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: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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