You don't need a blue plaque to win the World Cup

Why are there no blue plaques for footballers? I mean those things on the front of a house, telling you that Stanley Matthews once lived here, or Bobby Charlton, or Pele. If the National Trust can buy Paul McCartney's old house in Liverpool and open it for the world to come and gape, I don't see why it can't be done for famous footballers. These days, they are just as likely to have a world following.

I've agreed to give a National Trust lecture next month, I do like to help, and I'd planned to suggest to their big bosses that there's a little house in Hayes they might consider buying, the home where the infant Glenn first hoddled. They could organise tours, give the world a chance to see the ball of wool his mother used to roll up for him as his first football. Or the wall on the outside privy where he played head tennis. Or the back kitchen door where that first scout from Tottenham skulked, his pocket full of tenners. Or the mirror Glenn first stood in front of, pulling up his shorts, really, really tight, to show off his lovely creamy thighs. Or the bathroom where he had his first truly meaningful one-to-one spiritual experience.

Alas, I now don't think the Hoddle home is going to get a blue plaque. Which is a shame. I'd go, like a shot, as I love looking round the home of anyone famous.

Over the years, I've looked at scores of literary homes, from Wordsworth's Dove Cottage to Robert Louis Stevenson's Valima on Samoa, and masses of homes where artists once lived, from Beatrix Potter's Hill Top to Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Glasgow home, OK that was a repro, but I've never managed to get inside the birthplace of even one famous footballer.

Which explains why ten days ago I forced my wife to go with me to Desirade. That's a little island, about five miles off the coast of Guadeloupe, which is in the French West Indies, yes, thousands of miles away, but we did happen to be on Guadeloupe at the time, which was handy.

One of the interesting things about France's World Cup winning team was the lack of Frenchmen, true Frenchmen, with blue eyes, wearing berets and a string of onions round their necks. I didn't notice many of them. What we all noticed was the large number of North Africans, such as Zidane, or black Africans, such as Desailly, or West Indians, such as Thierry Henry and Lilian Thuram.The latter two both originated from Guadeloupe, one of two French departments in the West Indies, the other being Martinique. Guadeloupe itself only has a population of 300,000, so it's done well to produce two World Cup stars. Bernard Lambourde of Chelsea is also from Guadeloupe - yet the island hasn't even got a professional football league.

But it was when I was told that Thierry Henry's family was from Desirade, an island so small and isolated I couldn't find it on the map, I said come on, lass, let's go and have a butcher's. Plus someone in the hotel we were staying at mentioned there was a special offer on boat trips to Desirade - only 100 francs round trip as opposed to the normal 150 francs.

I soon discovered why. We were hardly at sea when the young Frenchwoman beside me started throwing up. The waves were enormous and the little boat was taking a pounding. The island has a population of just 1,600 and is only eight miles long, which I know because we walked it, from end to end, in 24 hours. (Our walking rate is three miles an hour.) It is in a time warp, and appeared totally asleep, not to say dead, so it was hard to find anyone to ask the way to the house where the Henry family lived. Or even anyone who had heard of him. That's because I kept on stopping people from French France, middle-class tourists from Paris. The other interesting thing about French football, despite their famous win, is that they are still hardly a football-mad nation, not compared with Italy. "I only follow rugby," said one man. "I only follow games played by French people," said another.

But in a bar at the far end of the island I did meet a local who told me that Henry's family home was in Grande Anse, the little harbour where the boat came in, so we walked back there. No we didn't. Hold on. We got a taxi. It was midday by then and I was knackered, what with the sun and the ti punches. That's what they call the favourite rum punch drink in Guadeloupe. Can you guess why?

Back in Grande Anse, I did eventually have the Henry home pointed out to me, or what purported to be his family's home, it looked like most of the other shacks, but his parents have long since gone. Where to? I asked. Monaco, I was told. They went with him when he went to play in Monte Carlo. Isn't that nice? I like it when lads who do well look after their old folks. Juninho did the same when he came to Middlesbrough, bringing his mum and dad, sisters and aunties and second cousins with him from Brazil.

Leaving Desirade must have been a lot easier. OK for a day trip, and we did enjoy it, but there are clearly a lot more mod cons and facilities in Monte Carlo than in Grande Anse. Or in Turin. Henry has now been transferred to Juventus, news of which had not then reached Desirade, which shows how out of touch they are.

Desirade hasn't even got a football pitch, and I looked everywhere, which makes Henry's success all the more remarkable, but I can vouch for the local ti punch.I had another, before we got the boat home. And I wasn't sick, either. Ti, by the way, is Creole, a shortened form of Petit. So what you are ordering is a small punch. So called, I like to think, in honour of the Arsenal midfield star. Famous footballers may not have many blue plaques, but it's nice to know that one of them has got a drink named after him.

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 05 February 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Think, think and think again

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No, IDS, welfare isn't a path to wealth. Quite the opposite, in fact

Far from being a lifestyle choice, welfare is all too often a struggle for survival.

Iain Duncan Smith really is the gift that keeps on giving. You get one bile-filled giftbag of small-minded, hypocritical nastiness and, just when you think it has no more pain to inflict, off comes another ghastly layer of wrapping paper and out oozes some more. He is a game of Pass the Parcel for people who hate humanity.
For reasons beyond current understanding, the Conservative party not only let him have his own department but set him loose on a stage at their conference, despite the fact that there was both a microphone and an audience and that people might hear and report on what he was going to say. It’s almost like they don’t care that the man in charge of the benefits system displays a fundamental - and, dare I say, deliberate - misunderstanding of what that system is for.
IDS took to the stage to tell the disabled people of Britain - or as he likes to think of us, the not “normal” people of Britain -  “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.” It really is fascinating that he was allowed to make such an important speech on Opposite Day.
Iain Duncan Smith is a man possessed by the concept of work. That’s why he put in so many hours and Universal Credit was such a roaring success. Work, when available and suitable and accessible, is a wonderful thing, but for those unable to access it, the welfare system is a crucial safety net that keeps them from becoming totally impoverished.
Benefits absolutely should be the route out of poverty. They are the essential buffer between people and penury. Iain Duncan Smith speaks as though there is a weekly rollover on them, building and building until claimants can skip into the kind of mansion he lives in. They are not that. They are a small stipend to keep body and soul together.
Benefits shouldn’t be a route to wealth and DWP cuts have ensured that, but the notion that we should leave people in poverty astounds me. The people who rely on benefits don’t see it as a quick buck, an easy income. We cannot be the kind of society who is content to leave people destitute because they are unable to work, through long-term illness or short-term job-seeking. Without benefits, people are literally starving. People don’t go to food banks because Waitrose are out of asparagus. They go because the government has snipped away at their benefits until they have become too poor to feed themselves.
The utter hypocrisy of telling disabled people to work themselves out of poverty while cutting Access to Work is so audacious as to be almost impressive. IDS suggests that suitable jobs for disabled workers are constantly popping out of the ground like daisies, despite the fact that his own government closed 36 Remploy factories. If he wants people to work their way out of poverty, he has make it very easy to find that work.
His speech was riddled with odious little snippets digging at those who rely on his department. No one is “simply transferring taxpayers’ money” to claimants, as though every Friday he sits down with his card reader to do some online banking, sneaking into people’s accounts and spiriting their cash away to the scrounging masses. Anyone who has come within ten feet of claiming benefits knows it is far from a simple process.
He is incredulous that if a doctor says you are too sick to work, you get signed off work, as though doctors are untrained apes that somehow gained access to a pen. This is only the latest absurd episode in DWP’s ongoing deep mistrust of the medical profession, whose knowledge of their own patients is often ignored in favour of a brief assessment by an outside agency. IDS implies it is yes-no question that GPs ask; you’re either well enough to work or signed off indefinitely to leech from the state. This is simply not true. GPs can recommend their patients for differing approaches for remaining in work, be it a phased return or adapted circumstances and they do tend to have the advantage over the DWP’s agency of having actually met their patient before.
I have read enough stories of the callous ineptitude of sanctions and cuts starving the people we are meant to be protecting. A robust welfare system is the sign of a society that cares for those in need. We need to provide accessible, suitable jobs for those who can work and accessible, suitable benefits for those who can’t. That truly would be a gift that keeps giving.