Blinking like a pit pony: it can be hard to reacclimatise to the British gloom after a spell in the sun
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The Fan: the pointlessness of “warm-weather training”

Does sending the boys out to Dubai to kick balls around really achieve anything?

Last week the Chelsea manager, José Mourinho, explained that Oscar, one of his stars, has suffered a loss of form because of our dreadful weather. Everyone nodded. Poor petal, coming from Brazil, must be an awful shock to him. Forgetting that this is his second winter here.

Both West Ham and Man United have just come back from a warm-weather break in Dubai. At the end of the season, we’ll see how much good it did them. Norralot, I guess, but Big Sam returned with a rather fine tan. Looking for close-ups of David Moyes, I couldn’t see much evidence of his sunny sojourn – even his hair is going grey. I remember him in his youth as a redhead, or have I imagined it, confusing him with 10,000 other journeyman Scottish players?

They call it warm-weather training but what is the point? Before a world cup being held in sunny climes, I can understand the need, but not when they immediately have to come back here and play in the rain and cold. Then there’s ten hours each way on a plane, which is a total waste of their highly paid time. The average Prem player spends more of his life travelling than he ever does playing. I reckon that for every 90-minute game, they do up to nine hours’ travelling. And that’s just in England.

When it’s abroad, playing in Europe, or their pointless long-hauls to Asia in the close season to make the clubs even more money and sell tat, or their warm-weather jollies – sorry, intense training – I don’t know how they cope with the problem of jet lag. After my January break in the West Indies – which I need in order to escape our depressing winter weather, oh yes, how else can I remain on top form, just ask José, Dave and Sam – I can’t see for three days. It seems so dark, after the tropical sun and blue skies. I am blinking like a pit pony. Takes me a week to recover.

The players, I assume, have become inured to these long trips, their bodies hardened. It’s what they have been doing all their lives. Wayne Rooney, when he was just 13 and in the Everton Academy, went to Dallas to take part in a football tournament. He also played in Switzerland against 13-year-old kids who had come all the way from Brazil. They start them travelling young, in the modern football battery farms.

No wonder footballers have always been gamblers – at cards or the horses. Gives them something to do on those long, tedious journeys. Personally, I would pay money not to have to go to Dubai for a week. But managers believe it breaks the routine, the grind of a long, hard season, freshens up their fragile minds and tired legs.

The thing about blaming bad weather for making players depressed, or praising good weather for revitalising them, is that the weather can always be used as excuse. And dear God, managers need all the excuses they can find at this stage in the season,whether it’s at the top or bottom of the league. I think I will scream if another manager slags off the referee for his stupid/biased/half-witted decision that lost us the game.

Another excuse players and their managers use, which follows on from our shit weather, is acclimatisation. Foreign players, bless them, need time to settle down, get used to our funny ways, funny food, so you have to forgive them. Today, of course, it is the same for both sides, unlike the old days. In every Prem game, the vast majority of the players have come from abroad, and have been acclimatising since the age of 13, moving round the globe.

Wenger is now saying that Mesut Özil, his star signing, is not just having problems settling, but is awfully tired. I was at the Emirates for the Arsenal-Bayern Munich game and the Gooners round me were so abusive I had to cover my ears.

Mostly, when they cite the weather, problems settling, dodgy lasagne, pizza being thrown in the tunnel, wrong studs, itchy shirts, unlucky underpants, all of which I have heard being blamed for defeats, the true explanation is very simple: uselessness. 

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 26 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Scotland: a special issue

Green Party
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Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley: "The Greens can win over Ukip voters too"

The party co-leaders condemned Labour's "witch hunt" of Green-supporting members. 

“You only have to cast your eyes along those green benches to think this place doesn't really represent modern Britain,” said Caroline Lucas, the UK’s only Green MP, of the House of Commons. “There are lots of things you could do about it, and one is say: ‘Why not have job share MPs?’”

Politics is full of partnerships and rivalries, but not job shares. When Lucas and Jonathan Bartley were elected co-leaders of the Green party in September, they made history. 

“I don't think any week's been typical so far,” said Bartley, when I met the co-leaders in Westminster’s Portcullis House. During the debate on the Hinkley power plant, he said, Lucas was in her constituency: “I was in Westminster, so I could pop over to do the interviews.”

Other times, it’s Bartley who travels: “I’ve been over to Calais already, and I was up in Morecambe and Lancaster. It means we’re not left without a leader.”

The two Green leaders have had varied careers. Lucas has become a familiar face in Parliament since 2010, whereas Bartley has spent most of his career in political backrooms and wonkish circles (he co-founded the think tank Ekklesia). In the six weeks since being elected, though, they seem to have mastered the knack of backing each other up. After Lucas, who represents Brighton Pavilion, made her point about the green benches, Bartley chimed in. “My son is a wheelchair user. He is now 14," he said. "I just spent a month with him, because he had to have a major operation and he was in the recovery period. The job share allows that opportunity.”

It’s hard enough for Labour’s shadow cabinet to stay on message. So how will the Greens do it? “We basically said that although we've got two leaders, we've got one set of policies,” said Lucas. She smiled. “Whereas Labour kind of has the opposite.”

The ranks of the Greens, like Labour, have swelled since the referendum. Many are the usual suspects - Remainers still distressed about Brexit. But Lucas and Bartley believe they can tap into some of the discontent driving the Ukip vote in northern England.

“In Morecambe, I was chatting to someone who was deciding whether to vote Ukip or Green,” said Bartley. “He was really distrustful of the big political parties, and he wanted to send a clear message.”

Bartley points to an Ashcroft poll showing roughly half of Leave voters believed capitalism was a force for ill (a larger proportion nevertheless was deeply suspicious of the green movement). Nevertheless, the idea of voters moving from a party defined by border control to one that is against open borders “for now” seems counterintuitive. 

“This issue in the local election wasn’t about migration,” Bartley said. “This voter was talking about power and control, and he recognised the Greens could give him that.

“He was remarking it was the first time anyone had knocked on his door.”

According to a 2015 study by the LSE researcher James Dennison, Greens and Kippers stand out almost equally for their mistrust in politicians, and their dissatisfaction with British democracy. 

Lucas believes Ukip voters want to give “the system” a “bloody big kick” and “people who vote Green are sometimes doing that too”. 

She said: “We’re standing up against the system in a very different way from Ukip, but to that extent there is a commonality.”

The Greens say what they believe, she added: “We’re not going to limit our ambitions to the social liberal.”

A more reliable source of support may be the young. A May 2015 YouGov poll found 7 per cent of voters aged 18 to 29 intended to vote Green, compared to just 2 per cent of those aged 60+. 

Bartley is cautious about inflaming a generational divide, but Lucas acknowledges that young people feel “massively let down”.

She said: “They are certainly let down by our housing market, they are let down by universities. 

“The Greens are still against tuition fees - we want a small tax for the biggest businesses to fund education because for us education is a public good, not a private commodity.”

Of course, it’s all very well telling young people what they want to hear, but in the meantime the Tory government is moving towards a hard Brexit and scrapping maintenance grants. Lucas and Bartley are some of the biggest cheerleaders for a progressive alliance, and Lucas co-authored a book with rising Labour star Lisa Nandy on the subject. On the book tour, she was “amazed” by how many people turned up “on wet Friday evenings” to hear about “how we choose a less tribal politics”. 

Nevertheless, the idea is still controversial, not least among many in Nandy's own party. The recent leadership contest saw a spate of members ejected for publicly supporting the Greens, among other parties. 

“It was like a witch hunt,” said Lucas. “Some of those tweets were from a year or two ago. They might have retweeted something that happened to be from me saying ‘come join us in opposing fracking’, which is now a Labour policy. To kick someone out for that is deeply shocking.”

By contrast, the Greens have recently launched a friends scheme for supporters, including those who are already a member of another party. “The idea that one party is going to know it all is nonsense,” said Bartley. “That isn’t reality.”

Lucas and Bartley believe the biggest potential for a progressive alliance is at constituency level, where local people feel empowered, not disenfranchised, by brokering deals. They recall the 1997 election, when voters rallied around the independent candidate Martin Bell to trounce the supposedly safe Tory MP Neil Hamilton. Citing a recent letter co-signed by the Greens, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru condemning Tory rhetoric on immigrants, Bartley points out that smaller parties are already finding ways to magnify their voice. The fact the party backed down on listing foreign workers was, he argued, “a significant win”. 

As for true electoral reform, in 2011, a referendum on changing Britain's rigid first past the post system failed miserably. But the dismal polls for the Labour party, could, Lucas thinks, open up a fresh debate.

“More and more people in the Labour party recognise now that no matter who their leader is, their chance of getting an outright majority at the next election is actually vanishingly small,” she said. “It’s in their interests to support electoral reform. That's the game changer.” 

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