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

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Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.