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John McCain's concession speech made him an American hero
Posted on the 4th September 2018 in the category sport



John McCain dying has brought back a lot of memories for me of Barack Obama's victory in 2008.
Now history seems to have remembered Obama's victory by the numbers but at the time the country was on a knife-edge.

 

I had spent weeks volunteering for Obama in Florida and when America went to the polls there were credible questions about what would happen. Had Americans told pollsters they would vote Obama so not to appear racist but then vote the white man in the booth.
If it went down to Florida like 2000 would the army of Democrat lawyers stop the Republican sharp suits stealing the election. If the Republicans won the election by questionable methods would there be rioting? 

 

I spent election night at the official Democrat Florida Party in Jungle Island, Miami. Looking back John McCain's concession speech was a seminal moment in that election and in American history. After the shenanigans of 2000 the concession speech took on an even more important role, when a candidate conceeds that's that. And for all the people on the losing side they need to hear their candidate say its over and thank them.

 

Hence, in 2016 when a shocked America watched in disbelief as Donald Trump won the election the country needed to hear Hilary Clinton speak, and concede and thank the milions who helped her, She stayed silent, which was unforgivable, her heartbreak at her own ambition's failure overtook the good of the nation she wanted to lead.

 

I have watched the concession speech since he died and it was as good as I remember it. He framed Obama`s victory in historic terms setting up the new President`s Chicago victory speech perfectly.

 

McCain would have been told if he played the race card in the election he would have a better chance of winning. And seeing how Donald Trump`s dog whistle turned into a elephant horn during Obama`s presidency the nasty voices in the former Vietnam hostage`s ears would have been right. But he did not succumb´╝î how many politicians have the moral fortitude to do what is right when doing the wrong thing would clinch them their life`s ambition and the world`s biggest political prize? Not many. Remember. that nice guy with a super smile who was up against Sadiq Khan for London Mayor. One of many politicians down the years who did not have McCain`s morals.

 

Below is an extract of my book - Obama and Me: The Incredible True Story of a YouTube Sensation (5 star Amazon review) of when McCain made his historic concession speech.
 
“I looked at the massive TV screens and saw the pictures of people going crazy across America. Waves and waves of goose bumps rushed over my skin and the hairs on my neck stood for attention for minutes on end as the enormity of the situation hit me.
Against all the historical odds a mixed race man was President of the United States of America. The good guys had won, and just to see so many people go crazy in the streets was fantastic.
 It was one of those all too rare moments in which you see young and old celebrating like there was no tomorrow, and all because of politics. I could tell this night was never going to end and that no-one would be going home early because the adrenaline would have stopped any sane person sleeping.
Music would blast from the sound system in no particular order and forno particular reason, but every time there was quiet you knew something important was happening. A hush descended across the room and all the televisions showed the same image –John McCain.
He was just about to concede in this most historic of elections.McCain was speaking in Phoenix and everyone in our room was waiting to see what he was going to say. His wife was at his side as well as Sarah Palin, who looked gorgeous in a shiny blue power suit.

 

A cheer went up in the room when he said he’d just phoned Barack Obama to congratulate him on winning the election. However, the reaction in Arizona was very different. As soon as Barack Obama’s name was mentioned the all white audience began booing. Everyone around me started to laugh because the Republicans were obviously hurting.
To McCain’s credit he motioned to his supporters to shut up and went on to give the best speech of his life, clearly aimed at uniting America. Within a few moments he was acknowledging the enormity of a black man being elected to the White House, 100 years after the uproar that greeted President Theodore Roosevelt inviting Booker T Washington to dinner, and referencing the ‘cruelty of those times’.

 

After about three minutes of the speech I had a panic attack. I realised I hadn’t being taking notes. I went to grab my notebook but realised I didn’t have one, then searched for a pen in my pocket and realised I didn’t have one of those either. My worries passed though; I assumed I’d be able to pick up the exact wording of some of his most important quotes on the BBC or CNN when I compiled my report.
I smiled as I thought about the number of times someone had said to me “What, a journalist without a pen?” and again, not for the first time in America, I thought ‘Oh, fuck it, I’m not being paidto be here.’
Instead of worrying I just savoured the moment and took in every word of John McCain’s historic 10 minute speech. What I found fascinating was that none of the Democrats around me mocked the old war hero.
I think people realised he was a goodman and not a Republican in the image of George Bush or Karl Rove. However, when he said that there was nothing more he could have done to have won the election I disagreed.
He could have played the race card, like many racists in his party wanted him to,but he resisted because he knew it could have torn America apart.
He might have won more votes, but he must have known that if the forces of bigotry were unleashed in his campaign it could well have opened a Pandora’s Box of racial tension.

 

For his courage and his decency, to me John McCain is an American hero.
I felt goosepimples cover my skin as I watched his speech. It was a perfect way to concede an election.When he finished speaking a round of respectful applause went around the room and everyone near me commented on what a great speech it had been.
It was all the sweeter because it meant that Obama had really won.

Even the most pessimistic conspiracy theorist in the room couldn’t have denied that Obama was going to be President. I took the last few gulps of my rum and coke and again congratulated myself for being in America at that moment in history, before heading off to get more drinks. I was overjoyed that Kale was coming the other way with a double rum and coke for me.

I gave him another big hug, as much for the drink as for the fact that we’d helped Barack Obama win the election of elections.

 




Thank you Russia for a World Cup I'm already lost without you
Posted on the 17th July 2018 in the category sport



Thank you Russia for the World Cup, just one thing, what do I do now?

Four weeks and three days of free-to-air international football and free of all the pre-tournament fear mongering.

There were no monkey chants, no fans being locked up for smiling before midday, no scenes of go-pro-wearing para-military Russian hooligans beating the living daylights out of fat families from Stoke and no Nuremberg style political grandstanding by Vladimir Putin. 

Just a beautiiful celebration of the beautiful game. Those first ten days were the best, three games a day, all those different fans, fascinating stories and whole new teams to learn about.

I am a lapsed football fan, the Premiership has killed my enthusiasm, it is all about the money, whichever team's owner is in control of the most fossil fuels usually wins, aspiring teams' best players are bought by the big boys and benched and you wonder how much the multi-millionaires playing really care.

But the World Cup is about countries making the best of what they have and watching a game knowing somewhere there are millions of peole watching ready to explode in ecstasy if one of their own scores a goal.

I booked the first week off work to immerse myself in this once every four years footballing heaven. I headed to Ireland to an old friend's home to watch games, drink cider and get takeaways like we did during the France 1998 World Cup at university.

Unlike 20 years ago modern technology games can be watched at work, on the bus, on catch up or on the countless televisions in bars, restaurants, pubs, rail stations, offices and wherever a screen is squeezed into.

That first week was like a Valhalah of VAR, it was something new to get our heads around, thankfully it was not as annoying as I thought it would be. The Russians, with a team as unfancied as a KGB honey pot sting needing a dose of rohipnal, scored five in their opener ensuring across nine time zones the fans would have a stake in the World Cup.

The tournament caught fire when Spain drew 3-3 with Portugal, a preening Ronaldo clinching a point with a last gasp epic freekick. There was not a 0-0 draw until the last round of group games, previous winners like Germany and Argentina were getting beaten as were talented teams without the street-smarts tournament football demands, like Peru and Morocco.

Most importantly there were goals, taps ins, screamers, revelationary goals and redemption goals, and a fair few in the last few minutes. Thankfully, the defensive safety first football of previous World Cups had been replaced with brave, sometimes stupidly so attacking football.

What fascinated me was the size of Russia, the hand over from game to game and they were in different time zones and climates, some of cities had been closed to foreigners just a generation ago.

We understand FIFA implements FIFAland on whichever country is hosting the World Cup, just like the Olympics do when they come to town, this mean a lot of liberal democracies see the small print of delegates having traffic lights changed and think piss off. But I think for those people in Russia who had never seen so many foreigners, laughed with them and realised what could be possible without repression. And I was happy for the Russians the tournament was a success.

To see France win a World Cup final with the help of VAR was sweet to see, because they were the victim of the first VAR decision in a final when it was not even legal.

Zinadine Zidane had dragged his spluttering French team into the final with tournament changing performances not seen since Maradona. In the final he scored the greatest penalty ever taken and was voted player of the tournament at half time, and then tragically was sent off.

And it was a travesty, he noticed the ref and two linesmen had turned to follow goalkick up field and planted his head in the chest of the horrible Italian calling his mother names. This winded his opponent and no-one had noticed.

But the fourth ref on the sidelines saw a TV replay of the foul and told the referee. Which is against the rules. So the greatest player of his generation was sent off illegally.

He never played again.

Zidane was a great player, one of the best of all time, if only England had one of those. We had Harry 'no tattoos with his childhood sweetheart' Kane. Who we last saw in an international tournament huffing and puffing, taking every corner and looking knackered against Iceland. 

Now he is Golden Boot Kane. Good on him for near enough winning the Golden Boot despite not having a none penalty shot on target in the knockout stages, I always wondered if hitting the post was on target or not, guess we know it's not cos our Arry hit the post against Croatia when we were on top.

That miss will get worse as the years and decades pass.

Gareth Southgate has made a nation fall in love with the national team again.

Thanks to the press; if it wasn't for Telegraph investigation exposing Big Sam drinking pints of red wine and giving vit large about selling the souls of England schoolboys in exchange for a timeshare in Malta nice guy Gareth would still be waiting in the wings to take over after an early exit playing turgid football from this or the next tournament.

Southgate had faith in youth and freed them all from the shackles of past failures, Capello was right when he said England players were scared to play in the shirt it was such a burden.

Not Gareth's team, they seemed comfortable in their three lions skin and with each other too, the fact we now praise an England team for being able to eat breakfast together instead of sitting in club cliques calling each other cunts under their breath over coffee shows how far we had fallen, as well as cementing what we knew already, the Golden Generation was a right Golden Shower.

They will get better, with the Euros 2020 semis and final at Wembley so football could actually come home.

But as for the World Cup; we were 20mins away from our first final on foreign soil. We will almost certainly never get a better chance.

Southgate's inexperience as an international manager cost England dear. Croatia were obviously having the better of us, they had more quality but we could have won or at the very least made it to penalties. His substitutions screamed of not having a plan B.

Despite all FA futureproofing money can buy, carried out by an army of psychologists, strategists, data analyists and extra 1% types, but tournament football will come down to decisions being made as the clock is running down and a tactical battle with the opposing coach, and Southgate buckled.

Harry Kane was treading water and so tired his passing went to pot. The two goals were sloppy and arguably made by individual players who were played out of position for most the tournament.

But we did brilliantly. We got to the semi-final of the fucking WORLD CUP!!!

And it was beautiful, seeing the multitude of celebrations and consequences as we went further. The St George's Crosses on roundabouts, waistcoat Wednesday, single mums crowdfunding trips to Russia, It's Coming Home memes, millions of pints drank, coke dealers revealing post penalty surges for yayo and unlucky buses becoming slow after taking a right turn into moving dance podiums in towns and cities

I heard there will not be an official welcome home, no open bus tour, as "we did not win it and the job is not finished" - which is English arrogance at best/worse. There should be a parade, let friends have an excuse to meet each other again and celebrate a remarkable achievement in the sun.

The next World Cup is in the winter, in the baking heat of the desert with 48 teams huffing and puffing, people will say our Premiership players will not be knackered pre-season, but every other decent team is packed full of Premiership players too.

Next time do we really think Italy, Holland, Germany, Spain, Argentina and Brazil will not have improved after this year's disasters? France will be stronger, hopefully the Africans will have something to shout about.

And will we have the luck of the draw again? This was our Leicester winning the Premiership chance, and we were 20 minutes and a bit of concentration of getting to the final only having to beat one dark horse, Croatia.

Football will be coming home for the next European Championships because the semi-final and final will be at Wembley, which considering its not even the best stadium in Britain let alone Europe is a result, we just need to make it to the semis. Not an easy feat.

Another way to win the World Cup is to hold it. We have a 100% record on home soil. And if we get it in 2030 Jordan Pickford could still be in goal! Obviously it will mean trusting FIFA which is the equivilent of watching a video of your ex gargling all your mates' spunk and then her asking you to sign a mortgage for a house. However, for the common good if football does come home, it will need a roof over its head. Qatar will be a bust, and America, Canada and Mexico in 2026 could make people remember how good it can be, ready for 2030 for football to come home.

So celebrate this semi-final overachievement, we will all remember where we were during the historic 2018 World Cup run, England's success will mean when images are shown of the Colombia penalty shootout, the Sweden walkover and that free kick in the semi-final our brains will have a automatic shortcut to who we were with and what we were doing.

That's what massive sporting achievements can create so we should have a chance to say thank you, if they could hold it outside the Russian embassy we could thank them too for a wonderful celebration of football.

And ask them how we win World Cup 2030.



How I found out Perry Barr's dirty secret - a direct link to slavery
Posted on the 24th January 2018 in the category sport



You always seem to find something important or something you’ve lost when you are looking for something else.

I was trying to write a fascinating local history feature about the area I love and ended up finding out my beautiful darling had a dirty dark secret - slavery.

I know how UKIP leader Henry Bolton felt when he found out his beloved lythe politics obsessed glamour model (how hard are they to find) was a racist knob who would lose him his job. Well, kind of, my penis hasn’t staged a stunning coup-de-te-at over my brain, heart and career, but you know what I am getting at.
My obsession did not have tits but was about the two Perry Halls, one in Perry Barr and another in Baltimore, Maryland.  This story was years in the making as to do it properly I needed to get into the American Perry Hall Mansion to do it justice, it is fair to say I was not trying to beat anyone else to this tale because I’m the only hack whose from Perry Barr and gives enough of a shit to go to any kind of effort to get it.

 

I grew up on the Perry Hall estate in Perry Barr, Birmingham.

The huge cheshnut and oak trees I can see from my bedroom window were part of the tree lined avenue that led to Perry Hall, the ancestral seat of the Gough family.
Perry Hall Park is now where the majestic Perry Hall stood, built in 1649 complete with its own moat and sunken Chinese gardens, kings stayed there and it was on a par with Aston Hall.

In 1928 Birmingham Corporation did a very Birmingham thing and pulled the f***r down.

The council could not afford to keep both Aston Hall and Perry Hall open so erased hundreds of years of history with a pen-stroke and started building houses on the land, including my family home.

Now only the moat (where Chalky the Swan was murdered) and the sunken gardens remain from the glory days of Perry Hall remain. They used to have boats on the moat but the boathouse got burned down in the 1980s.

The footprint of the hall is now grassed and as a kid I lost fights, won a couple, played plenty of football and caught sticklebacks in the sun.As a teen I did a bit of Thunderbirds Blue fuelled snogging and feeling up on the benches, and as an adult I’ve sat many an hour watching the world go whilst thinking about whatever is preoccupying my mind.

 It is one of my favourite places on earth.

However, when I was working for the Great Barr Observer I found out there was another Perry Hall, not in a parallel universe but in Maryland, a Gough had emigrated in the 18th Century and built Perry Hall Mansion and founded a thriving town.

I rang the Perry Hall, Maryland, librarian and she said: 'What state is your Perry Hall?' 'Oh we pulled it down in 1928'. Her shock matched my embarrassment.

Fast forward to a press trip to Baltimore about ten years ago; I saw a sign for Perry Hall Mansion and after begging the driver to do a U-turn I was outside, well by a sign for Perry Hall anyway.  The know-it-all driver was happy to say it was gated and closed to the public. I got someone to take a photo, which I never saw again, I cursed myself for forgetting all about the two Perry Halls and not asking for a visit beforehand, would I ever be that close again?

I'd be in Maryland again, three years ago, but I had forgot all about the other Perry Hall again, and had no chance convincing the PR to organise a three hour drive to the mansion.

I had unfinished business in Baltimore, Fells Point is one of the greatest places to drink anywhere on the planet, I'd been there but on a ghost tour, walking past brilliant bar after brilliant bar as locals shouted 'they’re bullshitting about ghosts' and then we were whisked back downtown for a meal at our hotel, a classic case of press trip 'look what you could have won'. 

But in 2016 I was going over for the election and heading to Philadelphia, New York and most definitely Baltimore. And I had six months to organise hotels and to get into Perry Hall Mansion.

I contacted the British PR company for Baltimore and asked them to get me into Perry Hall Mansion. So they asked their counterparts in the Charm City. And I kept on asking, but kept on getting no reply. Obviously Baltimore had a journalist coming to town and wanted them to write about the harbour area, museums, Fells Point and all the other attractions. They did not want to send him to Perry Hall Mansion which was not open to the public.

But I wanted to go. So I kept on asking, and luckily the president of the Perry Hall Mansion Inc. Jeffrey Smith works in local government in the same building as the PR team and heard about this British journalist from the original Perry Hall who wanted to come to the historic building he has spent decades trying to preserve, so the date was set.

When day came (the Saturday before the election) my meeting clashed with a Democrat rally in Philadelphia with Hilary Clinton, Joe Biden Katy Perry and Bill Clinton. who I have always wanted to see in the flesh.

Do I see my political hero or meet Jeff? Thankfully I met Jeff. My mate ordered an uber for me and off I set to Perry Hall, about an hour out of Baltimore to be the first Perry Barrican to see Perry Hall Mansion since the Gough in the 18th Century.

My phone was dying and the Uber driver had no idea where the mansion wanted to dump me in the middle of nowhere. I had to get there, how I would get back god knows, but my travelling motto is always: Just get there, worry about getting back later, but get there.

I persevered and after a few U-turns and directions from locals I ended up by a metal fence with Perry Hall Mansion behind it.

My heart sank, the grand old mansion had seen better days and had been empty since the last owner, who was a recluse, let it go to wrack and ruin. We knocked down our Perry Hall and it looked like the American one was on its last legs.

To lose one Perry Hall is unfortunate but to lose two is downright careless.

Now if the American Perry Hall Mansion was in Britain under the control of a local council then its days would be numbered, the place would burn down and be destroyed if it was not turned into flats, look at Great Barr Hall, and Corngreaves Hall, and Rookery Hall.

However, after a fascinating tour of the grand old mansion from Jeff, a friendly guy with a tache who is the archetypal decent, kind and history-cherishing American, I knew Perry Hall Mansion will survive. There are older buildings in Birmingham all over the place, but in American terms the mansion is prehistoric. George Washington even discussed its fixtures and fittings when it got built and it is on the list of important U.S historical sites.

What I found inside is the subject of a feature I will write sooner or later, along the lines of A Tale of Two Perry Halls. I now work for Metro.co.uk and it is not the type of tale our audience would appreciate, I pitched the story but was rightly told it was too niche. It would be perfect for the Great Barr Observer, but that fine organ has been taken over by Trinity Mirror, and its website is no more and its stories are published on the Birmingham Mail's website, and my byline is about as welcome there tape recorder in Trump's Oval Office.

Knowing Jeff is the custodian of the mansion means it is in safe hands, he is not going to have his head turned and become a ‘consultant’ for developers like what happened in Great Barr.

 About an hour into the tour, we both at the same time thought about taking the conversation into a bar, he took me his local dive bar and we had a riproaring day on the booze, one of my favourite days in America in fact, he ended up being a listener to the radio show and now a firm friend.

But, a house is a home. A home has people, and the best stories are about people. Jeff showed me a picture in the mansion of Francis Asbury being made a bishop with the owner of Perry Hall sitting in the front row.

Francis Asbury was born on the Newton Road in the 18th Century and emigrated to America to spread the Methodism. I know a lot about Francis, because my mom's church is Perry Barr Methodist, my nan's maiden name was Asbury and I included him in my local history talk 'Brummies and Black Country folk who helped transform the New World (£50 cash if you want me to do it your group, the Halesowen History Society was impressed).

 

I looked at the picture and had them old hard news butterlies started to fly around in my stomach, two men born a couple of miles apart meet in America as the new country was being forged by men like themselves - a pious Christian and slave owning plantation owner. 

Yep, the Perry Barr family who started a new life in America made their fortune on the backs of slaves, now that is what I call letting the side down. I wonder what Harry Dorsey Gough, and Francis for that matter, would have thought if he saw a picture of me and my mates in the Perry Barr Methodist Church Boy's Brigade in 1987, me being the only white boy in sea of black faces?

I did some digging and the human story I found was fascinating. I pitched it to my bosses for a Christmas feature and it was accepted under the headline - 'How two Brummies helped turned the tide against slavery in America.'

Give it a read, even if you are not from Perry Barr, I am quite proud of it.

 

 Harry Dorsey Gough and Francis Asbury

 

When two Brummies met over dinner for the first time in America, thousands of miles away from home,they had a lot to talk about.

Number one on the list was – why did one of them own slaves?

The year was 1774 and Harry Dorsey Gough had done well for himself in Baltimore, Maryland. He had completed his manor house and named it after his ancestral home Perry Hall in Birmingham, where his family had moved from decades before.

He was coining it in – on the backs of slaves. He was one of the biggest slave owners in Maryland, enslaving more than 70 people. Whilst he had boisterous parties, plenty of wine and gambled big on the horses, his wife Prudence started attending Methodist Church meetings and living a more pious life.

Although Harry and his pals first went to meetings to ridicule the new religion, he ended up being converted. He built a chapel on the side of Perry Hall and fitted the first bell ever to adorn a Methodist church in America, every day it would ring and he, Prudence and his slave families would worship.

The founder of the American Methodist Church, which now has over 60 million members, was Francis Asbury – who had grown up two miles away from Perry Hall in Birmingham, England.

He criss-crossed the New World on his horse trying to convert everyone he met, and was delighted with the chance to meet someone from the same part of the world as him. Not one to be impressed by worldly possessions and grandeur he even allowed himself to compliment Perry Hall Mansion.

He said: ‘Perry Hall was the largest house I had ever seen, and all its arrangements within and without, were tasteful and elegant. ‘Yet simplicity and utility seemed to be stamped upon the whole. The garden, orchards, and everything else, were delightful indeed, and looked to me like an earthly paradise.

‘But what pleased me better than anything else, I found a neat chapel next to the house and a small cupola and bell, which could be heard all over the farm.’ What did not delight him, however, was Harry’s slave ownership.

Harry’s conversion had been accelerated when he had seen slaves convert to Methodism and give thanks to the Lord for basically having nothing. He was not impressed enough to free his slaves though. They were making him money on his farmland. 

The slave quarters at Perry Hall Mansion 

Again and again Francis raised the issue of slaves, but still they remained anything but free. The Goughs were there when Francis Asbury was ordained a bishop of the church. It would be nearly 100 years and one civil war later until slavery was abolished for good in America, but in northern states like Maryland slaves were being made free men in the 1790s.

But not Harry Gough’s slaves. They continued being forced to work for free, were prevented from leaving the county and unable to make decisions about their lives that we take for granted now.

Prudence, whom the bishop would later describe ‘like a daughter’, and Francis kept on trying to convincearry to set them free.

President of Perry Hall Mansion, Inc Jeffrey Smith, who wrote the official history of the mansion, told Metro.co.uk: ‘It would be a nice end to the story if Harry had relented and freed his slaves.

 ‘However, all those conversations were not in vain, because he freed his slaves in his will – so when he died in 1808, the slaves were freed and their children went on to live free lives, something that Southern slaves could only dream of for decades.

‘Francis Asbury went on to be one of the most important missionaries in American history. Methodism is one of our country’s biggest religions and counts several presidents amongst their number, including both Bushes.’

He added: ‘Gough’s decision to free his slaves was part of a larger movement promoted by Asbury and a host of other Methodist preachers that led to freedom for African-Americans throughout the Mid-Atlantic states.’ Over 2,000 people attended Harry’s funeral in 1808 and Bishop Asbury presided over the ceremony.

He said: ‘Harry Dorsey Gough was a man much respected and beloved. His charities were as numerous as proper objects to a Christian is likely to make them.’

And at the end of the service, his slaves went home free men and women.



 

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