Calm Down Dave, we know you're a Villa fan
Posted on the 25th Apr 2015 in the category sport

David Cameron gave his opponents an open goal by urging an audience to support West Ham – not Aston Villa, the team he is supposedly supports.

There are not many things in Britain worse than swapping what football team you support – it is up there with jumping a queue, parking in a disabled spot and shirking a round.

His mistake was on the news bulletins and social media put the boot in harder than Gary Oldman's iconic West Ham hooligan Bexy in The Firm.

I got a call from a contact who is a senior Conservative Party source.

He said: "This was a classic campaign cock-up, leaving the PM blushing.

"Anyone who's spent time with Dave will know how passionate he is about Villa.”

"The question at the ballot box will be: Do you want David Cameron in 10 Downing Street, or the guy amazed he potted a ball playing pool?"

Now I like to think of myself as the kind of journalist who sticks up for the vulnerable, the dispossessed and the shafted. So this is something new for me that I am sticking up for one of our country's gilded elite instead of knocking them.

But David Cameron is a Villa fan. I've spent my life judging Villa fans. Are they fairweather? Are they just trying to fit in? Are they woollybacks? Do they think John Gregory was anything but a disaster for the club? My Villa credentials are impeccable so it is one of the few things I qualify with flying colours. My great granddad was a Villa fan, legend has it he nicked the church bell in Water Orton to celebrate our double win in the 1890s, my nan and granddad met in the queue for Villa tickets and I was brought up in Perry Barr (the original home of Aston Villa). I could hear the cheers from my garden as a kid. And my local is the Crown and Cushion where the story goes the letter which was sent to clubs asking to form a league was read out in public for the first time. Obviously I've mellowed in older age and it does not mean as much as it used to, thanks to the Premiership being impossible to win unless your chairman owns reserves of fossil fuels.


So when I first went to interview David Cameron for my paper The Halesowen News I was determined to crowbar the Villa into the conversation, find out if he was a proper Villa fan.

As a kid I spent hours daydreaming about interviewing the Prime Minister and asking the killer question to flummox them. Years later I got my chance to quiz the PM. As for a killer question, well I had to submit them before I had my one on one, well when I say one on one, one of me and a load of his Prs taping the proceedings on their Iphones and him.

What struck me about him was how healthy he looked, he is big bloke, bigger than me but his complexion is ruddy colourful. He sat on the side of the desk which I presumed was a bit of passive aggressiveness. He answered my two questions about my patch then I was signalled it was over. I quickly threw in a question about how important the Black Country would be in the election, he answered that as he knew that was a question as leader of the Conservative Party not PM.

Then I shook his hand to go – as I did so I looked in his eyes and said in a lower tone: “Up the Villa.”

He then did something that many have tried and failed to do – an impression of me. He mimicked “up the Villa” pitch perfect. He let out a big laugh which was good cos I was momentarily speechless. The Villa were doing crap at the time. He said: “Do you think we will stay up?”

I replied: “We have Mr Benteke, we will always be fine with him.”

And then he looked serious and said what every Villa fan has thought in the last few years:”I just hope we keep hold of Benteke.”

And then he was off, one of the press officers said I shouldn't have asked another question but seemed to think it went well.

A couple of weeks later I received an invitation from Downing Street to a gathering of local news journalists from marginal patches.

I took a copy of Obama and Me: The Incredible True Story of a YouTube Sensation to give him but was not allowed to take it upstairs. It was great to be inside Downing Street and even better to see fellow Villa fan and then Coventry Telegraph editor Alun Thorne there. After spilling red wine all over an Afghan rug I noticed David Cameron in the corner of my eye over Alun's shoulder. Again he looked like the colour was turned up on him and was working the room like a pro. Both me and Alun are old ravers and there are rumours Call Me Dave could easily be Call Me Rave, I wanted to ask him about the Summer of Love in 1989 but never got chance.

When he got to our grouping he said: “I recognise you, you're the Villa fan.”

He then told us how he had sent Prince William a congratulations letter after their new child had been born and asked if the future king would be a Villa fan. He said William had replied and promised the boy would support the Villa, poor kid I thought.

Because supporting the Villa is hard work, we are stuck in a league we cannot win and will never repeat our incredible historical feats.

Cameron's own kid has decided not to follow his dad's colours, he's grown up in London it is no surprise he supports Chelsea. Perhaps taking him along to Villa at QPR and having thousands of fans ridicule your dad made him change his mind.

What the flurry of articles about Cameron saying West Ham instead of Aston Villa did not mention is why he supports the Villains. His uncle Sir William Dugdale was Villa chairman and used to take him to the directors box. It was not the Rat Pan and a hot dog for him as a kid but he was in ground during our glory years.

Last June I got a call at work, it was from someone at West Midlands Police firearms unit, he asked about “the ministerial visit” on Monday. I guessed: “The Prime Minister?” He kind of confirmed. Earlier that month I had won Midlands Weekly Journalist of the Year and at the awards told the new West Midlands Tory press officer to get Cameron in my newsroom. And to his credit he did.

I shouted over to my then editor: “Is it alright if the Prime Minister comes here on Monday?”

Monday? It's not the most ideal day is it.” After meeting with health and safety it was decided he could come and I had a 20 minute interview with Mr Cameron.

He didn't mention Obama and Me when he arrived so I guess the copy of the book is being used as the Downing Street cat's litter.

I was proud to be the first journalist to ask him about the Blacklisting scandal and get him on record about that issue. As soon as the interview ended we started talking about football. He hoped the Villa would sign someone decent and asked who I would be supporting in the World Cup semi-finals which were taking that place. I said a Brazil v Argentina final would be a fantastic spectacle.

He looked at me as if I was mad: “Surely as a Villa fan you want Holland to win so Ron Vlaar gets a winners medal?”

Bugger me, he was right. He'd out-Villa-ed me. 

Flower power, folk and curry - nightcrawling with Tom and Khalid
Posted on the 13th Apr 2015 in the category sport

I bloody love a good General Election. I have been looking forward to this one since the last one. My Black Country news patch is pivotal in the elction so I have already interviewed David Cameron, George Osborne, Eddie Izzard, Ed Miliband and a host of other passing politicians desperate to get the votes. And this election is throwing up some great stories, the batphone went off a few weeks ago and I spent a Saturday night writing about Afzal Amin- The Tory who did a deal with EDL to get some votes, I got to speak to him too, he sounded like a man who could see his career falling apart. But on Easter Thursday I got a call from Khalid Mahmood, who was first elected Perry Barr's MP in 2001 and one of the first politicians I dealt with in my career. He said: "Be ready at 11pm, you'll have a story." Well I had nothing else to do so off I went, with my mate Everton who is pictured. This feature was published in The Great Barr Observer on April 10.


It is 2.30am in the morning and Tom Watson and Khalid Mahmood are addressing a packed crowd of Bangladeshis in Great Barr and that means one thing – there is a General Election on.

Both Mr Watson and Mahmood were elected to Parliament in 2001 for Labour in West Bromwich East and Perry Barr respectively and the pair spiced up their lives on Friday by campaigning through the night meeting curry house owners, taxi drivers, entertainers and market folk.

Mr Mahmood said: “We wanted to meet the people who keep the city going whilst everyone else is in bed – those in the night time economy can be forgotten but we wanted to hear what they had to say.”

Over 100 Bangladeshi curry house owners and staff have crammed into the old Clifton bingo hall, now the Badshah Palace, to hear the two politicians plead the case for Labour.

Mr Watson told the crowd: “We are weeks away from election day and we need your help to get a Labour Government elected.

“The country is at a cross roads and we need your help to take the right path, the Labour Party is the on side of the small businesses like you unlike the Tories who are in hock to the massive corporations.”

There are 87,000 Bangladeshi votes up or grabs in Birmingham alone, traditionally they vote Labour but many are concerned about the lack of representation on Birmingham City Council.

Many of the crowd were also worried about UK Government's lack of action over political strife back in Bangladesh where opposition politicians and journalists have been jailed and beaten.

Both politicians, who are favourites to be re-elected, promise to raise the issue in the House of Commons – as soon as it reconvenes after the election.

The crowd were also demanding better immigration rules due to the dire shortage of Bangladeshi chefs in the industry.

Mr Mahmood said: “We all know what the Bangladeshi community has done for the UK – that is why curry houses are so popular so I will petition whatever Government is in power to ensure the immigration problems are looked at.”

After countless selfies and photos the two politicians, flanked by several Birmingham and Sandwell councillors and Sarfraiz Hussain who is fighting Perry Barr ward, sped to Birmingham in convoy.

The group had earlier been treated to Pakistani rural folk music at Small Heath's Birmingham Arts Foundation, where Mr Watson played an authentic instrument, to understand the effort entertainers and leisure sector industry put in to keep customers happy.

With both politicians veterans of the 2006 "Curry House Conspiracy", which led to PM Tony Blair giving a date for his resignation, it would not be a proper night out without a balti. 

After chewing the fat and several tandoori platters in Lahore Restaurant on Ladypool Road with customers the politicians headed to Birmingham wholesale markets at 4.30am, stopping off to speak at taxi ranks along the way.

The sun was yet to rise over the markets but they were heaving with stall holders and customers buying and selling flowers, vegetables and fruit in industrial quantities.

Not everyone was pleased to see the gaggle of politicians: “We only see you lot at election time,” came a shout from behind a stack of sunflowers.

Undeterred the group carried on speaking the market holders stopping for photos and handshakes.

Paul Carr, from CMT Flowers, told the politicians: “We all love working at the market but we need some help against the supermarkets, the 20% VAT is killing small business owners, whereas the big supermarkets can seem to do what they want.” 

Former Great Barr School pupil Geoff Large, from Birmingham Flowers and Plants, wanted to show his off his stock and took the group into his “tropical car park” where huge palm trees and olive trees, just off the boat from Valencia, were for sale.

He said: “Business is going ok, but we are all looking forward to the move to Perry Barr when that happens because this place is falling apart.”

And like any good market stall holder Geoff cornered the politicians and sold them flowers to take back to their spouses – who barely see their loved ones during an election campaign..

Walking into the sunlight at 6am from the markets carrying a giant bouquet of flowers Mr Watson said: “I blooming love General Elections, they are hard work but when else would I get to play a Pakistani folk instrument and meet so many great people."


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