard the single, Talk Talk, on the radio. I loved it. One day after school I walked up to the old HMV store in Coventry, next to the Dog and Trumpet, to find it. The record store was a little bit dingier than they are today, darker lighting and an atmosphere second to none. A land of magic where the wide-eyed romantic could be lost in titles, album art, chords and notes and words.

It must be old age when I say music was better back than, in the early 1980s. Certainly more varied. The heavy rock brigade was putting Britain back on the music map, the synth slickers were bringing ever new and wondrous sounds to life, and pop was exciting – forgiving the sins of the Birdie Song, Shaddap A Your Face and Agadoo.

Talk Talk exploded onto the scene and I bought the first couple of singles, then the cassette album, Party’s Over.  Then came new, or rather older music, as I borrowed LP upon LP from Coventry Library and the group went on the backburner.

Until the It’s My Life LP came out a couple of years later. I was older, certainly not so much wiser, but that album, and the follow up, Colour Of Spring, were amazing.

Hollis’s death brought home the realisation that we are losing our music heroes at a rate of knot. And it’s only going to get worse in the coming years.

The list of A-listers, people who changed the course of music history, who are filling out heaven’s house band is amazing. Days before Hollis, Pete Tork, of The Monkees, passed away. This year alone we’ve lost Daryl Drake, the Captain of Captain And Tennille, Ted McKenna, a powerhouse drummer with the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Rory Gallagher, among others, and James Ingram, the American singer.

Last year, it was Pete Shelley, Aretha Franklin, Jon Hiseman, Vinnie Paul, Jabo Starks, Dolores O’ Riordan, Dennis Edwards, ‘Fast Eddie’ Clarke, who were among a stellar list of musical heroes and heroines of mine.

The oft-abused phrase, Soundtrack of My Life, is unravelleing in the worst way possible.

True, some attained greatness early on and failed to build on it. Yet others have continued to impress and inspire long into old age.

10cc wrote a song back in their heyday of their own Fab Four – Godley, Creme, Stewart and Gouldman – called Old Wild Men. The musicians of yore – ‘broken men who lie low, waiting for miracles…still gonna play guitars, On dead strings, and old drums, They’ll play and play to pass the time…The old wild men’.

When music was all about youth, about reinvention rather than longevity. When The Shadows, ground-breaking rockers became establishment favourites, the rebellion of The Beatles, family favourites, the anthems of rock and roll still cherished.

How long until the original Fab Four are reunited?

And why is it in death that rockstars, unappreciated and mocked by newer generations, have a glowing reappraisal beyond the grave?

Mark Hollis was an unlikely pop star. A genius who gave the music business up for real life, to be with his family, to be a dad. I can only marvel at his musical genius.

And mourn the passing of one more stranger who had such a positive impact on my life.




The Winds Of Change

TOWARDS the end of the last rugby season, I was lucky enough to be taken into Rowland Winter’s inner sanctum and glimpse his vision for Coventry.

On a big board, divided into sections, were initials and names of players going, confirmed as coming, and targets.

Currently, I’m not a jobbing journalist and thus I’ll treat the occasion as very much off the record, but I was surprised and delighted at the ambition of Winter, his coaching team and obviously, by default, Cov chairman Jon Sharp and his management colleagues.

There were some big names on that board. Big targets. Big ambition.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen Cov go from having some of the best rugby players turning out in blue and white, to a focus on has-beens or youngsters with promise. There didn’t seem to be a balance.

And I’m sure there will be queues to disagree with me, but Zinzan Brooke’s arrival  in the city of three spires was a headline grabber more than a recipe for success. I’m sure his experience helped others around him, yet it didn’t translate into promotion. I’m still dubious of the wisdom surrounding it.

I’d rather have players approaching their best, hitting their best or a fraction past their best in the matchday squad. Players with something still to offer and not just on the pitch. Another former All Black, Sam Tuitopou, has proved his worth to Cov in so many ways. And he was part of a promotion-winning team.

It’s a personal opinion, but sometimes Cov, with all its financial question marks of the past few decades, seemed to throw money at mercenaries in the hope of putting together a team worthy of promotion.

There were always those that were true Coventry blue, but the mix failed to gel.

Winter has made that a goal and, with some notable exceptions, is building a team for the future.

I may be accused of being a one-eyed Cov fan, someone with rose-tinted glasses. Those who know me well will say I’m anything but. I always look for positives, but I’m not afraid to call it straight.

This season, we’ve been agonisingly close to winning more games. We’ve lost games we should have won. Hartpury College springs to mind. Some of the decision-making I’ve witnessed, by forwards and backs, has been curious at times. Some of the execution of moves has been sluggish, confused and, at times, akin to schoolboy level.

But there has been a coming to terms with the way some teams in the Championship have been used to playing. Some teams follow a boring template of possession, kicks for territory and a willingness to wait for mistakes to happen to win back ball. A cycle of repeat.

It’s not been pretty, to my mind, but it’s been effective. Cov’s all-court game, with a leaning towards attack, has come unstuck. Yet I’ve also seen evidence of improvement, almost as if early on, players were still nervous of doing what they do best.

We’ve also won games that, by rights, we should have lost. Sometimes, the blow of a whistle has gone our way. The bounce of a ball. A forward pass gone unsighted by the whistle and flag men.

That is sport. It happens. For and against.

As I’ve previously scribbled here, Cov have already performed better than most newly-promoted teams in the last decade. That speaks volumes about the work Winter and his coaching team have put in. It didn’t happen overnight.

And so it comes to the trickiest part of the season. Persuading people to stay at Butts Park Arena, persuading others to come. Maybe, even trickier, persuading some that their futures lie elsewhere.

This Cov set up is one which looks to allow players to grow. There have been so many improved performances on last season. Too many to mention, but James Stokes, Rob Knox, Pete White, Tony Fenner, Tom Jubb, George Oram and Scott Tolmie are among those who have really caught the eye among the group that clinched the National League One trophy.

The added value of the incomers has been evident, bar Jake Sharp, who I thought looked a great prospect. Having spoken to him before Christmas, he seemed to be enjoying his rugby at Coventry and working with team-mates on their kicking game, but alas, moved back to Bedford.

He’s put in a couple of man of the match shifts at Goldington Park since his return, and proved what a thorn he can be to sides in the narrow win over Cov. He may have been the one who got away in this Cov side, but it also proves there is no room for sentiment.

If a player is not happy, or the management team, changes will be made.

Having written an interview with Winter for Coventry Rugby Supporters’ Club, it’s obvious he has an eye for players that will give something to Cov, and who Cov can give something back in return.

So I’m hopeful that we see more of our current crop of players retained for next year’s tilt at the Championship.

I’m also eager to see who Winter might pull out of the hat in terms of additions.

I’d be eager to see that board again.



The Dogs Of War

I’VE been playing an online mobile game which is a charter for bullies.

The bigger and nastier you are, the more you succeed.

And in that, War And Order, resembles real life. Certainly that of the medieval age – with orcs, magicians and dragons to complement knights and archers – which it conjurs up on my screen.

The alliance I belong to in Realm 806 is friendly, works well to help each other and is up for the fight, but a smaller – at least on paper – group has taken us to the cleaners today.

They’ve worked wonderfully well together, rallying 12 armies of more than a million troops, hit hard, and fast, and persistently. I’ve been involved in nine battles. There have been many more. All losses so far.

It’s been a lesson in the art of war, or at least of War And Order.

Lessons from history. Unite, work together and succeed. Obviously, there’s been quite a lot of preparation and planning, too.

Simply put, they’ve had more people online at any time than we have. They have bigger individuals in their alliance, although we started the day as the stronger group.

And that’s the beauty – and pitfall – of such a game. The small fish get mashed by the bigger fish. It’s a marathon to get to be a bigger fish and there’s always someone bigger. Just like real life. The bullies win. It’s world politics in micro scale. It’s industry and finance worlds on the small screen. The posturing of Trump, Putin and Xi, with all their alliances and friends recruited and ignored, cast aside for a political point or two, or wooed to benefit the big boys.

There is politics in the game, with people switching sides, alliances deciding to turn on friends or not to support their brother and sister allies. Manipulation, lies, distrust and double-cross. Just like the European tribes and nations throughout the centuries. Or what we read in Sun Tzu’s Art Of War.

For that reason, it can suck you in. You get frustrated when someone is handing you a good old ass whooping, but there is always the desire to grow stronger, to exact a revenge and learn the hard lessons.

It’s fascinating.

You recruit troops and upgrade your land, essentially your castle, with resources that you spend hours gathering. Then you spend hours waiting for buildings to upgrade that allow you to become that bigger fish. Only to see your troops wiped out by someone that much bigger.

Thank goodness it is just a game, and not real life. I’m counting troop losses in the hundreds of thousands. Back then, I may well have been one of those troops myself.

Staring at a screen is a lot more rewarding and fun.

Boulevard Of Broken Dreams

An open letter to Bill Beaumont, former chairman of the RFU and a member of the International Rugby Board.

I WAS  a schoolboy convert to rugby at the right time.

You’ll remember the year as much as I – 1980, and an England Grand Slam after years of indifference, promise unfulfilled.

While England are on the up following a bruising victory over the Irish at their place, all is not well with English rugby.

Clubs in hock chasing glory and vainglorious foreign signings.

The spectre of ring-fencing robbing smaller clubs of ambition and purpose; clubs on the up, rebuilding after bad times or simply enjoying the crest of a wave, like Exeter showed could be achieved.

Exeter, the model club for the age, profitable, growing internationals for their country and successful on the pitch.

Positive proof that promotion can spark excellence on and off the field.

How would denying that to lower leagues be a step forward in this wonderful game of ours?

Allowing the Premiership to abolish relegation and promotion even for a short while will have a huge impact on clubs further down the food chain.

Clubs with great histories could be consigned to the rubbish heap. My club, Coventry, went up to the Championship from National One last season. Your club, Fylde, went down. I know there is ambition at Cov, and, having enjoyed the chats with Fylde supporters last season, I know they want to be playing at a higher level.

It’s what club bosses want. It’s what players want. It’s what supporters want. To play at the top, pit themselves against the best, to grow and improve.

Ring-fence the Premiership and why shouldn’t the Championship follow suit? And National League One? And the other national leagues and regional leagues?

What then for rugby players? Professionals, semi-pros and outright amateurs? Many are playing just for pride, but for some, every so often, comes the hint of promotion, of success. An extra reason for turning out on a wet and windy Saturday afternoon.

Schoolboy representative rugby is already in the doldrums. It flies in the face of everything England Rugby and the RFU says it is trying to achieve – participation.

Thank god for the junior clubs encouraging young talent. Hamstring them and how many future internationals would be lost to the red rose?

Because the talk of the Premiership bosses might be for boosting England, but they care for little else than their own clubs.

Bristol. With their foreign talent making up half the numbers in the squad and more than half the matchday 23. Steve Lansdown wants success for Bristol, promoted from the Championship last season, but already in peril of a second drop back in three terms. His own vision of ring-fencing would rob his own club of the success he craves.

It’s bad enough that Bristol is supplying five players to Hartpury College, Coventry’s opponents today. In all, Hartpury is able to call on nine Prem loan players – from Bristol, Gloucester and Worcester.

With Hartpury at the foot of the Championship table and prime relegation suspects, how is this fair? On Coventry, seeking to repay the defeat away from home earlier this season, or fellow strugglers Richmond?

Hartpury has benefitted from cash other clubs would not have been able to access – through education. It’s hardly a bastion of rugby union and is the worst supported club in the Championship, but obviously it’s in the interest of certain Premiershop bosses for them to stay in the second tier. Why? Hartpury would not be sustainable if it weren’t not a college or hadn’t the backing of the Prem clubs.

Certainly, when I watched Coventry play them last year, I was struck by the complete ignorance of rugby in general from Hartpury supporters. A lady asked me if our nearest ‘big club’ was Worcester.

The laws allow Hartpury to bring in these Premiership squad players.

I wonder what the guys who miss out think of it all? Do they stick to the core values of the game I love or just hope for a Premiership miracle so that they will be back playing Championship rugby next campaign?

I know Hartpury has helped advance the careers of internationals like Johnny May, Ellis Genge and Alex Cuthbert, but down the ages Coventry has played its part, too. Just a bit more organically.

I understand that there is never going to be a level playing field in any sport, except bar the American Football leagues the Premiership Rugby bosses seem to use as an example of successful ring-fencing from time to time.

Maybe Steve Lansdown’s commitment to Bristol might struggle if he decided the franchise would do better in Manchester, for example, as many of the American clubs happily switch cities in chase of more money. Because most games in the NFL are sell-outs, so it’s not to win a bigger crowd.

We’ve already had Wasps moving around the country, rather than remaining true to their history.

London Irish, too.

Maybe history is exactly that and we should be looking to the future. I know I and many Cov supporters are. We’re in touching distance of the Premiership. Not this season. Maybe not next, but our club is on the up.

People have put time, effort, money and love into the club with the dream it can return to the top table of English rugby.

To my eyes, the RFU is in thrall to Premiership Rugby and allowing the spirit of rugby from down the ages to slowly vanish. And the game will be all the worse for that.

Allowing the ambition of junior clubs to be stillborn thanks to the efforts of the Premiership bosses will serve the game, smaller clubs that are the lifeblood of rugby union and England poorly.







Nothing To Lose

ONE of the things I learned at school was the Latin phrase Radix Malorum Est Cupiditas.

It was as I was studying Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Prologue and basically translates as the love of money is the root of all evil.

Step forward Premiership Rugby.

And enter Steve Lansdown, Bristol’s boss. Typical of some attitudes prevailing in the boardrooms of the big boys.

More and more the people pulling the strings of the Premiership are taking the game away from the core values. Rugby is not just about the fans of the top 12 clubs in England.

It’s about following your team, whether in the top, second or third tier, or the club struggling to get players that plays a handful of friendlies in a season.

Greed has ruined football in all its forms for me. And it’s not just because my clubs, Coventry City and Coventry Rugby, have suffered as millions, billions, have been poured into our erstwhile rivals while we’ve slipped down the rankings.


Sport has always been about winners and losers. The Premiership bosses may well point to American Football, but there is more of a level playing field there, with the draft, a meaningful salary cap and a changing of the guard every few seasons.

But money is the god of all these days. The Premiership, even with the injection of US cash recently, is not good with money.

Excepting profit-making Exeter, they’re not proving the wisest of businessmen and women. Success on the fields coupled with financial failure off it isn’t sustainable for any club. Even those with owners whose deep pockets have bought promotion, domestic glory and European success.

It was particularly galling for this middle-aged rugby fan, who remembers the amateur days and how the professional age signalled the end for many proud clubs, to hear the Bristol owner talking up the benefits of scrapping relegation from the top flight on BBC News today.

Given that Lansdown’s millions helped propel Bristol up to the Premiership last year, he just wants to pull up the ladder and thwart the dreams of a dozen more clubs of playing at the top level.

What if it were Bristol in second place in the Championship this term, expecting at least another campaign in tier two before they could cement their place at the top table? What would his view be then?

What if they were relegated this season? Ohh, now there’s a prospect. Except, he’s cleverly included London Irish in his plans. They were relegated last term and are in the box seat this. They, along with the Premiership’s Dirty Dozen are sharing in the American cash. It means if Bristol go down, they would also be protected.

The lack of a level playing field in round ball football ruined the game for me. The fans may disagree, but the millions ploughed into Blackburn, Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City and others have bought titles and the rest have been merely making up the numbers – with the amazing exception of Leicester City in that memorable season.

In rugby, Bristol always was one of the big clubs to me. Like my club, Coventry. And while Jon Sharp and his team have worked miracles to put the Butts Park Arena club back on its feet after the latest in a series of domesday scenarios, Cov have not got the cash boost that rocketed Bristol on an upward trajectory.

If the gods of rugby handed Rowland Winter the playing budget Bristol had in the Championship, he’d have Cov back in the top flight quicker than Concorde.

Two seasons ago, Lansdown’s millions took the Ashton Gate club into the Premiership, only to slip back to the Championship again.

They currently sit third from bottom. And there’s a nasty side to me, that after Bristol’s belief relegation should be scrapped – and with it promotion from the Championship – hopes that Newcastle and Worcester can stay up and Bristol join Cov in a league that will have no real goal.

And for Ealing to pip London Irish to the promotion spot in the Championship. Except, the Premiership bosses would probably find a way to bar entrance. Like they did with Rotherham many moons ago.

Lansdown suggests a three-year moratorium on promotion and relegation will be good for the English game.

Really? Or just the coffers of the big boys? Remember, this is the man advocating moves into the cash rish American and Chinese markets. Good for the English game? The English fans? Hmmm.

And don’t forget, the Premiership bosses are the ones talking about a split from the RFU, bosses who don’t seem to remain true to the core values of the game when it comes to international relations and bosses who don’t seem to care one jot about any of the other clubs down the food chain.

Lansdown wants a play-off between the bottom placed club from the Premiership against the top club in the Championship if and when promotion returns. How would that be fair?

A big budget club, whose players have come across the best in Europe, playing against a club without the millions, whose players have had teams in one competition as their opponents all season. That deaf, dumb and mute kid The Who sang about would know the answer as to who would win. And I presume the idea of a David v Goliath giant killing act would be tempered by home and away games, rather than a one-off fixture at a neutral venue.

The odds stacked firmly against all but the Premiership clubs. It goes against the very idea of sport. Forget match-fixing, this is season fixing.

Lansdown talks of how ring fencing would advance the games and careers of English players. Admirable, given half the 46 squad players for Bristol Bears this season are anything but.

And eight out of the Bristol starting XV against Exeter in their last match were non-English, with 12 out of the matchday 23 foreign players.

Good for the English game, or the coffers of Bristol and the like?

Cov beat Bristol in the old knockout cup back in 1973, the first of Cov’s back to back wins in the competition.

Lansdown being one of the outspoken in favour of ring-fencing, I’d love us to be playing Bristol next season. And putting one over them like 46 years ago.