Coalition backtracks on primary school sports cuts

The Schools Sports Partnership will no longer be scrapped, but will still have its funding reduced.

The coalition's ill-conceived plan to scrap the School Sport Partnership has been partially reversed. Elements of the SSP will remain until at least the 2012 Olympics, after Michael Gove attempted to scrap the scheme back in November.

But the news is not all good.

The programme will still suffer heavy cuts: central funding will be reduced and staff will be sacked.

The compromise comes after pressure from high-profile athletes, such as the diver Tom Daley and the former heptathlete Denise Lewis, who criticised the scrapping of the scheme.

The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt (that's Hunt, Jim Naughtie), lobbied from within cabinet against scrapping the SSP. He argued that cutting the scheme before the Olympics would damage the idea that London 2012 would increase public participation in sports.

Though not quite a U-turn (it could perhaps be labelled an R-turn, with the coalition heading off in a new, slightly less damaging direction), the coalition's handling of the SSP has been less than exemplary.

David Cameron had previously labelled the scheme a "complete failure". In one of the Prime Minister's less fine moments at the despatch box, he said:

The number of schools offering rugby [sic – Cameron meant Rugby Union], hockey, netball and gymnastics actually fell under the previous government.

What Cameron failed to mention was that this negligible drop (of between 1 and 5 per cent) was more than compensated for by a huge uptake in less orthodox sports that did not involve chasing a ball around a field.

As Des Kelly pointed out in his fine demolition of Gove's plan to scrap the SSP:

Cameron . . . blithely ignored the fact that the number of state schools offering Rugby League, football, athletics, cricket, tennis, basketball, cycling, golf, badminton, table tennis, volleyball, canoeing, archery, fitness classes, mountaineering, rowing, sailing, judo, karate, boxing, lacrosse, squash, equestrian sports, triathlon and even skateboarding, dance and orienteering had gone up.

In other words – no doubt thanks to a very dodgy brief – Cameron gave an extremely misleading impression of the SSP.

Before the SSP, each state school offered 14 sports on average – now they offer 19. So what if people play a bit less Rugby Union? The important thing was that the SSP worked: kids did more sport and got to try new things.

That the scheme will be reduced is not a good thing. But a limited SSP is better than no SSP at all.

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Pity the Premier League – so much money can get you into all sorts of bother

You’ve got to feel sorry for our top teams. It's hard work, maintaining their brand.

I had lunch with an old girlfriend last week. Not old, exactly, just a young woman of 58, and not a girlfriend as such – though I have loads of female friends; just someone I knew as a girl on our estate in Cumbria when she was growing up and I was friendly with her family.

She was one of many kind, caring people from my past who wrote to me after my wife died in February, inviting me to lunch, cheer up the poor old soul. Which I’ve not been. So frightfully busy.

I never got round to lunch till last week.

She succeeded in her own career, became pretty well known, but not as well off financially as her husband, who is some sort of City whizz.

I visited her large house in the best part of Mayfair, and, over lunch, heard about their big estate in the West Country and their pile in Majorca, finding it hard to take my mind back to the weedy, runny-nosed little girl I knew when she was ten.

Their three homes employ 25 staff in total. Which means there are often some sort of staff problems.

How awful, I do feel sorry for you, must be terrible. It’s not easy having money, I said, managing somehow to keep back the fake tears.

Afterwards, I thought about our richest football teams – Man City, Man United and Chelsea. It’s not easy being rich like them, either.

In football, there are three reasons you have to spend the money. First of all, because you can. You have untold wealth, so you gobble up possessions regardless of the cost, and regardless of the fact that, as at Man United, you already have six other superstars playing in roughly the same position. You pay over the odds, as with Pogba, who is the most expensive player in the world, even though any halfwit knows that Messi and Ronaldo are infinitely more valuable. It leads to endless stresses and strains and poor old Wayne sitting on the bench.

Obviously, you are hoping to make the team better, and at the same time have the luxury of a whole top-class team sitting waiting on the bench, who would be desired by every other club in Europe. But the second reason you spend so wildly is the desire to stop your rivals buying the same players. It’s a spoiler tactic.

Third, there’s a very modern and stressful element to being rich in football, and that’s the need to feed the brand. Real Madrid began it ten years or so ago with their annual purchase of a galáctico. You have to refresh the team with a star name regularly, whatever the cost, if you want to keep the fans happy and sell even more shirts round the world each year.

You also need to attract PROUD SUPPLIERS OF LAV PAPER TO MAN CITY or OFFICIAL PROVIDER OF BABY BOTTLES TO MAN UNITED or PARTNERS WITH CHELSEA IN SUGARY DRINK. These suppliers pay a fortune to have their product associated with a famous Premier League club – and the club knows that, to keep up the interest, they must have yet another exciting £100m star lined up for each new season.

So, you can see what strains and stresses having mega money gets them into, trying to balance all these needs and desires. The manager will get the blame in the end when things start to go badly on the pitch, despite having had to accommodate some players he probably never craved. If you’re rich in football, or in most other walks in life, you have to show it, have all the required possessions, otherwise what’s the point of being rich?

One reason why Leicester did so well last season was that they had no money. This forced them to bond and work hard, make do with cheapo players, none of them rubbish, but none the sort of galáctico a super-Prem club would bother with.

Leicester won’t repeat that trick this year. It was a one-off. On the whole, the £100m player is better than the £10m player. The rich clubs will always come good. But having an enormous staff, at any level, is all such a worry for the rich. You have to feel sorry . . .

Hunter Davies’s “The Beatles Book” is published by Ebury

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 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories