Marvellous: Let's raise a smile to the clowns of the world
Posted on the 26th Sep 2014 in the category sport

What a beautiful film Marvellous is. That hour and a half on BBC2 was some of the best television of the year.

Toby Jones was brilliant playing the gentle soul Neil Baldwin, aka Nello the Clown, who Stoke City manager Lou Macari made the team's kitman.

He even got a game for his beloved team making an appearance against the Villa. I was in the ground, it was hilarious, one of my favourite footballing moments. Both sets of fans were cheering on the portly player.

The film showed his eternal optimism and that belief "something will turn up" - I've always tried to live like that and often it does.

In fact whilst watching Marvellous I've cancelled my bank card because it is payday tomorrow and I've more debts than wages, but something will turn up.

His "if you don't ask - you don't get" attitude struck a chord too -you'd be amazed what people will let you do if you ask, then again you can do a lot in life not asking too.

Marvellous cleverly combined drama with snippets of the real people the actors were portraying. A story-telling technique which can look naff or spectacular – one of the best examples is the news footage of Knockout Ned at the end of City of God.

The snippets of the real Neil, even having conversations with his character, really showed the warmth of the man. And he seemed to bring out something in those around him. Marvellous is the perfect feel good film. And Neil's story is worth a million self-help slogans and inspirational Instagram quotes.

Those two old fashioned cliches to sum Neil and his kind up perfectly - “it's nice to be nice” and “smile and the whole world smiles with you.”

I'm lucky to have had some Neils in my life over the years, and because of them I have always tried to leave people with a smile myself, sometimes it works and sometimes not.

My granddad Ken Simper was a wonderful man. He was from Coleshill and was very proud his dad was the first man to drive a Midland Red bus in the town. His stories about serving in WW2 always ended with a punchline.

He was my mom's stepdad and never had kids himself but was always my granddad. He'd been a Blues supporting bachelor before he fell for my Villa supporting widowed nan whilst queuing for tickets. Like many of their generation they went to see both teams play. He said Pongo Waring was the best player he saw and reckoned he had to shout at the bloke standing next to him in the Holte End when the Villa Park had its record attendance – 76,000 against Derby County – because he was so far away.

Ken loved a flutter and taught me how to fill out a betting slip. He always put a treble on and one would normally let him down, and it never seemed to effect his mood. Greasepaint would always let him down in the National, but he would not have a bad word said about that horse.

We'd watch Norman Wisdom films together and he'd laugh like he'd never seen them before in his life.

He was great with kids, and always had a joke on the tip of his tongue. If I was reading a paper he'd say: “Don't read all the print off it – I want to read it after.”

Every time I left his house to walk to the bus stop he would call me back after about 20 yards. I'd turn around and when I got to him he'd say: “How far would you have got if I hadn't called you back?”

He was still doing it when I was 21, and I'd still laugh.

Marvellous reminds me of Michael - a "simple" bloke, who must have been in his 50s, who used to walk through my nan's grove in Water Orton.

He had been a "blue baby" and walked in a swaying side to side way, it appears due to the condition he was born with he should have died long before he did.

I can see his wide open face now, with his triple thick glasses with pale blue flecks peering behind them. He used to wear a giant grey duffel coat which added to the look of a man child with a white Chinaman's face.

Nan, who loved looking out the window into the grove at the continual goings-on, used to tell me Michael was coming through with his mom.

I'd run out to him and he'd give me a 1/2p or 1p, thinking about it his perhaps his mother told him to or maybe that is underestimating him.

The conversation would be the same each time.

"Whattabout the Villa Adam?"

"We are gonna win!!!"

"I do hope so Adam, there is a fella up the road who doesnt eat his dinner if the Villa lose and we don't want him to starve do we?"

"No Michael!"

And we used to laugh together every time. And it's moments like that which make this world go round.


The day after the night before in the city that voted Yes
Posted on the 19th Sep 2014 in the category sport


There was meant to be a giant party in George Square, Glasgow right now.
Instead there is an ugly sectarian stand off.
It could have been like Scotland winning the World Cup, Buckfast halving its price and Billy Connolly being made into a saint all rolled into one.
Tam the genial DJ from The Yes Bar, Drury Lane, had booked a sound system for 8am for a party which would have lasted “for days days, it will be a lost weekend.”
He'd prepared his Yes playlist including gems like Yes by MacAlmont and Butler, D-I-V-O-R-C-E by Tammy Wynette, Free by Ultra Nate and Think We Are Alone Now by 80s poppet Tiffany.
But George Square lies empty but for some bored folk, litter strewn and as limp as the fella's wrist who waved a Saltire outside the polls for 12 hours yesterday.
Millions of Scots who voted Yes are waking up with a hangover from hell, like when you've been on the beer and remember you spurned the advances of a beauty, and millions who voted No are waking up with a massive sense of relief, like when you remember you blew out a bird with a questionable cold sore. 
But last night Glasgow was rocking, crackling with atmosphere, mostly genial but with an undercurrent of “this could get out of hand” in a couple of hours. There had been arrests, a group of red hand unionists who showed their face in George Square had to be protected by the police and a couple of tweed wearing Tories had been spotted and bumped out the throng by a bagpiper.
The amount of Barcelona shirts, Catalonian flags and accents also reinforced the world was looking at Scotland during its moment of history.
The crowd cheered as the city chambers lights went on at 10pm to signal the end of polling, a man in an Anonymous mask and a Celtic shirt had photos taken with anyone who asked. Malones Irish Bar showed Braveheart as people wondered what to do until the results would start trickling out in the early hours. 
Glasgow felt like a Yes city all day (53% of the city voted Yes). Young and old had Yes badges and stickers plastered all over them, houses and businesses had Yes posters in windows and the Scottish flag was flying from cars, bikes and ricksaws. The Yessers had that magical look of tiredness, one-eyed belief and hope that only a big election campaign can bring out in a human. As Hunter S Thompson said: “There is nothing more exciting than being involved in an election that you have a stake in.”
Where were the Nos? Probably in the suburbs. I saw a few elderly couples with matching badges and when I saw volunteers scurrying between one safe haven and another they seemed to have English accents. They were probably bussed in from England to save the Status Quo (who by the way were woefully underused by the No campaign).
During the day George Square was like a carnival, it was great to see so many faces of different colours embracing the day. Celebs and stars mingled with the crowds, Alex from Franz Ferdinand talked about the excitement of what could happen in the next 24 hours and Hardeep Singh Koli spoke of how a Yes vote would be good for Birmingham.
And talking of Birmingham it would have been nice if the No campaign would have given us a mention. We are a poster city for the Union.
Scots William Murdoch and James Watt (his statue is in George Square) came to Birmingham and started the industrial revolution which changed human history forever. and Scot William McGregor started Aston Villa and invented the football league.
The previous day firebrand Tommy Sheridan had given a rousing speech to thousands only to end it like a sixth-former who had just learnt about Mandela: “This moment reminds me of the lyrics of a song” - is never a good way to end a speech. 
But he ploughed on and ratcheted up the cheese rating by saying “Labbi Siffrie – Something So Strong” and then it played to the bemusement of everyone who must have been expecting We've Got To Get Out of This Place by The Animals or one of the other song's on Tam's playlist.
There was an infectiousness about the Yes campaign, perhaps it was all the youngsters involved in the politics or maybe it was the optimism of that age old message of hope – change. But the bookies were predicting a No victory all day, and with an exit polls banned the bookies and the markets provided the realism to counter the optimism of Yessers.
Letting 16-year-olds vote might have politicised a generation of young people who are so maligned and facing such uncertainty in life.
My favourite story of the day was the 16-year-old boy who changed his vote after being promised the feel of a pair of tits. Who knows how he voted. That is the beauty of the secret ballot, no-one knows what happens in that polling booth unless you tell people.
The Nos might not have been quoting 80s anthems, touching up young nipples or planning benders if they won but they were out there – worrying about interest rates, the worth of their houses, the uncertainty of a new country's future and the loss of their job. The fear factor had been hammered home relentlessly, people say it was nasty and divisive, but most big elections are. And though running a poor campaign the No top brass had to overcome the oxymoron of “vote No is a vote for optimism.”
This election saw social media being used by campaigners and voters more than ever before, in the past you would have to meet someone to find out their political beliefs now you can read what your thick friends think whilst logging on to Facebook on the bog before breakfast. 
And then there is Twitter, Andy Murray (whose management and PR people must have cried when he backed independence) got vile abuse as well as thousands of retweets and favourites.
After two years on the stump SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “Home after a long, hard but exhilarating campaign. Thanks to everyone – Yes and No - who played a part, the nation decides.”
This magnanimous tweet got the reply from Esmarelda Miller: “Put your feet up and get the dildo out hen - you've done well.”
And with a massive 86 per cent turn out and a giant safe exercise in democracy Esmeralda's sentiments - whatever happens in George Square tonight.


It's up to you Scotland but I thought I better show my face
Posted on the 18th Sep 2014 in the category sport

I bloody love a big election. As Hunter S Thompson said “there is nothing more exciting than being involved in an election that you have a stake in.”

Well I don't have much of a stake in the Scottish Referendum today but thought it would be rude not to show my face north of the border.


I've got Scottish blood in me thanks to my granddad but I'm guessing that might have been diluted from all the Strongbow I've drank over the years.


The plan was to be up for a week before the election and get right involved in the campaigns. But as usual events conspired against me and ive endved coming up disorganised on election day. I always said I'd volunteer for both sides and celebrate with the winners. As well as writing about the election I wanted to feel and experience it.


As a journalist I cannot get involved in local politics, or for that matter national politics. I'd hate for anyone to think I'm biassed. I've been called everything from a Trotskyite to a Right Winger Thatcher apologist but that is part of being a journo. I go after the story, no matter what party it effects. But I really like campaigning. Pressing the flesh, talking to people, finding out why they are voting and watching people go mental in front of your eyes as the poll approaches.

So I can only get involved in elections that don't really effect my patch. Obviously helping getting Obama elected (twice) fits in to that category as does the referendum.



Us Brummies have a lot to thank Scots for. Murdoch and Watt were Scots who saw the potential of Birmingham and started the industrial revolution off in Handsworth and Smethwick. They changed human behaviour forever. It does not get really bigger than that. They used the benefits of the Union to their advantage. How it is supposed to be.


Then there is William McGregor - a Scot who founded Aston Villa Football Club (our emblem is a reverse. Rampant Lion) and the football league. Again an amazing achievement which has brought joy to people across the world.

But have the NO campaign mentioned this in their campaign? Of course not. They have used sixth-form politics scare tactics that are both patronising and offensive.


They did not concentrate on the brilliance of being together, the beauty of two peoples pulling in the same direction despite being different. How we stood together in one of the darkest moments of world history and despite the odds being against us fought and took on Nazi Germany when they were at their strongest. Our finest moment together was pretty spectacular.

But the NO campaign has concentrated on fear and the “how skint will you be if they win” politics of Westminster elections. Surely this election is an emotional election. A lot of people will wake up in Scotland and think “this is our chance to go alone, this will not happen again.” Then again perhaps even more will think “Tesco own brand peanuts will be more expensive."


What this referendum has done for me is remind me of my teenage Scottishness. I was really mad about Scotland as a kid. Probably because I idolised my Scotch granddad whose tales of mining and Communism fascinated me.


Politics boring? You want have heard the arguments between my dad, who was a copper, and my granddad (an ex-miner) during the Miners Strike. I was only eight but it gave me a long term love of politics.


I bought the Italia 1990 Scotland kit. The one with the ultra-modern design and the one that as usual got knocked out early. I'd argue till I was blue in the face they were better than England. Perhaps I just wanted to belong, to be an outsider and have something to cling on.

I got the Smith family tartan crest on my wall, which after looking into it further was not even our Smiths. I wore a Scotland pin badge on my blazer.


After finding out the Smiths could fight for the McPherson clan and wear their tartan when one of our descendants had killed a load of people for them I told everyone at school the Scotch player David McPherson was related to me.


I also became interested in Scotch politics, I began carving the SNP badge in my desks at school. Thinking back the teachers must have known it was me, not many kids had such political awareness and criminal tendencies. I wish I'd asked granddad what he thought about being independent.


As a communist he was an internationalist so nationalism probably was not too high on his agenda. But the referendum has got me thinking about him too, which is good for and was a great man who came to England and set in motion the circumstances for me to be on the planet.

As over the years the teenage Scottishness reduced, after all I've only been there once. And nationalism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. There is good and bad in everyone. Se la ve.

If the Scots go fair play to them, I hope it goes well. If I lived in Scotland I'd probably vote yes because I am an eternal optimist and think setting up a new country is exciting.

It is up to the Scots, no-one else, and when any relationship it is very rarely a mutual decision. As the French say "the kissed or the kisser" someone always loves more than the other person.

If they say no then I'll be happy to have them still in our country, the Union has done some great things and they were part of it.

The debate they have started will hopefully have a big effect on us. I want greater democracy for Perry Barr and Birmingham. But the party will be something to remember if they do win.

Now where do I get some Buckfast from before I start volunteering.


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