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Who would bother to send an English footballer for "warm-weather training"?

Five days bunking up with the farting reserve goalie doesn't motivate anyone – even in sunny Dubai.

There are some changes a-coming in the exciting, wonderful, romantic, marvellous, oh-do-get-on-with-it world of football. Vars will come in next season, possibly, maybe, in a trial run in the FA Cup. If all goes well, they could be in place for the next World Cup in Russia. No, I’m not talking about a nasty disease that players will pick up in dodgy clubs. “Vars” stands for “video assistant referees”.

They will be twiddling the knobs in the background to review contentious incidents – such as red cards, serious injuries, penalty kicks and mistaken identity – and will instruct the referee to alter his decision, if it is deemed that he got it wrong. God knows how long this could take. Full-blooded, hot-blooded games could last all weekend.

And who will judge the judges? If a Var can correct a referee, who will correct a Var when he cocks it up? Jobs for the boys: yet another tier of experts on the bench.

One change that I’d like to see in football is the end of warm-weather training. Why on Earth does the whole squad have to swan off every New Year to Dubai? I’d pay money not to visit Dubai ever again, but every Prem club considers it a vital training exercise. And it’s perhaps a chance for some of the owners to have a close-up view of the rubbish players and the crap manager they’re spending a fortune on.

The theory is that they’ll bond better, as if they weren’t already living in each other’s pockets. The other theory is that they need to get used to playing in hot weather. Why? They’ll still come back to shit weather in England. It could be another two decades of global warming before the English spring becomes tropical. And we don’t play here in summer anyway.

I’d much prefer them to stay here and practise their skills in training. I scream every time yet another free-kick goes straight into the wall or another corner goes straight into the hands of the goalies. What do they do all day on the training pitch?

Why don’t they try having no wall at all? It would give the goalie a decent sight of the ball, and there would be no risk of deflections. They repeat the same old dead-ball situations, regardless of whether they work. The corner-taker puts his hand up, as a signal, as if he knows what he’s doing.

These trips are, of course, jollies for the coaching staff, a chance to go off to the sun and lie around a pool, and I’m sure there’s a commercial element: meeting sponsors and supporters. But does it work, football-wise, to improve or refresh the team?

To find out, I commissioned a survey of all the Prem clubs that have done warm-weather training over the past ten years, comparing the results of their five games before they went with their five matches after. The results are still being processed and the Dafts on my staff – the “data analyst football technicians” – are still to produce the final report, but the evidence so far suggests the following:

1) Players staying at home, in their own beds, with their own wives, even having to get up in the night to change nappies, results in them being fresher and more keen to get out of the house quickly in the morning to get to training.

2) Five days in Dubai cooped up with the squad, especially if rooming with the smelly, farting reserve goalkeeper or the big-headed flash bastard striker who has the hairdryer on night and day, does appear to have a deleterious effect on energy and enthusiasm levels.

3) Overall, the results after warm-weather training were 27 per cent worse than before.

The Daft committee is therefore proposing to all clubs that they save the money spent on warm-weather training for players and instead have warm-weather training for fans. Fans are the ones who need to be perked up at this time of the year, after a winter sitting in freezing stadiums. Tests have demonstrated that five days in Dubai will improve fans’ chanting and cheering by 17 per cent, making them wittier, louder and more enthusiastic. In the next five games, the team will gain an extra three points. Bring it on.

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 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit and the break-up of Britain

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear