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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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn only be investigated fully in years or decades' time because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.