Sponsor a footballer? Go on then

It costs £400 plus VAT, but you do get your name in the programme and on the big screen.

I am not sure what sponsoring a footballer means. Do you have to give him £1 a mile every time he runs round the training ground, or £1 each time he eats all the pies, scores the most goals or the most babes?
 
I was reading the programme at Carlisle United’s first game of the season, against Leyton Orient. Of the 26 players in the first-team squad that day, plus the manager, 11 were still listed as “available to sponsor”. Poor petals, they must feel so unwanted, or that someone was trying to tell them something.
 
The sponsor of Greg Abbott, the manager, was clearly sending some sort of message. Abbott was sponsored by Cumbria Waste Management.
 
Mr Abbott had been manager of Carlisle since November 2008, so had served almost five years, which, weirdly, worryingly, made him the third-longest-serving manager in English football. Arsène is tops since Fergie went, with 16 years, followed by Paul Tisdale of Exeter with seven years. Managers are like dogs – you have to multiply their years by three to get their true lifespan.
 
I was in the directors’ box, thanks to one of the directors, my friend David Clark (once in Tony Blair’s cabinet), and next to me was a chap very casually dressed in a sweatshirt with a heavy rucksack. I had been told to wear a jacket, collar and tie if I wanted any scoff in the boardroom at half-time. This bloke looked like a hitchhiker who’d got lost on his way to Scotland.
 
I pointed to the programme, showed him the list of players still available to sponsor, and asked if he fancied any. He said it was his first game of football, ever. He didn’t quite know the rules, let alone the names of Carlisle’s stars.
 
Well, I said, where do I begin? Those are called goals, the sticks at either end, the round thing is a ball and it’s 11 players on each side. Hold on, correction: Carlisle just got a player sent off.
 
After half an hour or so, he asked me who was getting on top. I said it was fairly even, hard to predict, which shows you how much I know. Carlisle got stuffed that day 5-1.
 
He then introduced himself as Dr Shah, Carlisle’s new doctor: not the team doctor, but the crowd doctor. All league games have to have them these days in case anyone in the crowd falls ill. For the past five years he has been team doctor for Workington Town Rugby League team, but this was his first time as a crowd doctor.
 
Awful that I’d taken him for a hitchhiker. Even more embarrassing, it turned out he was an orthopaedic surgeon at West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, where I had an op on my big toe ten years ago, and where, by the look of it, I’ll be needing another op soon.
 
So at half-time it was your highness, your majesty, let me get you some tea, do excuse my condescending comments about your football knowledge.
 
When I got home I showed my wife the list of players for sponsor. “I like that one,” she said, pointing to Lewis Guy. “He’s got a nice beard. Or Josh Todd. His surname is very Cumbrian. But why are you doing it?”
 
Hmm, showing off, I suppose. It costs £400 plus VAT, but you do get your name in the programme and on the big screen – which actually was not working that day. It belongs to Eddie Stobart, and had broken down.
 
Since that first game, Carlisle have won just once. They’ve been stuck near the bottom of the league. And the manager’s just been sacked, so I wonder how Cumbria Waste Management feels now. Oh help.
 
Which is what I am doing. CUFC are a community club, part of the glue that sticks us all together in this remote region, the only League club left in the county. They lost £500,000 last season, so they need a good run in one of the cups or one of their young players suddenly to become valuable, such as Mark Beck. He’s come through the youth team and has played under-19 for Scotland.
 
If he ever makes it as a first-team regular, and is still with Carlisle, and they still exist, at the end of the season, as his sponsor, I get to keep his shirt, home and away. See, all worthwhile . . .
Carlisle United FC - a community club. Photograph: Getty Images.

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 23 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Can Miliband speak for England?

Photo: Getty
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Leader: Corbyn’s second act

Left-wing populism is not enough – Labour must provide a real alternative.

Since Jeremy Corbyn first stood for the Labour leadership he has been fortunate in his opponents. His rivals for leader ran lacklustre campaigns in 2015 and failed to inspire members and activists who longed to escape the tortured triangulations of the Ed Miliband era. Later, at the 2017 general election, Mr Corbyn was confronted by a dismal Conservative campaign that invited the electorate’s contempt. Theresa May’s complacency – as well as Mr Corbyn’s dynamic campaign –has helped propel the Labour leader to a position from which he could become prime minister.

With greater power, however, comes greater responsibility. Mr Corbyn’s opponents have for too long preferred to insult him or interrogate his past rather than to scrutinise his policies. They have played the man not the ball. Now, as he is a contender for power rather than merely a serial protester, Mr Corbyn’s programme will be more rigorously assessed, as it should be. Over the months ahead, he faces the political equivalent of the “difficult second album”. 

Labour’s most electorally successful – and expensive – election policy was its pledge to abolish university tuition fees. Young voters were not only attracted by this promise but also by Mr Corbyn’s vow, in an interview with the free music paper NME, to “deal with” the issue of graduate debt. The Labour leader has since been accused of a betrayal after clarifying that the phrase “to deal with” did not amount to a “commitment” to wipe out student debt. In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, he explained that he had been “unaware of the size of it [graduate debt] at the time”. (The cost of clearing all outstanding student debt is estimated at £100bn.)

In fairness to Mr Corbyn, Labour’s manifesto said nothing on the subject of existing student debt (perhaps it should have) and his language in the NME interview was ambiguous. “I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that [graduate debt], ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off,” he said. There is no comparison with the Liberal Democrats, who explicitly vowed not to raise tuition fees before trebling them to £9,000 after entering coalition with the Conservatives in 2010. Yet the confusion demonstrates why Mr Corbyn must be more precise in his policy formulations. In a hyperactive media age, a single stray sentence will be seized upon.

At the general election, Labour also thrived by attracting the support of many of those who voted to remain in the European Union (enjoying a 28-point lead over the Conservatives among this group). Here, again, ambiguity served a purpose. Mr Corbyn has since been charged with a second betrayal by opposing continued UK membership of the single market. On this, there should be no surprise. Mr Corbyn is an ardent Eurosceptic: he voted against the single market’s creation in 1986 and, from the back benches, he continually opposed further European integration.

However, his position on the single market puts him into conflict with prominent Labour politicians, such as Chuka Umunna and the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, as well as the party membership (66 per cent of whom support single market membership) and, increasingly, public opinion. As the economic costs of Brexit become clearer (the UK is now the slowest-growing G7 country), voters are less willing to support a disruptive exit. Nor should they. 

The worse that Britain fares in the Brexit negotiations (the early signs are not promising), the greater the desire for an alternative will be. As a reinvigorated opposition, it falls to the Labour Party to provide it. Left-wing populism is not enough. 

The glory game

In an ideal world, the role of sport should be to entertain, inspire and uplift. Seldom does a sporting contest achieve all three. But the women’s cricket World Cup final, on 23 July at Lord’s, did just that. In a thrilling match, England overcame India by nine runs to lift the trophy. Few of the 26,500 spectators present will forget the match. For this may well have been the moment that women’s cricket (which has for so long existed in the shadow of the men’s game) finally broke through.

England have twice before hosted women’s World Cups. In 1973 matches were played at small club grounds. Twenty years later, when England won the final at Lord’s, the ground was nearly empty, the players wore skirts and women were banned from the members’ pavilion. This time, the players were professionals, every ticket was sold, and the match was shown live around the world. At the end, girls and boys pressed against the advertising hoardings in an attempt to get their heroes’ autographs. Heather Knight, Anya Shrubsole, Sarah Taylor, Tammy Beaumont, and the rest of the team: women, role models, world champions. 

This article first appeared in the 27 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Summer double issue