Luis Suarez and the Uraguay team train in Brazil ahead of the World Cup. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

My World Cup training is not going well but I am perked up by Uruguay’s most charming fan

In Sheffield, 96-year-old Tanya Schmoller will be cheering on Uruguay. After all, she attended the first ever World Cup finals, held in Uruguay in 1930.

Failed at the first hurdle, yet I had made such preparations, knowing I’d have to be in tip-top shape.

I go to bed at ten every night, always have done, nothing to do with age, in time for Radio 4’s The World Tonight, which I switch off after five minutes, then zonk. So what will I do when England-Italy kicks off at 11pm on Saturday?

For England’s final, final warm-up against Honduras, also a late starter, I’d gone to bed in the afternoon for two hours, a trial run for the next four weeks. I felt quite fresh when I settled down in my little room filled with World Cup charts and graphs, lined up the Beaujolais, checked the lav door was open.

We are in Lakeland, where we always are in summer. I am so lucky that up here the WC runs straight off my TV room. How good is that? I had been upstairs and closed the curtains in the spare room, where I will be sleeping during the World Cup. She doesn’t want me waking her.

It was still light, which it can be up here till 10.30. I gave a good-night wave to the Herdwick sheep out in the field, looked across for any late cars on the road flying England flags. Nada. It’s weird, this lack of stupid flags. What does it mean? Realism has set in?

I opened my Panini stickers, packet of five for only 50p, what a bargain, and found Michael Carrick and Ashley Cole. You what? They’re not even playing. I consulted my Official Licensed Sticker Album. They have four England players who didn’t make the final 23 – the others being Kyle Walker and Andros Townsend. Panini, you’ll have to get a grip.

I put in time till kick-off, held back the yawns, then oh gawd, there was a thunderstorm, the ref took the players off the pitch and we had to listen to bollocks from the ITV panel for the next 45 minutes.

I was asleep when the game restarted, then went to bed, missing the second half. How will I cope now that the real thing is upon us?

 

****

 

Meanwhile, down in Sheffield, Tanya Schmoller will be cheering on Uruguay. After all, she attended the first ever World Cup finals, held in Uruguay in 1930.

I hardly believed it when a reader wrote saying one of her neighbours had been there. So I rang Tanya, an incredibly bright and sprightly 96-year-old with a pukka-sounding English accent.

When I said it’s the ace football columnist from the New Statesman she said she once won a crossword competition in the NS. When? “Oh, I can’t remember – 60 years ago anyway . . .”

She was born in Uruguay in 1918, mother English, father Russian. In 1945 she came to London to work for Penguin, becoming an assistant to Allen Lane. There she met her husband, the typographer Hans Schmoller (1916-85), who was a director at Penguin.

Together, she and Hans created one of the world’s finest collections of decorated paper, the sort that went into book bindings or endpapers, now at Manchester Metropolitan University. She has written two books about decorated paper – one of which I see is a snip on Amazon at £175 – and some memoirs of working at Penguin.

But back to football. Which game was it? “The final, between Uruguay and Argentina – we won 4-2. I was taken there by a schoolfriend and her father.

“When I lived in Montevideo one of my friends on the school bus was called Coates. I am convinced he was the grandfather – well, at least a close relation – of the defender Sebastián Coates. It’s an unusual name in Uruguay, obviously has an English background, as I had. Have you heard of him? Good, but the correct way to pronounce it is ‘Quartez’ . . .”

Her fave Uruguay player is Suarez. She does not condone his biting, certainly not, but desperately hopes he will be fit for the game against England. And she hopes Uruguay will go all the way again. “I can clearly remember the excitement in Montevideo after that 1930 game. The Uruguayan supporters paraded round the town with the Argentine flag in a coffin . . .”

Could that happen again? Stand by your beds. 

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 11 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The last World Cup

Getty
Show Hide image

The Brexit select committee walkout is an ominous sign of things to come

Leavers walked out of a meeting of Hilary Benn's "gloomy" committee yesterday. Their inability to accept criticism could have disastrous consequences

“Hilary Benn isn’t managing a select committee. He’s managing an ecosystem.” That was the stark verdict of one member of the Commons' Brexit committee on its fitness for purpose yesterday. If its meeting on the eve of Article 50 is anything to go by, then Benn’s fragile biome might already be damaged beyond repair.

Unhappy with the content of its “gloomy” provisional 155-page report into the government’s Brexit white paper, leavers on the committee walked out of its meeting yesterday. The committee is a necessarily unwieldy creation and it would probably be unreasonable to expect it to agree unanimously on anything: it has 21 members where others have 11, so as to adequately represent Leavers, Remainers and the nations.

Disagreements are one thing. Debate and scrutiny, after all, are why select committees exist. But the Brexiteers’ ceremonial exodus augurs terribly for the already grim-looking trajectory of the negotiations to come. “As I understand it, they don’t like analysing the evidence that they have,” another pro-Remain member of the committee told me.

Therein lies the fundamental weakness of the Brexiteers’ position: they cannot change the evidence. As was the case with the 70 MPs who wrote to Lord Hall last week to accuse the BBC of anti-Brexit bias, they assume a pernicious selectivity on the part of Remainers and their approach to the inconvenient facts at hand. None exists.

On the contrary, there is a sense of resignation among some Remainers on the Brexit committee that their reports will turn out to be pretty weak beer as a consequence of the accommodations made by Benn to their Eurosceptic colleagues. Some grumble that high-profile Brexiteers lack detailed understanding of the grittier issues at play – such as the Good Friday Agreement – and only value the committee insofar as it gives them the opportunity to grandstand to big audiences.

The Tory awkward squad’s inability to accept anything less than the studied neutrality that plagued the Brexit discourse in the run-up to the referendum – or, indeed, any critical analysis whatsoever – could yet make an already inauspicious scenario unsalvageable. If they cannot accept even a watered-down assessment of the risks ahead, then what happens when those risks are made real? Will they ever accept the possibility that it could be reality, and not the Remain heretics, doing Britain down? How bad will things have to get before saving face isn’t their primary imperative?

Yesterday's pantomime exit might have been, as one committee member told me, “hysterically funny”. What’s less amusing is that these are the only people the prime minister deigns to listen to.

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.