Getting with the programme

Just been sent an interesting soccer programme from the US. I have this friend in California who used to be my room-mate at Durham. He did
a PhD, then went off to become a nuclear scientist in the US. He now has a large all-American family but he's retained his Geordie accent and his passion for footer. The programme was for a game in Seattle this July, when the local Major League Soccer team, Sounders FC, played a friendly against Chelsea in front of 66,000 fans. Shows how well soccer is doing in some of the US cities.

The programme lists the team players, with fascinating details such as the names of their wives and children, even brothers and sisters. It also has a section marked Salary - which is the most revealing of all. As it's the official programme, one has to assume the details are correct. It shows that around half the team are on piddling wages of about $35,000-60,000 a year. That's what the average journeyman lump in the Premiership gets in
a week. Four are around the $100,000 mark; one, Kasey Keller, is on $300,000. Yes, the ex-Spurs and Fulham goalie (whose wife, by the way, is called Kristin, and his children are Chloe and Cameron). The rule in the MLS, set by the league itself, is that the total team salary cannot be over $2.1m a year. But, a-ha, there is something called the Designated Player, which is how LA Galaxy managed to give Beckham his huge salary. In the case of Sounders, their designated player is that old Arsenal favourite, Freddie Ljungberg. He is on $1.3m a year. Well done, Freddie. No family details are given, so presumably he ain't got none.

I wonder what the American fans think, with these salaries written down so blatantly in front of them, when a foreigner on a vast whack such as Freddie, say, is playing rubbish, while Stephen King, aged 23, from New Jersey, who earns only $34,000 a year, is playing a blinder. The temptation to boo must be very great.The programme also gives Chelsea's personal details - John Terry naming his children, stuff my wife is always asking me about. She went on for weeks because I didn't know the names of Terry's twins (Georgie John and Summer Rose is the answer). Lampard's daughters are Luna and Isla. Ballack's wife is Simone; his sons are Louis, Emilio and Jordi. Malouda's wife is called Florencia, his son Aaron and daughters Kelys and Satya.

It also includes their salaries. Now, in the UK, we think we know how much our heroes get, but we don't, as it's kept very secret and certainly does not appear in any match programme. But the Sounders programme states that Lampard was on £150,000 a week, Terry on £140,000, Ballack on £120,000 and Ashley Cole on £100,786. Poor old Michael Essien is rubbing along on £62,433 and Malouda on £65,000. I don't know
where they got these figures, and I suspect they're out of date already, but they look believable. At Chelsea, the best-paid gets three times the worst-paid. In the US team it's 40 times.

Details of the coaching staff are also listed. Sounders's head coach, Sigi Schmid, born in Germany but having moved to the US as a child, has two degrees: a BSc in economics, UCLA, and a BA in business administration, USC.

Oh, if only we were given such fascinating facts at English League games. I might start reading the programmes.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 October 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The tories/the people

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When will the government take action to tackle the plight of circus animals?

Britain is lagging behind the rest of the world - and innocent animals are paying the price. 

It has been more than a year since the Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to passing legislation to impose a ban on the suffering of circus animals in England and Wales. How long does it take to get something done in Parliament?

I was an MP for more than two decades, so that’s a rhetorical question. I’m well aware that important issues like this one can drag on, but the continued lack of action to help stop the suffering of animals in circuses is indefensible.

Although the vast majority of the British public doesn’t want wild animals used in circuses (a public consultation on the issue found that more than 94 per cent of the public wanted to see a ban implemented and the Prime Minister promised to prohibit the practice by January 2015, no government bill on this issue was introduced during the last parliament.

A private member’s bill, introduced in 2013, was repeatedly blocked in the House of Commons by three MPs, so it needs a government bill to be laid if we are to have any hope of seeing this practice banned.

This colossal waste of time shames Britain, while all around the world, governments have been taking decisive action to stop the abuse of wild animals in circuses. Just last month, Catalonia’s Parliament overwhelmingly voted to ban it. While our own lawmakers dragged their feet, the Netherlands approved a ban that comes into effect later this year, as did Malta and Mexico. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, North America’s longest-running circus, has pledged to retire all the elephants it uses by 2018. Even in Iran, a country with precious few animal-welfare laws, 14 states have banned this archaic form of entertainment. Are we really lagging behind Iran?

The writing has long been on the wall. Only two English circuses are still clinging to this antiquated tradition of using wild animals, so implementing a ban would have very little bearing on businesses operating in England and Wales. But it would have a very positive impact on the animals still being exploited.

Every day that this legislation is delayed is another one of misery for the large wild animals, including tigers, being hauled around the country in circus wagons. Existing in cramped cages and denied everything that gives their lives meaning, animals become lethargic and depressed. Their spirits broken, many develop neurotic and abnormal behaviour, such as biting the bars of their cages and constantly pacing. It’s little wonder that such tormented creatures die far short of their natural life spans.

Watching a tiger jump through a fiery hoop may be entertaining to some, but we should all be aware of what it entails for the animal. UK laws require that animals be provided with a good quality of life, but the cruelty inherent in confining big, wild animals, who would roam miles in the wild, to small, cramped spaces and forcing them to engage in unnatural and confusing spectacles makes that impossible in circuses.

Those who agree with me can join PETA’s campaign to urge government to listen to the public and give such animals a chance to live as nature intended.


The Right Honourable Ann Widdecombe was an MP for 23 years and served as Shadow Home Secretary. She is a novelist, documentary maker and newspaper columnist.