As we’re not playing this weekend, I thought I’d provide some March-flavoured comment. I see it as my duty as a citizen of the European Capital of Culture (2008) to bring enlightenment to the denizens of the runners up, Newcastle-Gateshead. You’re one of them, by the way. The Angel of the North is part of Northumberland according to the opening of Robson Greens’ latest TV series, and Hadrian’s wall marks the border with Scotland according to independence referendum pundits, so anywhere up north must surely qualify as part of Newcastle-Gateshead, which are and always will be two distinct towns as far as I’m concerned.
I must include references to football, of course, which allows me to begin by saying March down here saw quite a few miserable faces following Everton’s exit from Europe and then Stevie G’s early bath, which no doubt contributed to a defeat at the hands of Liverpool’s arch arch-enemy. Ha!
I’d like to continue in this vein but I can’t ignore events at the Hillsborough inquests, which are just about to enter their second year, and I must pay them due respect. I don’t know what is reported in the North-East; down here regional TV carries summaries from Warrington most evenings. Over March many of these focused on evidence and statements from David Duckenfield, the senior police officer on duty at Hillsborough, who finally admitted he had lied about the order for the opening of the gate that led to 96 deaths, and who apologized to the families of those who died. At the end of his evidence one of the bereaved parents confronted Mr. Duckenfield and asked him why he had kept himself, his wife, his daughter and the other families waiting for 26 years. A reasonable question, you might think.
Perhaps the families would be still waiting were it not for the efforts of parents like Trevor Hicks and Margaret Aspinall. Around the time Mr. Duckenfield was giving his evidence they were receiving CBEs from the queen for their work with the Hillsborough Family Support Group. Trevor Hicks, who lost two teenage daughters, described it as a day of mixed emotions: “It is the first time I have got something that I would rather not have had, for obvious reasons, but I am extremely proud to be here”.
I’ll leave it there and return to my original theme.
March and culture, hmm…
The obvious starting point has to be Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” and the phrase “Beware the Ides of March”. Apparently the Ides, or 15th, of March were nothing special for the average Roman and it was merely a Shakespearean device to give them some special significance and thus infuse the soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar with some menace. So the events on the 15th March, 2015, when Ellis Short surely made up his mind to replace our manager, must be seen purely as coincidence.
Will the change bode well for us? Our own Malcolm, writing after Gus went, seems to think it doesn’t matter either way. Perhaps he’s right, he certainly has a point, but does the Bard have more to offer? In “Macbeth” Shakespeare has Malcolm asking “What’s the newest grief”. Stage directions say this takes place before the palace. “Before the Palace do what”, I’m thinking, “We have them at the SOL in a couple of weeks”.
Relegation or not, I’m keeping an eye on the Championship’s North-West teams. Bolton had a miserable March but look safe and should be easy to get to should the need arise but Blackburn should be easier because I’d expect a lift from a season ticket holder. Blackburn did start the month well and looked like they might just push into the playoffs, not to mention getting to Wembley, but they progressed as March often does: “in like a lion, out like a lamb” and dropped back. Wigan also had a mixed March, some wins but not enough to escape the bottom three and that’s not good, partly because of the message their predicament has for any team that goes down from the Premiership, more because it’s a good away trip from here. Easy to get to, good beer, cheap tickets with a good view. That’s almost the opposite of Anfield. What more could you want? (apart from a few more points, a settled team, a good cup run, a few youngsters coming through….)
Blackpool had a miserable month and look doomed but their neighbours Preston North End never lost during March and currently sit second in League One. They are also easy to get to (time consuming, perhaps, but I can use my bus pass) and I hope they make it up to the Championship and thence to the Premiership to play us.
Back to culture:
I had both Aston Villa at the SOL and West Ham away penciled in but neither trip was to be. Instead, I went to the theatre to see “The Three Lions”, which allegedly, or maybe not, tells the story of the Prime Minister, Prince William and David Beckham’s ill-fated trip to Switzerland to support England’s bid to host the World Cup. It’s not touring to a lot of places so you probably won’t have much of an opportunity to see it. But if you do, don’t miss it. I won’t say a lot about it but it’s a lot more fun than the SOL has been for some time.
Those other “Three lions” looked comfortable against Lithuania but as the FA doesn’t see any point in making it possible for anyone north of Watford to get to international games I won’t bother with them, apart from maintaining a Shakesperian theme by saying I enjoyed that little touch of Harry in the night.
Instead, I’ll report on chess, where our season has almost reached a conclusion. We’ve been short of players since August and I’ve had to play for two teams but we’ve come through and both teams are safe in their respective divisions. Not able to win them but not at risk; and we even reached a cup semi-final. It’s remarkable what you can achieve when you all pull together, and when you’re not just playing for the money.
There’s a moral there somewhere, also a memory of last season in the Premiership. Perhaps our Flying Dutchman can rekindle the dying ember, perhaps he’ll use young Duncan to do so. I have to say young Duncan because there is an also old Duncan. He’s Malcolm’s father (the one in Macbeth, not our own) and he comes out with the phrase “Great happiness” after a victory over the enemy. Is that what next week will bring? I hope so.
And there I’ll leave it, for a day or so. Watch this space.