Bradford City supporters. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
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Meet John, the accountant with 3,000 Bradford City programmes

Hunter Davies's "The Fan".

You tend to think that you’re alone when you’re a collector, that nobody could possibly be as daft, which is what your family constantly tells you. I don’t think this – I think that, around the world, there are thousands of people doing equally dopey things. So I was well pleased to receive from Santa a book called A History of Bradford City AFC in Objects. I have no interest or connection with Bradford City but I do love football memorabilia, the older the better, on any old club, anywhere.

The other thing collectors think is: “Goodness, my treasures, they are just so amazing that one day I will turn them into a book, oh, yes.” That way madness lies, if not bankruptcy. Yet the author of this Bradford book, John Dewhirst, aged 52, is an accountant who read PPE at Corpus Christi, Oxford, the same college as the Milibands (“Not that I am a fan of Ed’s . . . ”), so you’d think he’d have more sense. He has been collecting Bradford City stuff for over three decades, much to the despair of his wife, who is a GP, and their four children.

Dewhirst has 3,000 programmes and reckons that he now needs four times as much space to store a full season of Bradford’s programmes as he did 30 years ago. As all regular attenders know, football programmes everywhere, even in the lower leagues, are whoppers: not much more to read than in the old days but loads of glossy colour photos, acres of adverts and arse-licking about the awful sponsors.

Dewhirst reckons that at the rate he is collecting, by 2017 he will have to get rid of all his treasures. It was thinking about this that made him decide to do a book, illustrated with his collection, and then pack it in. This, anyway, is what he told his wife – that his book would, in a sense, be his swansong.

Dewhirst’s speciality as an accountant is restructuring companies and a lot of his work has taken him abroad for long periods. “I worked in Saudi [Arabia] in 2012 in a listed construction business – 15,000 employees – that was bust as f***,” he told me. “I started writing out of boredom and stress relief and by the time I came home I had the draft completed. It was probably easier to write the book from a distance. It has been as much a journey of discovery for me about the club’s history as about my own emotional attachment with the football club. Muhammad reflected similarly when he was in the desert. The heat obviously has an effect on you. When I need a shrink, I can give him the book to save the cost of the first few get-to-know-you appointments.”

On his return, Dewhirst approached several mainstream publishers and got polite refusals. So he decided to self-publish, doing it his way, inviting subscribers to put in money upfront and get their name in the hardback edition. The book is richly illustrated, the best football memorabilia book I’ve seen devoted to just one club, with 344 pages and 1,050 images, which made Dewhirst have to price it at £30.

“A lot of money for a place like Bradford,” he went on. “Ultimately those who will chunter about paying £30 will also chunter about paying £15, so I decided not even to waste my time trying to appeal to people who are not going to recognise value.”

He was a bit coy about what it cost him to produce but from various clues I guess about £20,000. He had a good Christmas and is well on the way to selling 1,000 copies. If he reaches that, he’ll be in profit – all of which he intends to give to the Bradford Burns Unit.

“It has been a gamble, a cock-on-the-block moment in my life,” he said. “But I am a firm believer that products with passion tend to be more appealing than those without. Football is about passion. So, too, are football memories.

“People in Bradford have forgotten the city’s proud history and that pisses me off. As soon as you forget your past, you lose your self-respect and identity and that applies to football as much as anything else.” 

“The Beatles Lyrics: the Unseen Story Behind Their Music” is out now through Ebury Press

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 16 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Jihadis Among Us

Photo: Getty
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Labour's purge: how it works, and what it means

The total number of people removed will be small - but the rancour will linger. 

Labour has just kicked off its first big wave of expulsions, purging many voters from the party’s leadership rolls. Twitter is ablaze with activists who believe they have been kicked out because they are supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. There are, I'm told, more expulsions to come - what's going on?  Is Labour purging its rolls of Corbyn supporters?

The short answer is “No”.

If that opener feels familiar, it should: I wrote it last year, when the last set of purges kicked off, and may end up using it again next year. Labour has stringent rules about expressing support for other candidates and membership of other parties, which account for the bulk of the expulsions. It also has a code of conduct on abusive language which is also thinning the rolls, with supporters of both candidates being kicked off. 

Although the party is in significantly better financial shape than last year, it still is running a skeleton staff and is recovering from an expensive contest (in this case, to keep Britain in the European Union). The compliance unit itself remains small, so once again people from across the party staff have been dragooned in.

The process this year is pretty much the same: Labour party headquarters doesn’t have any bespoke software to match its voters against a long list of candidates in local elections, compiled last year and added to the list of candidates that stood against Labour in the 2016 local and devolved elections, plus a large backlog of complaints from activists.

It’s that backlog that is behind many of the highest-profile and most controversial examples. Last year, in one complaint that was not upheld, a local member was reported to the Compliance Unit for their failure to attend their local party’s annual barbecue. The mood in Labour, in the country and at Westminster, is significantly more bitter this summer than last and the complaints more personal. Ronnie Draper, Ronnie Draper, the general secretary of the Bfawu, the bakers’ union, one of Corbyn’s biggest supporters in the trade union movement, has been expelled, reported for tweets which included the use of the word “traitors” to refer to Labour opponents of Corbyn.  Jon Will Chambers, former bag carrier to Stella Creasy, and a vocal Corbyn critic on Twitter, has been kicked out for using a “Theresa May” twibbon to indicate his preference for May over Andrea Leadsom, in contravention of the party’s rules.

Both activities breach the letter of the party’s rules although you can (and people will) make good arguments against empowering other people to comb through the social media profiles of their opponents for reasons to dob them in.  (In both cases, I wouldn’t be shocked if both complaints were struck down on appeal)

I would be frankly astonished if Corbyn’s margin of victory – or defeat, as unlikely as that remains in my view – isn’t significantly bigger than the number of people who are barred from voting, which will include supporters of both candidates, as well as a number of duplicates (some people who paid £25 were in fact members before the freeze date, others are affliated trade unionists, and so on). 

What is unarguably more significant, as one party staffer reflected is, “the complaints are nastier now [than last year]”. More and more of the messages to compliance are firmly in what you might call “the barbecue category” – they are obviously groundless and based on personal animosity. That doesn’t feel like the basis of a party that is ready to unite at any level. Publicly and privately, most people are still talking down the chances of a split. It may prove impossible to avoid.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.