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The Voice in your Community

neilbaker

Bake’s Memoirs

by Neil Baker, local sporting legend

July 30th 2020, Issue 99

I’m sure, like me, you are pleased that we are gradually getting back to life as it was pre-lockdown. Not quite the same but our lives are starting to get back to some sort of normality.

I include sport in that, football is being played at the top level again and local cricket came back on the agenda on Saturday 18th July.

Though a reduced programme it was important that the season was not totally wiped out. I felt that cricket was treated a little more unfairly than other sports. It’s played outdoors where the virus is less likely to be contracted and easier to social distance than other contact sports.

The concern was that the umpires that stood were of an older age and that supporters of the game were generally in the age group that were considered more vulnerable.

How ironic that when the season was due to start the weather was fantastic. After the wet summer of last year when the season was hit by numerous games cancelled or curtailed due to rain we had our best weather of the summer so far.

The test series against the West Indies has started behind closed doors which was pleasing despite our defeat in the first test, in fact I am writing my column watching the first mornings play of the second test at Old Trafford.

Although there has been no club cricket to report on there has been a series of articles in the local press on past and present players and teams which I have to say have been really interesting.

One was on Russ Flower who of course was the professional at Cheadle CC in the early seventies. I was at the club at the time playing in the second team and Kidsgrove League team. I was having a decent season with the seconds and was picked to play in the first team against Congleton at our Tean Road ground.

I was 17 at the time and nervous about making my debut. There was some established players playing in the team at the time including Dave Croft, Tony Brindley, Nige Rushton, Dave Burton, Billings and Congleton had probably the quickest bowler in the league at that time Malc Lees.

I got to the ground early and made my way to the home dressing room and was greeted by Russ with the following words ‘ah, so this is the run machine’. I’ll never forget those words which settled me down straight away and made me welcome.

During those next two seasons I got to know Russ better and I found this was typical of the man. Not only was he a fine left arm spinner who represented Staffordshire before having a season at Warwickshire in his mid thirties he was a gentleman.

I’ve seen him a few times in the last couple of years. He was up at Highfield last season when Leek played Stone as he is now president of the club and I have bumped into him at Uttoxeter races which is one of his pastimes.

Wondered what your thoughts were on England leaving out Stuart Broad for the first test match? Splitting up the most successful opening bowling partnership in history was a surprise to me. Agreed you have to plan for the future but I am an advocate of picking your best side at any given time, even more surprising that Broad has been our best bowler over the last twelve months.

He and Anderson cannot go on indefinitely but they are still our best bowlers on home soil though with Archer in the team one of them may have to come on first change.

The main topic of conversation on the football scene is the introduction of VAR this season. For me it has been a disaster, rather than adding anything to the game it has taken away. I did say at the start of the season that I was wary and so it has been proved. I’m totally with goal line technology but someone’s elbow, toe, knee being ruled offside is ridiculous. Some of the goals being allowed or ruled out of late makes a mockery of the game.

Tottenham’s Harry Kane had a goal disallowed against Sheffield Utd for handball. Moura was dribbling through, got fouled and a defender kicked the ball against his arm which rebounded to Kane who scored. The goal was disallowed for handball. Have you ever seen a poorer decision?

Now if the ball hits the arm of a player in the penalty area, intentional or not the goal is wiped out or a penalty awarded. Crazy. The laws of the game are spoiling the game. Referees should be allowed to use their common sense. It also breaks up the game. We have to wait too long for an official who has multiple views of the incident to make up his mind. If it takes anyone that long then surely it is not clear and obvious which VAR was brought into the game for. I rest my case!

Eric Dier was banned for three games and fined for climbing into the stand to confront a fan who had been abusing him and his brother. Some people thought that was wrong as he shouldn’t have been subjected to that and he was defending his family. I disagree, it’s wrong that anyone should have to take any sort of abuse on the field of play but you can’t have players of any sport leaving the field of play to confront offenders. Who knows what could have happened. He could have got seriously hurt, particularly if it had been at an away ground and could have started a mass brawl. Let the stewards and police deal with those situations.

I was involved in a similar situation at Crewe many years ago. We had lost a home game and we were getting a bit of stick from a section of supporters near to the tunnel. One fan in particular was giving one of our players some real personal abuse and I took exception to it.

I cocked one leg over the barrier and was about to let him have one. Before I could, a steward grabbed me and pulled me back pitchside. I thanked him after he had given me a right ticking off. I lost my head and may well have done something I would have regretted.

One last thing before I go, I had a call from Kev Rogers wife, Bev, during lockdown. Kev’s not been well for a while but she had been to see him and he had been watching a bit of football, She has asked if anyone had any photos of his footballing career that she could take to show him, I’ve spoken to a couple of the Cheadle Utd lads and they are looking some out. If there’s anyone with old football photos with Kev on, then please let me know through Nigel, our editor.

All the best,

Bake.


 

June 1st 2020

Hello again,

I hope you and your families are all keeping well during these trying times. It's not easy for any of us just now but there are signs that things are improving slowly and the lockdown restrictions are gradually being lifted.

We all have our opinions on how the pandemic has been handled and how quickly or slowly these restrictions are being changed as time passes but we are reliant on the information we are given, the guidance we all have to adhere to and gradually making decisions that we feel comfortable with.

That's life and getting back to living our lives. We have to make decisions on all aspects of our lives that ultimately affect ourselves and our families.

Most of these decisions involve a certain amount of risk. At home, every time we leave the house, travel, financial decisions we make, in fact in everything we do there is an element of risk.

But if we do nothing then things stay the same and nobody wants that as we all want to get back to living our lives as normal as we possibly can. We will get over this in time and we must be ready to resume life as we know it. The majority of us will have been affected in various ways, some more than others. We have lost a lot of lives due to the virus and my sympathies go out to the families that have suffered this awful experience.

History will tell us that covid19 came and changed our world for a short time and that we had to rebuild and rethink our way back.

Enough of my pontificating! 

My pessimism on the sporting front in the last column has been replaced by an air of optimism. The Bundesliga has started again with no hiccups and 'project restart' is well underway in the Premier league. We are so dependent on the top league restarting and more important, finishing, at all levels in giving us hope that the rest of us will play some football in the near future. There's still a lot of things to be decided yet but the signs are much better than i anticipated.

How long it will be before football is played in front of crowds is anybody's guess but first things first, let's get the game up and running again providing it is safe to do so. It also looks as though the Championship will get the nod to start again soon but leagues one and two have been curtailed. What did surprise me that the EFL said to these clubs, come up with a solution that the majority of you are happy with. League two did, promotion and play offs but with no relegation, surprise, surprise. The FA failed to ratify the decision saying that there must be relegation. League one are still in negotiations.

What is certain is that the two bottom leagues cannot afford to play without crowds. The Championship clubs will just about manage as will the Premier league.

What has become evident over the last three months is how badly these clubs have been run. I see where the Huddersfield Town chairman has said we could lose 50-60 clubs. I doubt that very much and hope he is very wide of the mark because this affects so many communities as well as supporters. What must happen at all clubs, professional or semi professional is they must review their models and find ways of streamlining and sustaining their businesses.

What I find ironic is that a top club like Man Utd who report debts of over £400 million, take out a loan for £140 million and are linked with two players, one who could cost £100m and the other £50m!!!!! Then you realise why they have so much debt and are so reliant on TV money.

Having said that you shouldn't believe half of what you read in the sporting press. Only yesterday I was reading Stan Colleymore's  column and he was implying that the government should step in and save these clubs that are struggling for survival. Poppycock, in one polite word. Why should they help an industry that particularly at the top is flush with money but doesn't run or regulate itself properly? Any company that has outgoings and pays their employees close to that amount without considering other overheads deserves to fail. To spend money that they are not guaranteed to bring in is akin to lunacy. 

They need the guaranteed TV money but then rely on crowds, merchandise, hospitality and sponsorship, none of which is guaranteed.

Of course the bigger and wealthier concerns have benefactors who fund these businesses but what happens if and when they decide to part company and move on?

Whether the present will bring these clubs to their senses only time will tell but if they don't then we may well be short of the 92 professional clubs we have now.

The talk is of salary caps, one for another time perhaps, but my belief is that they don't work. Look at Saracens in rugby union and Man City in football. Clubs find a way round them!

Cricket has a bit further to go I think. We've had some fantastic weather for the time of the year and the season would have been in full flow and wouldn't have missed a Saturday, how frustrating. I actually think it is easier to apply the current rules to cricket than football. We can expect some cricket nationally from the start of August but that doesn't make for a full programme due to the weather turning later in the year. 

The argument against the game being played locally is that age plays a big part, supporters generally tend to be from the older generation as are the umpires who are more susceptible to the virus. Despite the wait my local club Leek CC are preparing for the new season, Brian Mellor the chairman has plans in place and stalwarts Malc Tweats and Baz Hayden amongst others are busy preparing the square and ground.

Stay safe and well👍

Bake.

 


 

April 29th 2020

I hope you are all keeping well and staying safe in these uncertain times. It's not something we do well, doing as we are told, but for now we must all do our bit for the sake of our families and allow things to go back to some sort of normality.

Most of us will never have encountered anything like these times and it's going to be a strange and different world for a while, but hopefully, before too long, we can get back to living our lives as we did before the outbreak of this disease.

When Nigel, our editor, originally emailed me to say that the Voice was being temporarily cancelled due to Government advice, I wasn't surprised, but pleased that he used his initiative and decided to go online with his production.

Too many companies and businesses have just accepted the inevitable and complained instead of finding a solution and blaming Government for their demise. Now I'm not having a go at those that have suffered due to the shutdown and don't have any other means of income or support and cannot do their jobs because of the pandemic, but I am of the opinion that you have to TRY and find a way out and explore other avenues before accepting defeat.....

Congratulations to Uttoxeter Rugby Club on their promotion from Midlands West 3, the step up will be a testing one for them, competing against teams like Newcastle RFC, Longton RFC and Leek RFC in division 2. I know speaking to Nigel Titterton, Uttoxeter RFC Chairman, that they are a tight knit group, all local and not paid to ply their trade, but they will embrace the challenge together. Tribute should also be paid to the English Rugby Board who took this decision whilst others have dithered.

Unfortunately I cannot say the same regarding the English FA. My team Leek Town FC have had our season deemed null and void. Now I know there are far more serious happenings at the moment and football and sport is certainly not a priority, but for them to make the decision so quickly after the season was stopped was a poor one.

We might not have finished as champions as there were still nine games to play. We sat top of the league by two points and a game in hand so nothing was guaranteed and Stamford FC were hot on our tails and it would have certainly gone down to the wire. No other team was close to us so it was a two way fight for promotion.

I was pretty sure that we wouldn't play any more football this season due to the outbreak so the governing body had a decision to make. Within a fortnight of our last game they made the decision to curtail football from step 3-7. I thought a fair way of determining outcomes would be on a points per game format.

Not just myself but most people  spoke to involved in the game agreed as did our league, the NPL.

In their wisdom, the FA decided that there would be no promotion or relegation and all records would be expunged!!! So all our efforts, management, players and supporters counted for nothing. Eight months of training and playing, the cost to supporters who had travelled all over the country to see us play, sponsors who had kindly contributed to the cost of running a football club........ meant nothing.

I was livid and felt, and still do, let down by the association. If the decision had been made across the board, i.e. at all levels of the game, it would have been less painful and easier to accept.

It was a decision made by a lazy governing body. It said to us, you are irrelevant at those levels and we have far more important clubs and leagues to sort out.

It was an easy decision to make rather than finding a solution.

Even now the FA  and their chairman Greg Clarke are conspicuous by their silence. How often have we heard from them/him during the break in football? He is supposed to be taking the lead but they and him sit in their ivory towers waiting for guidance or probably doing nothing that would upset that mighty organisation, the Premier league. 

It's not just the FA that are hopeless. The governing bodies that run the game at non league level are in the same bracket. How else can you describe them?

They can't sort out the boundaries and regionalise the leagues properly. I've been back at Leek three years now and we have played in a different league every season. NPL Eastern section onto the North-West back into the East. AND, if we had of completed this season and hadn't got promoted we would have played in a newly formed Midlands section!!!!

Brilliant! What brains they must have sitting on these bodies. Not only do they have difficulty knowing where we are situated but last year we went into the play offs knowing that if we won them we weren't sure we would go up!!! Honestly that's true! It's rather complicated so I wont go through the process here but how can you have a scenario where a team winning their respective play offs don't get promoted.

It's mind boggling! Even more so for the people who are paid to come up with the answers but seemingly aren't capable. No wonder we involved in the game have no faith whatsoever in these regimes. In fact they should be sent to the Tower of London and "Off with their heads"!

Now I've had my little rant, onto what the future holds for our national game. Personally I can't see the season finishing at any level, how can we when people are still being infected and dying. For selfish and financial reasons the Premiership will do all it can to fulfill obligations to the TV companies but can it possibly be safe to do so?

I can think of numerous reasons why the season wont and shouldn't be completed despite the financial implications involved. It's going to take longer than we all thought before we can play any contact sport again. Plans that are being muted at the moment are pie in the sky as far as I'm concerned.

Sorry to end on a pessimistic note as far as football is concerned but on a general note, let's hope that over the next few weeks we can move around a little more, see our families and grandchildren a bit more often and return to work.  Gardening and DIY can go back on the 'jobs to be done list'.

All the best and keep safe and well.

Bake.