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

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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.