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

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.