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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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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