Mixing politics and football

Like Alan Johnson MP my fellow politician (though I am really a newbie in this role and it may soon end in tears like most political careers), I was brought up in Kensington – though in more comfortable circumstances than him as I lived on the other side of Holland Park Road – and with it came support for QPR. At the age of eight, I was actually taken to a Chelsea game by a neighbour  (0 – 0 v Sunderland, the year the north east team was relegated for the first time in 1957) and hated it. The seats were too far away as there was a greyhound track around the pitch, the game was boring and the people were too posh.

Then at the beginning of the following season, the head porter of the block flats where I lived, Mr Osmond, offered to take me to QPR and I was hooked from the start. My recollection is that the opponents for the first game were Accrington Stanley but I’m not sure (not helped by the fact my mother threw out all my programmes when I went to Uni) . We took the 12 bus down Holland Park Avenue to Shepherds Bush and walked round to the old South Africa Road stand which was wooden and decrepit. I loved the cloth caps worn by the fans, the noise of the rattles spun round by the younger supporters and of the footstamping on the wooden floor that was a characteristic form of applause, the cigarette smoke  swirling round in the wind and the cosiness of the whole ground. Opposite there was just terracing and the floodlights were pretty basic affairs, but you could almost smell the players’ armpits and hear their occasional cussing. The football too, was basic but we always seemed to be playing in an adventurous style and there was Brian Bedford ever ready to knock the ball into the net. The same team largely turned out week after week and so it was easy to get to know the players. It soon became a wonderful routine walking to the bus through Holland Park and meeting Mr Osmond’s mate Ernie to go into the ground.

The move to White City for a season was awful but we were soon back in a gradually improving Loftus Road. It seemed we would always be a strong third division side as we were rarely in danger of relegation and usually finished well in the top half but never high enough to be in real contention. And then in my last year before going off to University, it all happened. An amazing team with Rodney Marsh up front, supported by the Morgan twins or Mark Lazarus on the wing, solid defenders like Ron Hunt, the lanky skipper Mike Keen and – amazingly – a part time player called Keith Sanderson who was gritty midfielder, or half back as they were known not only romped home in Division Three but amazingly had time to win the League Cup. By then I was hitchhiking or taking slow trains to away games and remember getting a lift back in the coach from Birmingham where astonishingly we had won 4 – 1 in the first leg of the semi final.

In truth, I drifted away for a couple of decades or so after university, only going to the odd home game as relationships, work and babies (not sure which order) took precedence though I remember a crucial Second Division game against Burnley the year we went up again. I missed the 1980s finals, too, but then started going regularly again when we were in decline in the 90s, struggling in the second tier and losing 0 – 3 to Stockport County at home after being confirmed as relegated. Vauxhall Motors was probably the low point and I was in Australia on the day three years later we went up at Hillsborough.

The good times started coming, though and by the time of our Warnock season, my partner, Deborah had joined me and my old mate Ivor and our growing gang in Ellerslie Road stand. I had bought her a season ticket the previous year but she got bored and lost interest. She did not bother getting a ticket the following year but then I somehow persuaded her that Derby was on the way back from North Wales where we were visiting her mother. It was a lovely drive through Staffordshire and we arrived just as they were unveiling a statue to one B Clough and his sidekick Peter Taylor. We were on a roll not having lost that season – except of course in the League Cup – but it seemed the run was about to end as Derby scored in each half and injury time had started. Then, the miracle happened and the Patrick Agyemang (a player I always liked despite his unpopularity) sort of rolled the ball into the net wrong-footing the goalkeeper. They nearly scored a third at the other end, the ball was booted down the middle by Paddy Kenny, and somehow Jamie Mackie (welcome back) rifled into the net from the edge of the box. 2-2 but more important, Deborah became a fan. She was hugging some spotty faced youth as if he were a long lost son and cheering with the rest of us. In that moment she understood what it was all about and she has never looked back, loving the camaderie of away games (even last year when, at least, we did go to West Brom as well as Man U, Spurs, Chelsea, West Ham, and god knows how many others) and the routine of cycling to Loftus Road from our home in Holloway. There was the play-off final, too, to cheer about, when the cycle ride to Wembley and back was as memorable as the last minute winner.

OK now for the politics if you have read this far. I’ve been a journalist, author and broadcaster all my life having started on the humble Retail Newsagent and reached the heights of The Independent in its heyday as transport correspondent. That got me into trains and railways which have been my bread and butter ever since having written a dozen or so books including histories of the Underground, Britain’s railways and the Transsiberian amongst others.

Since I have written and researched on transport matters for a couple of decades, I was appalled at the puerile debate between Boris and Ken for the mayoralty in 2012. It was all about Boris getting rid of bendy buses – a perfectly serviceable form of transport on the right routes – and Ken promising lower fares but there was no debate of substance such as how do we reduce the negative impact of car travel, improve air quality and make the city a better place in which to live. What do we do to make cycling actually possible for the eight to eighty year olds who can take to the roads safely in Holland?

That’s the gist of what I wrote in an article in the Evening Standard just prior to the election and some wit texted in ‘If Wolmar stood for mayor, I would vote for him’. Well I hope he bloody well is because I have spent much of the past three years campaigning to be the Labour candidate. I’ve spoken at more than 100 meetings, cycled about 3,000 miles around London to go to them and developed a whole range of policies based on the idea that the Labour party must endorse ideas about the environment if it– and indeed the planet – is to survive and thrive. So I would clean up London’s air which is killing nearly 10,000 people annually, improve the railway network, create a one hour bus ticket to make it cheaper to travel around London. Pedestrianise Oxford Street the most polluted road in Europe,  and build as much genuinely affordable housing as possible.

I have got on the short list for the Labour Party nomination along with a lot of better known politicians who are busy nicking all my ideas, which I am delighted about – though I am not sure they have the wherewithal to actually deliver on these new-found commitments. So if you want an old-fashioned politician who speaks his mind, has strong ideas and is not scared of putting them forward, support my campaign and get a lifelong QPR supporter into City Hall – where I will negotiate with Tony Fernandes to make sure we get the best deal for London and for the club.


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