Carlisle get with the programme

I bought a Cumberland News on the way to Brunton Park, home of the famous Carlisle United. I always say that, in my head, thinking of the overexcited north London bloke on the PA system at Tottenham who exclaims: "Welcome to White Hart Lane, home of the world-famous Spurs!" All football clubs are world-famous - in their own little worlds.

There was an obituary of someone called Fred Armstrong, who had died aged 90. I cut it out to file with my CUFC memorabilia, once I had spotted the subheading: "A war hero and Bill Shankly's window cleaner". Shankly was Carlisle's manager from 1949-51. Surely being his window cleaner should have had top billing. Sub-editors these days, eh?

The first surprise on reading the programme was to find that Carlisle have a new striker, Zoko. I do like names that look sharp and neat when spelled out on the back of their shirts. And also good to shout: "Zo-ko! Zo-ko!" Could he be Brazilian?

The second surprise was the programme itself - only £1. Last season it was £3, like so many football progs. It drives me mad at Spurs and Arsenal when I pay a fortune for their prog and it's full of adverts for their boring sponsors, lists of box holders, corporate prawn eaters - as if ordinary fans want to know any of that shit.

Carlisle's new programme is smaller, only 16 pages - compared to 76 last season - but over three-quarters of it is editorial. There were lots of stats and stuff about the opposition and, most unusually, a prediction of the exact line-ups of the two teams. Taking a chance there, son. Anything can happen between going to press and the lads trotting out. In the event, there was one mistake in the Carlisle line-up and two in Brentford's, which is quite a good success rate. Carlisle's programme is probably now the cheapest at any of our 92 league clubs - but they had to beg to be allowed to do it. Apparently, the Football League insists that programmes should be a certain size, with a certain number of ads, so when they promise big exposure to some big corporate cheese, like npower, the Football League's new sponsor, they can deliver.

Afterwards, I talked to Carlisle's managing director, John Nixon, who said the reason for the £1 prog was to help fans in hard times. People will fork out a quid, but not three. So far they have been selling twice as many of the new, cheap, small ones - around 1,500. They are also going to do a big glossy magazine every six weeks.

I was leaving the ground when I bumped into Zoko. He had come off ten minutes before the end to a standing ovation, helping Carlisle to win 2-0. He turns out to be not Brazilian, but from Côte d'Ivoire, where he played for their under-20s. He's 26 and had previously been playing for a Belgian club I had never heard of. Before that he played in France and Turkey. Don't they get around?

I wished him good luck and got him to sign my little programme. All in all, a good day for my CUFC archives. PS: Now they are joint top.

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 20 September 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Catholicism in crisis

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.