Derbyshire’s first “black” England International   Leave a comment

The Kick-it-out campaign celebrates the contribution ethnic minorities have made to the national game, whilst continuing the call for equality.  As such it is a celebration of diversity in our national game.

While what has happened in Serbia and in recent court cases highlights that there is still work to be done it seems right to celebrate how far we have come and how much non-white players have brought to the British game.

However I am aware that the first non-white player to turn out for our national team lacks any real recognition.  Most will immediately think of Viv Anderson in 1978 as the first of many England players with an Afro-Caribbean heritage.  I want to go back further than that to teams that featured Stanley Matthews, Denis Compton, Frank Swift, Joe Mercer, Stan Mortensen, Tom Finney and Matt Busby.  The only problem was that the nine games played by Hong Y Soo were war time internationals and so not recognised as full internationals.

Frank Soo was born in Buxton in 1914 of Chinese and English parentage.  His Father was a sailor based in Liverpool.  He made his name as an inside forward with Stoke City.  When the war came, as was the custom, he guested firstly for Everton and then Chelsea before being selected for the England team in 1923 when he played against Wales at Ninian Park.  He played seven more times against the home nations including a 6-1 win against Scotland at Hampden Park in front of 133,000.  He also played against Switzaland in a 50th anniversary match staged in 1945 in Berne that was at the time regarded as a full international.

His last match was a war time international some months after hostilities had ended.  After this point Soo was not selected again as he moved the Leicester City and then Luton.  When he retired he went into management with Padova in Italy as well as several teams in Scandinavia.  He did have a spell in charge Scunthorpe United in 1959.  In the early sixties Soo became an international coach when he managed the Israeli National team.

It took a further thirty years for a non-white player to represent his country but no East Asian player or footballer from the Indian sub-continent has come close to repeating Soo’s achievement.  Before Anderson officially became the first black England player there were black players turning out for Chesterfield.  One of those was of Asian decent in Ricky Heppolette who turned out more than fifty times in the early seventies.

The Spireites’ first black player was Peter Foley who joined Chesterfield on trial having made his name at Workington, then a league side.  He played two games for us in the 1969-70 Championship season.  He later returned to the Cumbrian club as their manager.  It is somewhat fitting that Foley is involved with the Kick it Out campaign and in 2003 was awarded an MBE for his services to race relations.  The first black player to come through our ranks was Jim Kabia.  Kabia was an apprentice at the club and in two senior seasons made eleven appearances, scoring at Hereford in 1974.

Now we can put out a Spireite eleven with more than half the players being non-white while seven black players have played together for England.  While this is representative of the mass immigration from the commonwealth in the fifties and sixties our football now benefits from an influx of players from all over the world.  Recently we have seen many Africans and more recently a number of players of East Asian heritage like Frank Soo was.

Less than two decades ago I remember black players being accepted for their flair but the view prevailing that they were not suited to central roles; it being suggested that black players would not make good keepers or central defenders.  It was also thought that blacks would not make coaches, managers or administrators.  This now seems like a view from the dark ages.  No one I know comments on race when England picks a squad.  The days of Anderson’s first cap, Blisset’s first goal or Ince skippering the national side are now part of not only black history but also British history.

Brendan Batson is now a big player with the PFA while Anderson, Keith Alexander and Chris Kamara have all managed league teams.  When Ruud Gullit was appointed Chelsea manager much was made of him being from abroad and his supposed lifestyle, no one mentioned that he was the first black manager in the top flight.  Of course the England and Great Britain women’s manger, Hope Powell, is black.

It is right that we still make a stand against racism in football and in all of our society.  However it would be nice if we could reach the point where rather than fighting intolerance we can celebrate diversity and recognise the part played by the likes of Frank Soo and Peter Foley in football and society.


The photograph heading this article is, for once, not one of mine.  In 2006 there was a collection of unwanted football shirts by Chesterfield FC to be sent to Tsumeb in northern Namibia.  This season the collection is being repeated.  Any shirts, Chesterfield or otherwise, will be collected and if suitable sent to benefit potential players in Africa.  Any shirts can be taken into, or sent, to the Chesterfield FC Superstore at the Proact Stadium.






The Paralympics- not equal but very different   Leave a comment

The Paralympics is not the sporting equivalent of the Olympics.  An Olympic champion can claim to be the greatest measured athlete on the planet (of a particular gender in all but equestrian events).  A Paralympian Gold Medallist usually represents the best in a narrow band of a particular disability.  That doesn’t make the Paralympics any less of a celebration of human achievement than the Olympics; in most ways it is a far better representation of all that is good in humanity.

Paralympians are some of the most incredible people you can find.  Often they put in the hours, make all the sacrifices and raise the finances that any able-bodied athlete does.  In the main it is more of a struggle for that disabled athelete to get the support, money and recognition even before you consider the practical restrictions that come with various disabilities.

However I don’t consider Tanni Grey-Thompson to be a better athlete than Kelly Holmes or Mike Kenny better than Becky Adlington.  In the Paralympics there are so more categories in which to compete but most of us are lucky enough not to qualify for those categories.  This doesn’t mean that those disabled individuals are not  superb athletes but I think Baroness Grey-Thompson’s work as an advocate for disabled people is the equal of her 11 gold medals.

The current games include events for mobility disabilities, amputations, blindness, and cerebral palsy.  In many of those disabilities there are several categories to ensure that athletes of similar classification compete together.  For example this means swimming has 14 classes

There are more than double the number of medals available at the Paralympics than at the Olympics.  A much smaller pool of athletes qualify for those events than for most Olympic events; this where it differs from the Olympics.  Part of any legacy of these Games is increasing participation not just among western disabled people but more importantly in developing countries.  Where sophisticated equipment is needed just to survive never mind participate in sports this will be a long haul.

In theory I could compete in all of the male events at the Olympics.  I know I couldn’t really get down to the weight required in the combat sports but generally anyone can aspire to compete.  I do not qualify for any of the events in the Paralympics*.  With the exception of short-sightedness a world away from recognised visual impairment I was born without disability.  My minor accidents over the years have not meant the loss of limbs, eyesight, brain function or mobility.  Whether you agree with this blog or find it patronising I expect you agree I don’t have an intellectual disability.

(In fact the only Paralympic team I might join would be the Spanish intellectual disability Basketball team!)

The Olympics is now about being the best.  Any pretence about just competing has gone.  You cannot longer see scores of outclassed athletes coming home last in races or being battered in boxing bouts.  There will always be some who compete for “political” reasons such as Niger’s Hamadou Djibo Issaka in the rowing or Saudi Arabia judoka Wojdan Shaherkani. However in the main the Olympics is about the best professional sportsmen on the planet.

The Paralympics is more about where the Olympics started- participation for the good of the human spirit.  The origins of disability sport with Ludwig Guttmann at Stoke Mandeville was about competition as part of therapy.  The opponent to beat in that case was in the first instance your own difficulties.  Most of the Paralympian athletes have already won a personal battle just by being in a position to compete.

The Games however are more than a triumph over adversity for those taking part.  They are an incredible advertisement of the capabilities of disabled people.  While we are by no means perfect in this country we do have a building heritage of recognising abilities rather than disabilities.  Now this four-year event is influencing more and more nations to look at those with disabilities in a different light.

In some ways the Games have gone beyond the point of publicising those with disabilities and towards normalising their status.  I am sure we will have drugs cheats at the Paralympics as well as at the Olympics.  In fact the Games for the disabled bring more opportunities for corruption with the various classifications and practices such as “boosting”.  It is clear that disabled athletes work as hard or harder than their able-bodied counterparts, it is also clear at the elite end a few are just as likely to cheat.

There are usually human interest stories behind many athletes.  With disabled athletes everyone has an account of overcoming adversity.  Whether that is Baroness Grey-Thompson with a condition that meant she wouldn’t have survived infanthood a few years ago now sitting in Parliament or  Martine Wright blown up by terrorists the day after the Games were awarded and now a competitor.

The Olympics is the better sporting competition; the Olympians are the superior athletes.  That doesn’t mean the able-bodied competitors work any harder or make more sacrifices.  Disabled athletes start from a different position and their achievements are far greater on a personal level.

I will watch any sport.  If that sport involves me taking sides then all the better.  If you stick a Union Jack or St George’s Cross  on one side then I am hooked.  For me as a spectator the Paralympic events are like the less well known events at the Olympics.  I only watch Judo, Taekwondo, Volleyball or Swimming and the like if there is a British interest.  I guess it will be the same for these Games.  I put the T45 100m in the same category as the 78kg Olympic Judo- great if there is a Brit in with a chance of winning.

I do recognise that the Paralympics is not like the Olympics.  It is the World’s second greatest multi-sport event but it transcends sport.  It will be patronising for me to highlight that the whole event is a triumph of spirit over adversary but that is how I see it rather than the zenith of sporting excellence.  It has to be more than just a competition, it is about ability over disability.

In reality it is closer to Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s dream than the modern Olympics!  “The most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well”

*I am reminded that the goalkeeper in Blind Football is sighted.  As someone who had a couple of seasons in goal in the Sunday League I have to confess I still don’t qualify!

Atheist+ gets a D minus from me   Leave a comment

I am an atheist just because I don’t believe in any supernatural beings.  I also believe that organised religion is often inherently evil.  On top of that I abhor bigotry and discrimination in any form.   I think any move towards a campaign termed Atheist+ is stupid.

My political views are more libertarian than liberal and in British political terms I am probably right-wing but see myself as having significant social-democrat leanings in that I think the state safety-net is fundamental.  In US terms I might be considered virtually a communist by the GOP or the Tea Party.

I might term myself atheist, humanist, an advocate for the disabled, a feminist, an anti-racist and a campaigner for LGBT rights.  I also am involved in community participation and empowering those who are missed by conventional means.  I am not part of some “magic” grouping that incorporates all of these issues.

It seems that to be an atheist I just have to realise there are no gods.  To earn the label of Atheist+ I have to take a fifty question survey and write an essay explaining why a white, straight, middle-aged, comfortably-off, male with no disabilities dare to be considered worthy.

Those that are public and campaign about atheism, secularism and humanism tend to the liberal wing.  I expect there are few racist atheists, few sexist humanists and there is no secular agenda for oppressing LGBT people.  There might however be issues with inclusion, not always because there are problems with discrimination but because existing members don’t understand how intimidating any grouping can be.  I am not sure that this feeling of exclusion is necessarily linked to gender, sexuality, race or disability.

In terms of political parties it is those to the left that seem the natural home of the ungodly.  However I am not sure the division is as strong in the UK as over the pond. There are openly atheist GOP activists but they are rare, probably because the natural electorate rules out such views.  In the UK it is rare for a candidate to make their religious views a factor in an election.  Even Prime Minister Tony Blair waited until he stood down until he “came out” as a Catholic wing-nut.

I think in Britain you can comfortably be a Conservative atheist.  This might mean that you are not a social progressive in terms of social policy but you still don’t recognise any mythical being.  In fact it could be claimed that the libertarians can claim to support self-determination away from any bigotry and external influences while rejecting social support from the state.   This is true on both sides of the Atlantic.

I was involved in the organisation of a youth football tournament recently.  The guest of honour pointed out the lack of minority ethnic players among the hundreds competing.  I pointed out the ethnic make-up of our demographic catchment to explain this.  In fact there were a couple of black children  but I realised that number was less than might be expected.  I will not tear my hair out declare I am part of a racist organisation; I will check with partners and practitioners to see whether there is a problem or any factors that adversely influence ethnic participation.

I feel the move towards Atheist+ is  closely linked to the supposed misogyny at atheist events.  I am not sure that this is a real factor but again concede the need for inclusion.  It seems that rather than investigating whether this is an issue within the “atheist community” some have concluded it is and over-reacted.

Whether there is a real community that can be migrated from labelling itself as atheist to “super-dooper, socially progressive, all-inclusive, politically aware with a very big plus-sign ATHEIST” is doubtful.  I am aware that Margaret Thatcher was about as right-wing as British politics gets but I agree with her assertion, “If your only opportunity is to be equal then it is not opportunity.”

But in terms of Atheist+ can I cite Groucho Marx?

“Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

Olympians- the true sporting heroes   Leave a comment

The Olympics is certainly the primary global celebration of sport.  I will write about my overall views later.  However much has been made of the differences between those competing in this marking of the 30th Olympiad and other “professional” sport.

Those competing for medals are often professionals.  By professional I am not talking about the football or basketball stars who might be paid millions of pounds just to turn out on the pitch or court but athletes  who get financial support to back their training.

I am involved with English lower league football and know that British Olympic boxers get far less than the average fourth tier footballer for leaving home and being put up in dormitories to train.  I expect for many fringe athletes the same is true.

British Judoka Gemma Gibbons, now a silver medallist, put out a public appeal for help to buy a second-hand car so she could continue to train.  Peter Wilson lost all his funding for a while in the run up to London 2012 before he won the gold in the double-trap shotgun.

Now these are not sports that automatically attract public support but the BBC coverage has shown that all of these sports can be compulsive viewing. There is already a groundswell of interest in the established sports such as Track and Field as well as the less fashionable in the UK like Handball.

‎What has struck me is that there are “ordinary” athletes out there who are battling for the resources to continue competing who do not have the egos associated with some of our well known stars.  I have seldom seen a football star apologise after a poor performance; I have got used to Olympic stars breaking down in tears of regret after super-human efforts.

Defending Olympic champions Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter finished second in the lightweight men’s double sculls.  Hunter had to be helped from his boat by rowing legend Steve Redgrave and his doctor wife; the skuller was so physically drained that he was sick into the water and unable to walk.

In his interview Mark Hunter said: “We gave everything, we tried everything, we wanted to win so badly, sorry to everyone we’ve let down.”

Yes some of the stars of the Olympics make silly money from the advertising and sponsorship but in the main they deserve it.  Others pick up the minor gong from the Queen and go back to battling for the money and recognition for their sports.  Many are just an indication of all the unsung heroes in British sport nurturing talent and going out of their way to make a difference to people.

Back to Mark Hunter and his, “sorry to have let everyone down!”  That is a double medal winning Olympian apologising not only to his coaches, colleagues and family but to the general public for disappointing them.  By the general public I mean those of us watching the Games from the comfort of the sofa.  Those of us who pay twenty-plus pounds a time to watch footballers who are not fit to oil Hunter’s rowlocks!

What the Thunderf00t are sceptics playing at?   Leave a comment

One of the first sceptics I followed on YouTube was Thunderf00t.  His work introduced me to many other free-thinkers, atheists and questioners.  Of course the friendly references to each other’s works and the personal testimonials suggested a clique of atheist/sceptics meeting and debating somewhere in the otherwise fundamental US of A.

That clique didn’t indicate any sort of exclusivity as we are the rational people and it is the reasoning not the reasoner that matters.  Our remit is the exploration of knowledge, facts and beliefs.  If not one happy family, we are fair and inclusive.  As most prejudices are irrational we also tend to be more “liberal”  and less bigoted.

For that reason it is odd to see our “close family” beset by discord.  Thunderf00t has been invited to enter the inner sanctum of sceptical thinking and contribute to Freethought Blogs only to be shown the door and cast out among the lesser sceptics as a result of his first post.

As a long-time reader of the blogs this left me with three questions:

1)      What the hell was Thunderf00t playing at opening his portfolio on this subject and why is he still obsessed with it?

2)      What is the point of FtB if it doesn’t allow the reasoned argument of issues around the sceptic community?

3)      Is there any weight to the views Thunderf00t is espousing?

On the first point, I don’t know whether Thunderf00t as a long time blogger and video blogger felt he needed to make a statement on his debut to FtB but it was unnecessary.  His work is multi-dimensional with the span of fighting religion, pseudo-science and then highlighting his own  projects.  He doesn’t need to prove himself.  Start with a great idea rather than a difficult argument.  That is not to say that difficult arguments don’t need exploring but find the place to do this.  If called out do you call a truce or start a battle of the type that is the norm with the fundies and scientific illiterates?  It is a place to push arguments but not always to air the dirty laundry.

There seemed to be some that saw Thunderf00t’s invitation to FtBs as a little odd.  He is an abrasive video-blogger who has made this sceptical name highlighting creationist nonsense.  However there is a range of bloggers within that collective not all of them dull and worthy.

Having started on a difficult argument did Thunderf00t deserve the response whether he was right or wrong? I am not sure he did- actually I am certain he didn’t.  His arguments were not accompanied by abuse or personal insults.  Yes he was forthright and did cite others arguments but this is what thesis and antithesis is about.  I expected argument and possibly a very strong negative response to Thunderf00t’s view.  In terms of Freethought, doesn’t it do what it says on the tin?  Yes you can censor bigotry and abuse but if there is a case to be made then it needs addressing.  However did either side advance the argument in a constructive way?  It is sad, that with the decision to exclude Thunderf00t having been made, no one is moving on.  PZ Myers against Thunderf00t feels like squabbling schoolchildren- “He said this!” “No I didn’t!” “it’s not fair…”  Even if Myers portrays the head prefect to Thunderf00t’s excitable first former.

Beyond the tiff is there a case in what Thunderf00t said?  If I understand him the argument is that the continued highlighting of sexism in the sceptic community and at the various conferences undermines the message.  If the issue isn’t a major problem at the events and within “our community” and if we cannot address it in practical terms then why make it central to our message?

Years ago I went to various conferences and usually saw them as a means to “cop off”.  Because I made this my aim the chance of actually finding any action was negligible.  If I went to gain from the event and have a good time then the chances of enjoying myself, in all ways, was increased.   Like I was in my youth, there will always be low-life losers at any event.  It is right that any event addresses the issues make those attending uncomfortable but is highlighting policies to deal with this potential for friction counter-productive?

As a white, middle-class, male I cannot claim to have been the subject of major discrimination.  As I live in the UK, even as an atheist I have no sense of discrimination.  I cannot particularly empathise with Rebecca Watson and the Elevatorgate incident that seemed to have started the whole misogyny debate.  I have to confess I am closer to the Dawkin’s view that there was an over-reaction to the initial event.  That doesn’t mean I agree with any sort of discrimination, harassment or anti-social behaviour.

We sceptics are the reasonable ones, the good guys (and gals).  We don’t discriminate based on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation or race because there is no evidence to support it.  It is possible that “free thought” gives social freedoms that question accepted norms.  However I am not certain that any atheist or sceptical conference of event will pose more issues for women than an equivalent student, political or business gathering.

That the starting point for any sceptic event or the message coming out of those events is sexism is wrong.  There might be issues at these events and it is correct to have an understanding of what is to be expected.  To make the supposed sexist nature of scepticism the message does a disservice to any free thinker.

If we are a community, which is very doubtful, and we have faults then address them.  Address them proportionally and at a reasonable level.  There are fundamentalist Christians wanting to deny basic reproductive rights to women.  There are Catholic officials abusing children and covering up the crimes. There are Muslims denying girls a basic education and forcing them to marry in childhood.  Can we pick our fights better?

There are plenty of better targets out there before we decide it time for a civil war!

John Terry-justice done?   Leave a comment

I think the decision to prosecute John Terry for saying “fucking black cunt” to Anton Ferdinand was the correct one.  I also feel that the decision of the Chief Magistrate to acquit was the right one.  The case is significant for society and football but it also leaves the FA in a quandary.

Essentially we had the England football Captain accused of using threatening, abusive or insulting words within the hearing of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress and those words were racist.  This is actually a comparatively minor summary offence that can only be heard in a Magistrates Court and for which the penalty is a fine that any Premier League footballer could pay out of his petty cash.

However we could all see that a conviction for using racist abuse could be a taint that would kill a career, particularly at international level.  In an age where progress is being made by projects such as “Kick it Out” to be labelled a racist is a very serious issue.  That said, this was not a case to determine whether John Terry is a racist.  Just as in the Suárez civil case before the FA, the question was whether the player uttered abuse that had a racist element rather than whether that player was a racist.  The Judge in Terry’s case pointed out that all the character witnesses showing Terry’s inclusive nature were irrelevant to the substance of the case; it wasn’t a question of being a racist just using racist abuse.

As a summary matter this case could not go to the Crown Court and play in front of a jury.  For all we treasure the trial by jury as a significant part of our justice it is good to see a senior Justice at work.  In the Magistrates Court a District Judge can sit in the place of a bench of lay magistrates.  In this case it was a Senior District Judge, the Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle.  Judge Riddle was able to carefully explain his thinking in finding John Terry not guilty.

As I read Judge Riddle’s judgement he was certain that the CPS was right to bring the prosecution; John Terry had a case to answer.  There was no doubt that Terry had said, among other confirmed abuse, “fucking black cunt” to Anton Ferdinand.   He found Ferdinand and Terry to be good witnesses but there was confusion over the context in which Terry has said the “offensive” phrase.  Terry stated at the time that he thought Ferdinand had accused him of saying it and so had repeated the phrase back to him to highlight how ridiculous it would be for him to say that. He maintained this account throughout.

The exchange was part of a cycle of tit-for-tat abuse between the two players.  Most of the exchange, that the players couldn’t remember in detail, seemed to involve remarks about Terry’s sexual improprieties.   From a football perspective it is telling that the remark that ended up in court seems to be just an element of a “slanging match” that was part of a game of professional football.  In an age when football authorities are campaigning for respect on the football field this is telling.

John Terry isn’t a racist.  Although the Judge questioned his explanation of his uttering the offensive phrase, there was enough doubt to find that he had not committed a criminal offence.  However Ferdinand and Terry were involved in outbursts on a football pitch that have no place in the modern game.  There is still racism in our society and our national game but every reasonable person knows it is irrational.  The work done to combat this bigotry in and out of the game is why this case could be brought to court.

The admitted abusive exchanges between professional footballers shows that we have a long way to go in terms of the Respect Programme. As someone who has gone into classrooms to sell the principles of fair play and respect in sport and so in general life, it is galling to see the message trashed by those appearing regularly on the children’s televisions.

The FA suspended its investigation when the CPS suggested that there might be criminal action.  An acquittal in a criminal case where the test is one of reasonable doubt doesn’t mean a test on the balance of probabilities for a similar matter cannot succeed.  I expect that the FA will have to consider both the  “racial” of what John Terry said and the wider question of the two players’ exchanges on the pitch at Loftus Road.

It might be argued that there is sufficient evidence to find John Terry of at least bringing the game in to disrepute.  Anton Ferdinand was the victim in the criminal case but also seems to have a case to answer when we are looking at fair play in our national game.  It will be interesting to see how the FA takes this forward.

Ahomeopathy is not a religion!   Leave a comment

I find it terrible when just because I don’t believe in homeopathy some think this is akin to a new religion. My ahomeopathy doesn’t define me and cannot be compared to those who believe in unsubstantiated medical miracles, mythical creatures or invented deities.

Basically I don’t believe in any of that non-scientific crap. However as well as a skeptic, I am a rationalist and realise that there is always the possibility that science will find evidence that I might have to consider. That is the raison d’etre of intelligent scientific principle- rational adaptation, thesis and antithesis. Unfortunately for the medical fundamentalists you have to start from a vaguely sensible position.

If your theory depends on a ridiculous medical proposition, an unsupported indication of alien abduction or an unproven bloke in the sky making a mess of running the universe then you start from a more than unsound position. If you define your life on that theory rather than just getting on and living then more fool you.

My life is not defined by the fact that I think all homeopaths are either fools or frauds. I will go on twitter (as @face_of_weevil) and gently take the piss out of the advocates of alternative medicine but exposing that crap is such a small part of who I am. Despite the fact that I will also ridicule other sorcery such as religion that apposition to superstition does not define me. Freedom from unfounded faith, dogma, ignorance and superstition might better indicate who I am.

There are those so set in their irrational ways that they feel it is right to insult me by comparing my opposition to their faith to a position equivalent to that superstition. Yes I know that homeopathy is false so call me an ahomeopathic but don’t ever call it my religion!