South London Hardcore: "I think the place is overdue some recognition beyond street crime statistics."

Rob Pollard interviews South London's biggest promoters.

South London is a fascinating area of England. It has a rich cultural history, and was the birthplace of many iconic people: from David Bowie and Rio Ferdinand, to Ken Livingstone and Daniel Day-Lewis. Despite this, South London is often viewed negatively. Sneered at for its perceived social ills, it has a reputation for being an area riddled with crime and feral teens, with those who live above the Thames looking down on those from below. It’s the Cinderella of the capital’s sub-regions.

South London Hardcore (SLHC) is a podcast which looks closely at the area’s history, celebrating the people, ideas and art that define South London. Launched in late 2011 by Jack McInroy and Steve Walsh, SLHC has already covered many aspects of South London’s past and present: a discussion with author Alan Moore and photographer Mitch Jenkins; an insight into Dulwich Hamlet Football Club, including interviews with their star midfielder and club historian; and a detailed look at the trilogy of Lambeth-based films: Me and My Girl, Passport to Pimlico, and We Are the Lambeth Boys.

Jack feels the negativity that surrounds South London is what compelled him to launch the podcast. “I think one of the reasons for concentrating on South London is the way it is seen by people on the other side of the river. It is widely looked down on, but we have a rich history and much to take pride in. From Michael Faraday, Tim Berners-Lee, Charlie Chaplin and Mick Jones: some of the greatest and most important people to have ever lived are from here.” A desire to re-assess South London and begin celebrating its achievements rather than dwelling on its stereotypes is also important to co-presenter Steve. “Once we started doing the show we realised that people have a very firm idea of what South London is. Unfortunately it’s an idea that is perpetrated by a cultural and media bias that requires South London to live down to some very unfortunate stereotypes. South London is too often used as cultural shorthand for poverty, ignorance and violence. What we try to do on the show is to examine the rich history of the area and celebrate the people, places and ideas that we can lay claim to. South London has given the world Charlie Chaplin, David Bowie and Enid Blyton. We’ve played host to William Shakespeare, Vincent van Gogh and Mary Wollstonecraft. Transpontine thinkers were innovators in electricity, computing and the Internet. I think the place is overdue some recognition beyond street crime statistics.”

SLHC’s slogan also feeds in to this theme, as Jack is keen to explain. “Our motto is Pluvis Lutum In Tibialibus Nostris, which is latin for ‘clay dust on our socks’, a reference to lesser known tennis players that arrive at Wimbledon with orange dust stains from the clay court season still on their clothes. The idea is wherever we go where we’ve been is always evident.”

The passion of the presenters to uncover the best of South London is what makes SLHC so good. It involves detailed research and a strong desire to uncover the best South London has to offer. Steve feels the possibilities are endless. “There’s no end in sight. It’s started to feel that the more we talk about the more possibilities open up for us. It didn’t take long for us to realise though that we had actually struck upon a goldmine of material and potential points of discussion.”

So, assuming SLHC continues to grow, who would the ideal guest be? “I’d love to have Danny Baker on the show,” says Steve. “I think he’s a cracking broadcaster and I was always fascinated as a kid that this guy from our area was basically allowed to go on telly and just be funny and cheek people. Jack, on the other hand, wants either “David Bowie, Rio Ferdinand, or Gary Oldman, but at the moment I’m trying really hard to get my mate Hassan on.”

Find out more about South London Hardcore here

On the south bank, looking North. Photograph: Getty Images

Rob Pollard is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @_robpollard

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What’s the secret of the world’s best-paid sports manager? Ask the Chicago Cubs

Theo Epstein is a star because he values the person as much as the player.

As I write, the Chicago Cubs, perennial underachievers, are three wins away from reaching baseball’s World Series for the first time since 1945. By the time you read this they may have crashed out. Besides, baseball – like cricket – is a language that asks a lot of its translators. So, in writing about the Cubs, I’ll skip the baseball bits. Fortunately, the lessons of the Cubs’ success (they were the outstanding team of 2016, even if they don’t win the World Series) transcend baseball.

To understand the future of sport – and perhaps employment – I recommend a pair of profiles of Theo Epstein, the president of baseball operations for the Cubs, one published in the New York Times and the other written by David Axelrod (Barack Obama’s strategist) for the New Yorker.

Epstein, 42, has just agreed a contract extension worth $50m over five years, making him the highest-paid non-player in professional sport. There is plenty in the profiles on his whizzy use of data analytics; his algorithmic tests that measure players’ co-ordination (essentially using neuroscience to measure talent); as well as the Cubs’ coaching programme dedicated to mental health and managing stress. Most timely and important of all is Epstein’s emphasis on character. He talks about “scouting the person more than the player”. He wants the right kind of people on the field.

“In the draft room [where the team decides which players to sign], we will always spend more than half the time talking about the person rather than the player,” he has said. “We ask our scouts to provide three detailed examples of how these young players faced adversity on the field and responded to it, and three examples of how they faced adversity off the field.”

Epstein is well known for empowering a “geek department” inside his baseball teams. Yet instead of perceiving a conflict between science and the human realm, he sees the two as part of the same big picture. He craves players with character who can benefit from the insights of science.

“Character” is a vexed subject inside sport. It sets off uncomfortable associations. Talking too much about character – building it, or even just valuing it – sounds dangerously close to endorsing an amateur ethos. Victorian public schools often celebrated sport explicitly in opposition to intelligence, even achievement. H H Almond, the headmaster of Loretto from 1862, got an A for candour (if nothing else) when he ranked his school’s priorities: “First – Character. Second – Physique. Third – Intelligence.”

The Victorian notion of games cast a long shadow over sport and society in the 20th century. The first phase of ultra-professionalism, in the office as well as on the sports field, was a reaction to Almond’s set of values. The concept of character was recast as a consolation prize, doled out to the class dunce or the twelfth man. Crucially, reformers and nostalgics alike bought in to the historical perception of a separation or conflict between character, intellectual life and sporting achievement.

The Cubs, however, know better. To adapt Almond’s clumsy saying: intelligence and physical skills derive, significantly though not entirely, from character. Character is now being understood not as the destination, but the foundation, even the process.

This is an overdue reassessment. In the loosest terms, I would identify three phases in the development of professional sport. Phase one optimised the body. Sadly, though we are still inching forward, the human body is now reaching the outer wall of virtuosity. All sports will tail off in speed of progress, in terms of pure physicality.

Phase two of modern sport turned to psychology. Realising how hard it is to gain an edge through physical conditioning, everyone suddenly started talking about the mind: the inner game of this, the mental game of that. However, reconfiguring the mental approach of elite athletes – already in their twenties and thirties, with deeply ingrained habits and highly evolved psychological software – is also exceptionally difficult. That is why many top athletes recoil from conventional “sports psychology”; the discipline is oversold and under-sceptical.

We are now entering phase three: the whole person. Sustained high achievement relies on something much deeper than a few sessions with a sports psychologist. So you need the right people in the room.

Coaches in future will be numerate and intellectually unthreatened by the scientific advances that illuminate sport. But the best coaches will never lose sight of a parallel truth: that although science can help us to understand what happens on the sports field, and sometimes how to do it better, it cannot conveniently convert athletes into inert particles, as though it were a ­physical science. Coaching can benefit from ­science but remains an art – one that revolves around understanding and helping people.

In most sports, players and coaches are really in the business of decision-making. The winning team, as Pep Guardiola says, makes more good decisions. Sport, in other words, advances when it trains people to make better decisions. There are now highly evolved analytical techniques for understanding how those decisions influence results. However, the athletes themselves are still people, imperfect and imperfectible. If you want machines, you get dummies.

This month, I was asked to found a new institute of advanced sports studies at the University of Buckingham. The mission is to create undergraduate and postgraduate courses that attend to the entire mindset – critical thinking, ethics and leadership, as well as data analytics and sports science: a kind of “PPE of sport”. After a misleading triple fissure – character, body, mind – sport is starting to put the pieces back together again. That’s why, this month, I’m rooting for Epstein’s Cubs.

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood