In Defence of Political Correctness by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown || REVIEW by Lauren Kirton

  • September 14, 2018 10:16
  • Lauren Kirton

In Defence of Political Correctness || REVIEW by Lauren Kirton


In this instalment of Biteback’s ‘Provocations’ series, journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown discusses the issues of free speech and political correctness, and asserts that the latter should remain a part of modern society, if only out of basic human decency.

In recent times the idea of being PC has become increasingly scoffed at, with many reacting in an oppositional manner in an attempt to avoid what they believe is oppression. In this timely polemic Alibhai-Brown maintains that this response is simply an attempt to justify racist, sexist and homophobic views: ‘these warriors feel persecuted or endangered all the time’. Wherever you stand on the issue of PC versus free speech, this text is the perfect opportunity to develop your opinion.Cover 9781785904141

One specific instance discussed in the Introduction is the outrage that followed the announcement that the word ‘Easter’ had been removed from the Cadbury annual egg hunt, to make it more accessible to those of different faiths. This was an entirely untrue statement that was met with uproar, and even the Archbishop of York accused the organisers of spitting on the grave of the company’s founder, John Cadbury. Ironically, as explained, this reaction was entirely unfounded: John Cadbury was a Quaker, who wouldn’t have celebrated Easter. This amusing example is only one of many that are utilised throughout this thought-provoking book to illustrate the point that anti-PC reactions are often simply a means to excuse prejudice.

With this work Alibhai-Brown presents a concise account of the status of PC today, and justifies her reasoning for continuing to be politically correct in the face of an ever-evolving alt-right free speech movement. Though she admits that PC has many weaknesses, she argues that its nature is ultimately derived from a place of compassion and understanding, two things we could all do with a little more of.


Click here: In Defence of Political Correctness by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown/@y_alibhai

Published: 28 SEPTEMBER 2018


Near tragedy that started as a simple nose bleed

  • September 13, 2018 12:15
  • Jon Henderson

Footballers today take for granted – and rightly so – a swift, high-quality response when they’re hurt, whatever the circumstances in which they sustain the injury. It’s a huge improvement on what their predecessors could expect.


Frank O’Farrell tells a harrowing tale of a medical emergency during his time playing for Preston North End in the Fifties. Had it happened today, it is hard to imagine it would have come so close to tragedy.

He was suffering from a heavy cold when his nose started to bleed during a training session.

‘Jimmy Milne took me into the treatment room,’ O’Farrell says, ‘but he couldn’t stop the bleeding. It just kept bleeding, bleeding, bleeding. So they took me to the hospital, Preston Royal Infirmary, and they couldn’t stop it either.

‘They started injecting me with something that would clot the blood, vitamin K I think it was. I lost half my blood supply, four pints of blood. I had the last rites. The Jesuit priest from the local Catholic church came in and gave me the last rites. They thought I was going to die. It was that serious. I was in there for a couple of weeks.

‘They never found out what it was except that there was a weakness in the blood vessel. They thought this could have been the result of when I had a clash of heads with my own centre half at West Ham. We were going for the same ball and I needed six stitches in my eyelid, my eyelid was hanging off. I spent a couple of days in London Hospital where they sewed the eyelid back on.’

Grim stuff, but with O’Farrell any story, however dark, usually comes with the a humorous twist. ‘After I’d recovered,’ he says, ‘I was talking to some of the men in the ward and they said that when I came in they asked, “Who’s that?”, and were told, “Oh, some Irishman called O’Farrell.”

‘So they all thought I was some Irish drunk who’d been in a fight.’

Tony McNamara, an Everton player from 1947-57, suffered a succession of injuries that eventually blighted his career – and it was a leg wound, incorrectly treated, that had particularly disastrous consequences.

McNamara says the trainer strapped up his leg with the wrong side of the tape against his skin. ‘It meant my leg couldn’t expand and I was in a lot of pain.

‘In the end they sent a doctor from the club to the house and when they peeled off the tape the sticky side was against my leg. It pulled off all the skin. The shock of that caused psoriasis to set in.’

McNamara says he doesn’t think he ever fully recovered from this, but he compliments Everton on standing by him more than half a century later. ‘I have two false knees now,’ he says, ‘and to give the present Everton set-up their due it was they who paid for me to have them done.

‘When the club found out that I was struggling, rather than let me go on an NHS waiting list they looked after things for me. That’s one thing about Everton now, they look after their former players.’


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.


The day a foreign invader overran fortress Wembley

  • September 07, 2018 11:13
  • Jon Henderson

In the autumn of 1953 Hungary became the frst team from beyond the British Isles to win at the citadel of the English game. Arguably, the limitations of the national team have never been properly fixed.


A small group of young players from Watford football club, shepherded by player-coach Johnnie Paton, arrive at the Empire Stadium, Wembley, in the early afternoon of Wednesday 25 November 1953.

They are in good time for the 2.15pm kick-off of the match between England and Hungary, a game that Paton, a 30-year-old whose former clubs included Celtic and Chelsea, is particularly keen his charges should see. ‘Hungary are an exciting team,’ he tells them, ‘and you’re going to learn something about the game from them today.’

Others are less convinced. Charles Buchan, a former England player and one of the most respected commentators on the game, has written in the build-up to the match: ‘The clever ball-control and close passing of the Hungarians do not alarm me in any way.’

Buchan’s smugness reflects the insularity that pervades English football at this time, a mulish refusal to admire Hungary inspite of the evidence: unbeaten in 24 games, unofficially ranked number one in the world and holders of the Olympic title. They are damned by being foreign.

Paton is not so blinkered. Having seen more of the world than most footballers during his service in the RAF, which included playing a great deal of football overseas, he is well aware that antiquated coaching methods and tactical dogma among English clubs are a serious worry for the prospects of the domestic game.

With his professional playing career coming to an end he has acted on this concern by enrolling on the Football Association’s first coaching course at Lilleshall, one of the few initiatives that points towards a more enlightened future.

On this November afternoon Paton takes his unease with him to Wembley. He has no faith in the argument that because England have never lost at home against a team from outside the British Isles Hungary are heading for defeat.

It is impossisble to be sure but almost certainly Paton is at odds with most of the crowd of 100,000. He can tell from the banter that the majority of the crowd, informed only by views such as Buchan’s, are expecting to witness confirmation of English football’s superiority.

Only some of them have taken much notice of reports that Hungary will parade a new style of football. Those who have and are unimpressed are in good company. Billy Wright, the England captain, says afterwards: ‘We completely underestimated the advances Hungary had made.’

He also confesses he ridiculed Hungary after the two teams first came onto the Wembley pitch. He told teammate Stan Mortensen, ‘We should be all right here, Stan’, having observed the visitors wearing what looked more like shoes than boots. ‘They haven’t even got the proper kit.’

Outside the ground, people are paying the ticket touts good money to see Hungary put in their place: a tenner for the £2 10s. top-priced tickets and more than a pound for the cheapest ones sold originally for 3s. 6d.

Paton and his group have seats at one end, behind a goal. They watch the Hungary team warm up before kick-off not by dashing about but by juggling the ball. Paton pays special attention Ferenc Puskas. He notices that Hungary’s captain and emblematic star is all one-footed but reckons if he wanted to he could keep the ball up all day with his foot, head, knee and shoulder. Around him Paton senses the spectators’ awe at what they are watching – and the match hasn’t even started.

Puskas continues to demonstrate his trickery until Wright, his fellow captain, joins him in the centre circle to toss the coin. It is the first time the two men have met. Puskas, having been intricately working the ball with his left foot, signs off by nonchalantly transferring it to his thigh and letting it run down his shin on to the centre spot.

Wright says afterwards that when Puskas then gave him a charming, you’ve-been-warned smile he realised his earlier ridicule had been misjudged.

It is arguable that English football has never learned the lessons of that 6-3 drubbing by Hungary in 1953. They certainly didn’t in the short term, showing little inclination to change their ways in two defeats that followed soon afterwards: an even heavier thrashing by Hungary, 7-1, in a return friendly in Budapest and a 4-2 loss to Uruguay that eliminated them from the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland.

The 1966 World Cup triumph was greeted at the time as a new dawn, but even this has become an ironic symbol of our continuing deficiencies. The English game is still admired for its commitment and endeavour, but neither of these dated virtues has done the nation much good in international tournaments, where technically superior sides have prospered.


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.


Contrary, singular, brilliant – the great Danny Blanchflower

  • September 06, 2018 11:41
  • Jon Henderson

As captain of Tottenham and Northern Ireland he proved himself to be an exceptional leader – arguably the best ever.


‘There we are, typical Blanchflower.’ This, says Cliff Jones, is how Bill Nicholson, the Tottenham Hotspur manager, reacted to Danny Blanchflower’s refusal to appear on the massively popular TV show This Is Your Life in 1961.

The episode became an instant cause celebre – and it is not hard to imagine the sound of splintering furniture in the Spurs PR office if such a thing happened today.

The Northern Irishman, with no concept of positive image promotion, snubbed the show’s presenter, Eamonn Andrews, live on air. ‘We were all up there at Shepherd’s Bush studios,’ Jones, a brilliant winger for Spurs from 1958-68, recalls. ‘People had come from everywhere – Canada, Ireland, of course… Then on came the announcer and said, “Well, I’m sorry, for the first time in the history of This Is Your Life our subject has refused to appear.” Bill was not impressed.

‘But that was it. Danny was a special character, great intelligence and a brilliant player, too. We all sparked off him.’

The This Is Your Life incident came towards the end of Blanchflower’s defining season as captain of a great Spurs side – and, as Jones suggests, their greatness was as much a tribute to Blanchflower as anyone. Not only was he an original thinker but regarded professional football as good an arena as any in which to apply innovative ideas.

Spurs launched their glory years with a record run of eleven First Division victories at the start of the 1960-61 season, laying the foundation for winning the title by eight points. They then went on to win the FA Cup, completing a double not achieved since 1897.

What most impressed Jones about Blanchflower was the way ‘he would make changes out on the field during a game. These days the captain wears the armband and that’s it. He’ll make no changes.

‘But Danny, he would do it. He might switch a player – move somebody forward or bring somebody back.’

But it was not just at club level that the very singular Blanchflower made his mark. His outstanding leadership of Northern Ireland, especially at the 1958 World Cup finals, was arguably a greater achievement than what he accomplished at White Hart Lane.

Of the British Isles teams who played in those finals, Northern Ireland, whose record of being the least populous country to reach the finals would survive until Trinidad and Tobago did it in 2006, were the most impressive.

Their success in reaching the last eight, against tough opposition all the way, owed much to their adapting better than the others to the way the game was being played beyond the British Isles. And this was mainly down to Blanchflower, who, just as he did at Tottenham, took over managing the side once the players were on the field.

Peter McParland, a stellar member of Northern Ireland’s 1958 World Cup team, says that while his club Aston Villa were still largely faithful to the traditional WM formation, even though Hungary had so spectacularly picked it to pieces against England at Wembley five years earlier, Northern Ireland were trying new things.

‘We had four or five players who could play in midfield,’ McParland says, ‘and Danny would set it all up, crowding the middle of the park when necessary, but also getting players forward at the right time.’

It is impossible to say whether English football would have prospered if it had followed Blanchflower’s crede: that the game was not about battering and/or boring opponents to death but playing, as Hungary and the South Americans did, with style and a flourish and being tactically inventive.

It did not happen because English clubs failed to connect the Irishman’s presence with the success of the teams in which he played and dominated with his personality. Or, if they did make the connection, they ignored it out of an inbred distrust of what they saw as too much swank and not enough graft.

After he retired as a player Blanchflower turned to being a manager, but soon despaired of setting English football on a new course. In frustration he switched to making a living as a shrewd media observer.

Northern Ireland’s heroics had started in the qualifying competition for the 1958 finals when they eliminated Italy. This was, quite simply, an extraordinary result.

The Italians had been world champions in 1934 and 1938 and had reached the finals of every World Cup they had entered. A draw against the Irish would have seen them through. The fact that the match was being played in Belfast was not expected to be nearly enough of an advantage for Blanchflower’s team to survive.

What undermined Italy’s effort was that the tie, instead of being wrapped up in 90 minutes on the afternoon of Wednesday 4 December 1957, mutated into a six-week saga. This was after the Belfast-bound match referee, Istvan Zsolt of Hungary, became stranded in fog in London.

Although the match went ahead in Zsolt’s absence, it was downgraded to a friendly when the Italians refused to give official recognition to a substitue ref. It ended 2-2, which would have been enough for Italy to go through.

The long delay would play right into Northern Ireland’s hands, partly because it must have rattled Italy that the so-called friendly was such an ugly affair. Having to come back to Belfast in mid January could not have been an enticing prospect.

Not only did ‘both teams kick lumps out of one another’, as McParland puts it, in that first fixture, serious crowd trouble at the end incensed the visitors. One Italian newspaper described the Belfast troublemakers as ‘barbarians of a primitive epoch’ and the debate about what should happen next reached government level in both countries.

On top of this the extended pause before the rearranged fixture ideally suited the artful Blanchflower.

He had marked the visitors’ vulnerabilities in the friendly and insisted the Northern Ireland team gather three days before the rescheduled match. During this unusually long time to prepare, Blanchflower drummed into the players tactics that involved disregarding the formations that English club teams regarded as sacrosanct.  They would ambush the Italians with swift breaks from midfield.

In this way Northern Ireland controlled the game demonstrating that the virtues of the traditional British way could be successfully allied to new ideas. Italy even accepted that their 2-1 defeat was down to the Irish being the better team.

Blanchflower’s leadership and McParland’s goals – he scored five of the team’s tally of six – were the foundations of Northern Ireland’s feat of reaching the quarter-finals of the 1958 world finals. That they reached the knockout stage at all surpassed most expectations after they were drawn in a group with holders West Germany and Argentina, the 1957 South American champions, who flopped badly to finish in last place.

The one time Blanchflower lost of control of his team was during an incident that was pure pantomime but went virtually unnoticed. If it had happened in a World Cup today newspapers everywhere would have carried the story. McParland describes the shenanigans in Northern Ireland’s ranks in their opening match, a 1-0 win over Czechoslovakia:

‘Czechoslovakia bombed us for about ten, 15 minutes, but it didn’t help that our little left half, Bertie Peacock of Celtic, got on to Harry Gregg, our goalkeeper, for not coming off his line to take a ball that had come across the goalmouth.

‘Bertie was the next-door neighbour to Harry where he was born in Ireland but this did not stop Harry from taking offence and running after Bertie.

‘Meanwhile their outside right’s got the ball. I’d come across to stop him from getting a cross in, holding him out on the wing, but behind me Harry’s still running after Bertie to give him a punch and Alfie McMichael, our left back, is shouting, “Get back in the goal, Harry.” Luckily they did not score. If they had they might have destroyed our World Cup.’

After retiring as a player and manager, Blanchflower became a perceptive commentator on football and life in general. Sadly he died as a result of Alzheimer’s disease in 1993 aged 67.


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.


The Honourable Ladies by Iain Dale and Jacqui Smith || REVIEW by Yazmeen Akhtar

  • September 05, 2018 11:40
  • Yazmeen Akhtar

The Honourable Ladies || REVIEW by Yazmeen Akhtar 


One could be forgiven for mistaking The Honourable Ladies for a biography on fierce Amazonian warrior women. The book contains profiles of every woman MP from 1918 to 1996. Attempting to breakthrough an otherwise ruggedly male political landscape, these women certainly emanate Amazonian prowess and heroism.

Whilst offering a fascinating insight into the achievements of the women who served as Members of Parliament, the book also recounts some of the witty, sharp, and sometimes scathing retorts these women employed in response to sexist notions on female intelligence and judgement (or lack thereof, according to patriarchy). One such woman who combined wit and sarcasm to fight for women’s suffrage, nationalism and independence from British rule was Cover grgdConstance Markievicz, the first female MP. In the Rising Maverick fought in St Stephen’s Green, and was sentenced to death, but the court recommenced solely on account of her sex. Maverick observed plangently, ‘I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me’.

And from Markievicz’s military endeavours to her multiple jail sentences one can see that these women fought not only with words, but exhibited immense physical courage. ‘Battling Bessie’ Braddock became the first woman to be expelled from the House of Commons for defying a ruling of the Deputy Speaker. On another occasion, Braddock smuggled two air pistols into the Commons in order to point out how easy it was to obtain unlicensed weapons. Markievicz and her fellow warriors were willing to suffer the consequences of championing female agency and social justice.

One might argue that the book’s preoccupation with the appearance of the MPs somewhat trivialises the women and their achievements. However, I think that the book's focus on what these women look like, how they dress, and how they speak, goes a long way in dispelling a long-standing stereotype of the political woman: a masculinised, sexless and grotesque harridan. Markievicz attended the first meeting of Sinn Féin and the Daughters of Erin society dressed in a ‘blue velvet ball gown with a train and a diamond tiara’.  Shirley Williams, former Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, claimed, ‘People like me because I look as crummy as they do.’ Not only does the book overturn sexist stereotypes, but also demonstrates that politics transcends class and background.

A portfolio that presents women from all walks of life battling their way through the political landscape, this is an all-empowering read!


Click here: The Honourable Ladies by Iain Dale / @IainDale and Jacqui Smith / @Jacqui_Smith1

Published: 4 SEPTEMBER 2018