Playing Fields of Dreams

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There’s absolutely nothing going on in the world of politics right now…but we are half way through the football season. The perfect time for a parent’s guide to children’s football.

1.Boot-buying

The choosing and buying of footwear is hugely important and your girl or boy will want boots loosely modelled on those worn by their zillion-quid a week idols. Most boots nowadays are hideous and resemble those fluorescent glo-sticks that people used to wave about in bad 1990s night clubs. I once threatened to buy my lad a pair of the Puma Kings, only to be told it would be social death and that black boots belonged in a museum.

2.Learn off-side

You will be asked to officiate as linesman and eventually you will no longer be able to say ‘no’ or hide in time. Being linesman is a kids’ football rite of passage and a profoundly uncomfortable one as you will be scrutinised by opposition parents while running along the touchline in wellies. My advice, go on YouTube to learn the offside rule and then use the flag as sparingly as possible.

3.Help out

Helping out with other tasks may help you temporarily avoid linesman duties. This will mean carrying huge bags of balls (relatively easy) or dismantling heavy steel goalposts and carrying them back to a shed which is five miles away up a 45 degree angled slope in the driving rain (really hard). Try to avoid putting the nets on posts before a game starts, which means finding invisible corners and clips while laughing children fire balls towards you during their pre-match kickabout.

4.Forget about lie-ins

Weekend lie-ins will now be over. Our home games take place 20 miles away from where I live and there’s been 9.30am Sunday kick offs on freezing November mornings. Also, double check timings before you set off. I’ve been known to arrive up to an hour early to be greeted by an empty field, a solitary dog walker and much eye rolling from my young Lionel Messi in the passenger seat.

5.Don’t believe the hype

Read some media stories and you might think under 12s football was like the Hunger Games but played out on muddy fields outside community centres in North Tyneside. In my experience, this is nonsense. The vast, vast, majority of parents and children are absolutely fine. And that old cliché – beloved by grumpy middle aged men on football phone ins – about children robotically copying bad behaviour of Premiership players, also absolute nonsense.

6.Don’t cross the line

There’s often a ‘Respect’ line these days, a piece of shiny tape designed to separate parents from the action. This is the playing field equivalent of the ‘fourth wall’ and crossing it will result in severe embarrassment to your child. Don’t attempt to take part in the pre-match training and try not to interrupt the half time team talk with an offer of a banana and a bottle of water.

7.Enjoy it

It is a real privilege being able to watch your daughter or son on a Saturday or Sunday morning and that feeling when they score, make a tackle or save that penalty – there’s nothing like it. Cherish it and enjoy it. It won’t last forever, even if they do make it professionally, earn millions from salary, endorsements and image rights and buy you that Mercedes you’ve always wanted.

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Prediction klaxon – what to expect from 2017

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To misquote Sir Alex Ferguson, Politics,  bloody hell.

2016 was crazy enough but what on Earth could 2017 bring?

I’ve got a terrible record when it comes to predictions. If you’d listened to me there would be an Ed Miliband-led Labour Government in 2015, a narrow win for remain in the EU referendum and a Rubio/Clinton contest in the US with Clinton emerging the winner.

Anyway, here’s a few predictions for 2017 that I’ll probably regret in 12 months time when the exact opposite turns out to have happened.

Europe

Brexit will be triggered in March and this will start a two-year negotiating process that will likely take up too much time and energy in both Brussels and London.

However, Brexit will be the least of Europe’s worries this year. The Centre Right Les Republicains led by Francois Fillon will win the French General Election in May – although it’ll be closer than many think.

In October I expect Merkel to hang on in Germany. I won’t even try to predict events in Italy but expect more political instability following their vote against constitutional reform which means a system that has produced literally dozens of short-lived post war Governments will continue.

Meantime, continued conflict in North Africa and the Middle East will drive fresh movements of migrants across the Mediterranean. That will cause more headaches for European leaders who will, in turn, sit on their hands caught between domestic concerns and the EU’s increasingly untenable commitment to freedom of movement. That means the West’s biggest political and moral failure of the early 21st century will continue in 2017.

UK politics

Theresa May will have a difficult year with Brexit dominating just about everything she does or tries to do. I think it’s highly unlikely she’ll go to the country in May, a move that would be seriously out of character for a PM who looks increasingly risk averse.

Labour will hang on to Copeland in Cumbria when the by-election is held early in the year, but find its majority greatly reduced which will pile renewed pressure from the parliamentary party on to Jeremy Corbyn.

Another event that will add to the pressure will be May’s Local Government elections in Scotland where a number of councils that are hung or Labour will go SNP. This will provide more evidence of Labour’s decline in influence North of the border. For me the only solution to this problem for Labour is a truly independent, pro-independence but with certain ties to the Union, Scottish Labour Party, but I can’t see that happening this year.

Despite their best intentions, I think the Lib Dems pro Brexit credentials won’t lead to a revival in either their national or local fortunes. UKIP will take council seats off Labour in Northern towns and cities, but I still don’t think there’s enough to provide a real shock to a Labour leadership that still lives in a North London bubble.

Outside the bubble, the election of the first Metro Mayors will be interesting. Expect them to become big players on the regional political scene and be feted by their respective parties during conference season.

I think 2017 might be the year the public begins to question austerity – we will have had almost a decade of spending cuts – and if Labour is clever, it can use the social care crisis to land a few blows. The task for Corbyn is to channel some of that electoral anger and paint Labour as the insurgents, pitted against the forces of darkness on the right.

US Politics

Trump’s first year will be very interesting, but I don’t think it’ll be quite as explosive as most people think. For all the foreign policy bluster, I think he’ll follow Presidential form and spend his first term concentrating on domestic issues – in his case this will mean trying to roll back some of his campaign promises.

 

As for foreign affairs, it’ll be the usual bogeymen. North Korea will continue to sabre rattle but I doubt we’ll see regime change North of the 38th parallel. After all, Trump needs Kim Jong-un almost as much as Kim Jong-un needs Trump.

Sport

Notoriously hard to predict, but I’ll have a go. Obviously Celtic will win the Scottish Premiership, but I think the size of their victory this year could prompt some serious thought about whether the top Scottish teams should compete in a UK Premier League. The practicalities are hard to work out – which teams would be involved and in which English league would they start – but the Scottish league is starting to seem farcical to fans and, arguably more importantly, sponsors.

Still on football I’d expect England to do well in the Women’s UEFA Finals to be held in July. I think a semi-final or final spot is more than achievable given their World Cup showing.

In Tennis, I think Murray will nail another major, as well as Wimbledon. At 29, Murray is approaching late middle age in professional tennis terms and I think his hunger will see him lift a trophy in France, the US or Australia during 2017.