A Collection of J. L. Carr – The Harpole Report


The Harpole Report, J.L.Carr’s third novel, was published in 1972. It was his first as a full-time writer, after spending fifteen years as a popular if/because of eccentric Headmaster, and it’s hardly surprising that the subject of the book should be Education. It’s also pleasing to advise that, after two very dark, bitter, unhappy books, The Harpole Report is a comic work, both openly and blackly.
This latter point came up in some of the reviews I read of A Day in Summer and A Season in Sinji, that these were novels incorporating very black humour. From my own reading of the two, such humour as they may have contained, outside of the (very) occasional grim joke they may have related to each other, was so shrouded in darkness that it was invisible to me. From the outset, however, Carr’s ironic, absurdist intentions are plain, and the book is immeasurably more enjoyable to read for it.
The Harpole of the title is George Harpole, teacher and acting-Headmaster of Tampling St Nicholas (C.E.) Aided Primary School, and the Report is upon him and upon his experiences and actions as acting-Head for one term. The Report is notionally compiled by an older, more experienced Headmaster (who can that be?) and it’s composed of Official School Logs, correspondence with the Local Education Authority, Councillors, parents, some personal letters made available by not merely Harpole but his most junior and forthright teacher, Emma Foxberrow, compositions by certain of the children and even Harpole’s personal journal.
The book therefore proceeds, in chronological order, via a mosaic series of short sections, in multiple viewpoints. Sometimes, a section will cover a couple of pages, but for the overwhelming majority of the book, Carr keeps thing pithy and concise, emphasising at each turn the smallness of the battlefield on which all such conflicts are carried out, and avoiding any diffusement of each moment.
It’s a slightly odd method of relating the story, since we never directly experience the events but rather observe them at one remove. Carr uses this approach to great effect: we are experiencing a précis of things, a miniature in which Carr can then present the central point –  frequently mildly absurd – without clogging up the works with too much detail.
Carr uses his mixture of official documents and journals, upon which he comments in persona as compiler of the Report, to quickly delineate the central cast. As well as George Harpole, the school has six staff, being five teachers, each with one class in which they teach their pupils everything, plus a caretaker that we will quickly learn is truculent, heavily-unionised and completely unprepared to step outside the (undefined) boundaries of his role.
There’s no actual plot, not as such. Carr’s aim is at a portrait of the Education System, seen through the eyes of a small but basically competent school, led by a young, friendly, anxiously thoughtful man trying to reconcile the opposing aims of ambition-serving conformity and the creative introduction of improvements. Harpole, who has been a teacher at Tampling St Nicholas for twelve years before his temporary promotion, has been elevated from among equals, to the apathy of all except Mrs Grindle-Jones (whose husband is Head Teacher of the nearby Grammar School), finds his every attempt to instigate change opposed by the Education Committee, the teachers, the parents and Theaker the caretaker. An early attempt to appeal to a higher level only results in apathy, and the further opposition of Tusker, Secretary to the Committee and Harpole’s immediate supervisor in the chain of command.
Everybody knows what a school is, which is what it always has been, irrespective of the passage of time and the development of society. By seeking to improve things, Harpole becomes an enemy.
Carr fills the book with small incidents and oppositions, many of which seem improbable, and yet come from his own experiences. It’s like Homicide: Life on the Street, continually setting up situations that are stupid and unbelievable, yet which come straight out of a true life book. The funniest example is the letter from a parent furious that his daughter has been taught that the steeple in Chesterfield is twisted. I mean, it is: it’s not just a fact, it’s something that Chesterfield uses to market itself.
But two years previously, whilst passing through Chesterfield, this parent told his daughter that the Chesterfield steeple is not twisted, but straight: it’s merely a scientific illusion. He’s hopping mad that he’s been contradicted, that the school has dared to undermine his parental authority, and he is insisting that the school recants and teaches his daughter (and by extension all the other pupils) that the steeple is straight.
The other members of staff form a formidable barrier to Harpole’s efforts to upgrade Tampling St Nicholas. Three of them, Mrs Grindle-Jones, Mr Pintle and Grace Tollemache, are veterans, set in their way, dedicated to doing what they have always done and unwilling to consider any variation. In contrast, Sydney Croser is too inexperienced to know what he is really doing, and barely keeps his class under control as it is, whilst the final member of staff, the newly-qualified Emma Foxberrow – bright, self-willed, charismatic, progressive – is more inclined to dismiss Harpole as a tool of the establishment, too institutionalised to be effective, because he proceeds by small steps and shifts, instead of by revolution.
Harpole has a fiancée to whom he writes regularly, confessing his difficulties and his fears, which initially blocks any suggestion of gravitation towards Emma, even after she starts to admire the progress he is making. Fiancée Edith only writes back once: to break off the engagement because she is marrying someone else, in fact has to marry someone else. This leads to a macho reaction from Harpole when faced with a thuggish parent who is a wife-beater, which impresses Emma.
After this, she even agrees to accompany Harpole on a visit to his parents’ farm in Yorkshire where, despite their not being boy- and girlfriend, the use of first names between them gives the senior Harpoles the impression. The two certainly start to move towards each other, although there is nothing overt until the very end.
This comes with the Education Committee meeting to determine Harpole’s fate, or at least his career. Has the term been sufficient of a success, in Committee terms, to warrant Harpole progressing towards a permanent Headmastership?
Unfortunately, the week before the meeting, Harpole has to repel the amorous intentions of Councillor Mrs Blossom (complete with blonde wig). As a result, he is attacked on all sides by everyone at the meeting, slandered, decried, you name it. The viciousness of the assault is both excessive and expected, and every incident of the term as we’ve seen throughout the Report is thrown at him without reference to Harpole’s successful defusement of everything.
Which is when Carr springs his biggest surprise, the eucatastrophe of support, endless support, in glowing terms, from everyone: all the teachers, most of the parents. It’s Harpole’s vindication, everything he could wish for, his career and future secured, and on the back of it, the Committee is rolled back enough to offer him the permanent Headship at Tampling St Nicholas.
But Harpole has had enough. He has seen that future, divined what it will make of him, and he rejects it and his career, walking away from the School in the moment of his triumph.
It’s a beautiful surprise and the best possible ending.
As for George Harpole’s future, Carr produces a short coda to illustrate where it is to lead him. He and Emma are sticking together, joining a society that teaches Missionaries to teach abroad. Typically of the straightforward, unromantic Emma, they are not engaged, not going to marry, nor even in love. They are a partnership that will satisfy certain physical urges as and when.
And Harpole and Foxberrow are posted to Sinji in West Africa, to a former RAF station gradually disappearing into the jungle. They teach, and Harpole organises cricket matches, in which they are assisted by a minor character from A Season in Sinji, and his multiple concubines.
The Harpole Report is funny and educational. It’s been hailed as one of the finest exposes of British education, and everything that happens, no matter how outlandish it may appear at first exposure, is palpably based in truth and real experience. I’m glad I never went into teaching.

Deep Space Nine: s2e11 – ‘Rivals’


A brilliantly cheesy guest star

The latest Deep Space Nine was not a candidate for episode of the season, but then again it wasn’t actually aiming for anything like that. It set out to be forty-five minutes of light entertainment, letting the episode’s principal characters – Chief O’Brien, Doctor Bashir and Quark – have a bit of fun without the need of any plot, character or series development at all.

To be honest, this was such a slight episode that I found it difficult to maintain my concentration, and given the list of significant guests stars, I was continually stopping the playback to enable me to Wikipedia to remind myself of where I knew them from before.

In this manner, I was able to identify K Callan (Alsia, the widow with an asteroid mine) as Martha Kent from Lois and Clark (which we knew over here are The New Adventures of Superman), Barbara Bosson (Roana, the widow with a unit on the Promenade) as Fay Furillo in Hill Street Blues (loved that series) and Chris Sarandon (conman and ‘listener’, Martus Mazur) as the baddie in The Princess Bride (one of the best films ever made).

Basically, the set-up was that Mazur was angling to con Alsia when Odo arrested him for fraud. Whilst in the cells, Mazur took over a weird little gambling machine from a dead alien, which brought him good luck. Charges were dropped, Mazur conned Roana into letting him set up a gambling hall directly opposite Quarks, and everybody on the station starts suffering from excesses of good or bad luck.

Meanwhile, O’Brien’s built a racquetball court (very futuristic design, unlike any one that I ever played on: mind you, squash was more my game, not that you’d think it to look at me, even then… Oh. Sorry. Got a bit distracted there, where was I?) only for Bashir to turn out to be not only younger and fitter and more talented than him. Miles gets obsessed with beating Julian, Julian gets worried about Miles having a heart attack and Quark counters Mazur’s gambling den by conning the pair into a match on which serious bets may be laid.

By this time, Dax has spotted that something’s not kosher and that probabilities are being effective, so she and Sisko turn up at Mazur’s and blast his full-sized devices, which returns everything to normal.

Like I said, pretty slight. What was worse was that every single beat was so predictable, even down to Alsia turning out to be a conwoman, which I’d sussed out from the open. When you’re so far ahead of the cast, you lose respect over their inability to spot the bleedin’ obvious, even though you’re being a bit unfair to them at times. It’s not all stringing it out to make sure that the closing credits don’t hit your screen after fifteen minutes: it just feels like it.

So, a perfunctory review for a perfunctory episode. My only regret was that the guest cast included a willowy, attractive redhead in a curiously designed costume of swirling opaque and transparent questions, whom I could have looked at for a little longer, but as she didn’t have any dialogue, her name doesn’t appear in any of the standard sources I refer to. It’s not the best situation when you come out of an episode with that as your main thought*.

However, I am led to believe that next week’s episode is a bit of a doozy. Can’t wait!

*Sandra Wild

Leicester City – League Champions


Oh. My. God.

It came true. It happened after all. For the first time since Nottingham Forest in 1978, thirty-eight years ago, the Championship of England has been won by a team that has never done it before. Leicester City, the nearly men, the never men, the won’t-last-men, are Champions.

To all of you in Leicester, to all of you who support them, to all of you who haven’t piled in like we did, looking over your shoulders, dreaming of seeing the heart of football reborn, no words of congratulations can sum up your feelings now. Just take this to heart, live every minute of it, savour it.

You’re there, in a place none of the rest of us can reach.

You beauties. You absolute, brilliant, fucking wonderful beauties.

Live it.

What it’s like to be a Red?: The view from 1 May 2016


The goal I couldn’t celebrate

I had a new experience watching the potential title-deciding match this afternoon between Manchester United and Leicester City, and I didn’t like it.

I’ve been a United fan for closing in on forty years now, through glorious triumph and hideous failure as we’ll agree to call the football the team has played since the Boss stepped down.

On the other hand, sometime around November last year, I declared myself a Leicester City supporter for the season, cheerfully backing them in their improbable campaign for a first ever League title that would restore faith in football, the game of glorious uncertainty.

Nobody believed it possible then, when Leicester first hit the top. Everybody knew it wouldn’t last.  Even I didn’t, really, believe it would. But I did remember hearing each and every single thing said about the Foxes not sustaining their challenge as being said, word for word, about Nottingham Forest in the 1977/78 season.

For an exact parallel, you’d have had to find me working in Leicester the past month, but otherwise it’s been close enough so far.

When it began, I half-joked that after thirty-odd years of being called a glory-hunter, I felt deserved to do some hunting, but it’s not been like that. I’m not a Leicester fan at heart, and never can be. A League title cannot possibly mean to me what it means to a true fan. The dream I’m living is not my own: I’m living the dreams of people that I understand, hoping and praying for glory that will make their hearts swell, their memories endure. I’m just one of the millions of us who, once we step outside the narrow tribalism of our day-to-day loyalties, know that we’re looking at something we would dearly love to have for ourselves. The support we offer, the urging towards the sheer romance of everything, the excitement we’ll feel when they do it still doesn’t bring us within the magic circle. We are only ever outside the light of the fires burning, but we will point to the Foxes and their faithful and say that you stand for all of us.

Today was the day, the first day, when it could happen. All Leicester City have to do now is win one game. They have three chances at it.

It reminds me of a long ago Sunday League season, 1990, where Lancashire were left needing a single win to take the League, and three matches left, all at home. It was as good as done, but it took until the last over of the last of those games before the winning six soared over the Warwick Road End fences.

Today, a win at Old Trafford would bring home the glory, turn the potential into actual, the romance into the gloriously implausible reality. I wanted to see that happen.

But Old Trafford is the home of my team, Manchester United. Though I wouldn’t, for once, take amiss at a defeat, I still couldn’t want it. Not really. Besides, United still have designs upon a top 4 place, the Champions League next year, plus the pleasure of pushing out either the Arses or the Bitters. Something in the game for us?

Can’t really compare the two ambitions, though, can you? Especially as the Arses’ fluky and undeserved win yesterday makes the top 4 at their expense highly unlikely. Even if we, suddenly, have started to play something like properly again. You know, like Manchester United.

I’ve spoken elsewhere of avoiding games where I want both teams to lose. Never before, and I hope never again, have I watched a game that I wanted both teams to win.

It was a strange feeling and a miserable one. United scored a superbly made and executed early goal, and I couldn’t celebrate it because I wanted Leicester to win. The Foxes equalised, ten minutes later, and I couldn’t celebrate it because I wanted United to win. It was the same throughout an excellent first half: I could take no excitement in anything, was paralysed in response, because anything that was good football, was exciting, might lead to a goal, was a strike against a team I wanted to see win.

The second half was less draining, in large part because I found myself watching a Sky broadcast in which vision and sound were wildly out of sync: the soundtrack, the crowd noise, the commentator’s lines were at least ten seconds behind the action I was watching. Shots, fouls and crowd surges took place without verbal excitement, which would then arrive long after the action had moved on.

A draw was also unsatisfactory. It served no-one, it settled nothing. If Leicester are to do it, they deserved to do it off their own bat, on their feet, striving to complete their own destiny. Instead, like United’s Resurrection Title, in 1993, it might come whilst they’re sat down: Tottenham Hotspur have to win at a ground where they haven’t won a League match since before Alex Ferguson won his first United trophy.

That’s tomorrow night, when they kick-off at 8.00pm and I finish work at 9.00pm, with a half hour journey home. Far less dramatic, far less satisfactory a triumph, if triumph it be (though I doubt any Leicester fan will care, any more than we Reds cared, that long Sunday afternoon waiting to see if Oldham Athletic could keep their unlikely one goal lead).

As a Red, I still have the Cup Final to live for. Though I could do without the name of Jose Mourinho rearing its ugly head yet again: if United don’t finish in the Top 4, I expect to be contacted. Well, if that’s what it takes, come on Louis van Gaal: I can wait another season of him if it means I don’t have to suffer two seasons and a disaster of Mourinho.

Imaginary Albums: Lost 70s Volume 9


Lost 70s Volume 9 consists of 22 tracks. There’s no overall theme or structure to this latest compilation. It was put together by adding appropriate tracks to a folder until I had enough for a full CD. Some songs are here because I couldn’t get hold of them earlier, some because I discovered them by chance whilst tripping from YouTube video to sidebar, others because I simply remembered them at long last. There’s only one hit single in this volume, which only got added on a third edition, but it was a big, albeit mysterious from our modern viewpoint, success.

This is not the original version of the compilation. After getting very sloppy in curation and including a number of tracks several times on different volumes, not to mention including too many tracks by the same artist that would be better grouped, I re-burnt the entire series, filling in spaces with tracks that had not been available when the original compilation was created.

It’s For You – Three Dog Night

Three Dog Night were massive in America but never really cut it in Britain, with one big and one minor hit. This pre-dated both of them, a cover of a song Paul McCartney wrote for Cilla Black, rocked up. It’s primarily an a capella track, utilising Three Dog Night’s three frontmen, singers all, over a low-mixed rhythm track, the song switching from harmony to a complex but effective arrangement where the singers are so much in tune that they’re rotating individual words. By the time the band comes in, about ninety seconds along, the work’s been done and the track fades fast, but by then the instruments are redundant.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zr7NOTYbPeU

Here Comes the Sun    – Richie Havens

I’d completely forgotten this flat, rhythmic version of George Harrison’s late song, which was given plenty of airplay in the summer of 1971, but which passed unnoticed. Where Harrison’s original emphasised the sun aspect, embracing fully the summer that comes after cold and darkness, Havens’ hard-strummed guitar and his low, growling tones belong to what has passed. Havens knows that what is coming is better, but he has yet to emerge fully from his cocoon. The sun awaits, like the future.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NV_IRGzIBS0

Lucinda – Howard Werth and The Moonbeams

Howard Werth had been well-known as the lead singer and songwriter in Audience, a mainly progressive, blues-oriented band in the early Seventies who nevertheless managed a string of forceful, melodic singles that always appealed but never sold. The band’s sound was distinguished by Werth’s throaty, half-strangled vocals, equally effective on uptempo rockers and delicate ballads. When the band broke up, Werth went solo with a backing band and released this excellent love song as a first single. It was the same old story: airplay, especially from Johnnie Walker, and no success. In the words of the album this ended up on, King Brilliant.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XBQ6rqOFNY

Cruel to Fool – String Driven Thing

Put this funky little 1976 single alongside 1973’s ‘It’s a Game’ and you’d hardly believe it was the same band. No fiddle, no female voice, a drummer with a drumkit and a slinky, clavinet based sound. It’s a brilliant song, a pained, you’re-cheating-on-me wail, and it’s long forgotten. YouTube doesn’t even have it, which is a damned shame since you could do with hearing it.

Do you wanna dance? – Deep Feeling

This is an old and usually raucous song given the Deep Feeling languid, soft-rock treatment, all relaxed vocals and sweet harmonies, easy tempo and gentle, unthreatening arrangement. It’s completely different from any other version of this song which is what makes it such a quiet pleasure, but the formula is essentially limited, and a little of this is enough. This is a very peaceful little.

This track is not currently available on YouTube

Hooked on a Feeling – Blue Swede

Nowadays, thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy, this is no longer a forgotten treatment of an old B J Thomas country pop late Sixties song. Now, it’s back with a bang, and a full-throated howl of pop energy. Fans of the original still loathe the ‘hooga-chukka’ chant that leads in the song and is repeated partway through. Jonathan King isn’t too happy with it either: he introduced the chant for his 1971 single, which Blue Swede – a Swedish band, you’ll be surprised to hear – copied to great effect in 1974. King’s version may have been original but it suffers from the same defect as all Jonathan King fare in the early Seventies, production that’s as thin and weedy as his voice. It took Blue Swede to put some much-needed oomph into it and transform the song into the pop classic it has been ever since, but since you can’t copyright arrangements, King gets nothing for it. It has to be said that sometimes there is a modicum of justice in the world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrI-UBIB8Jk

Stone’s Throw from Nowhere – Cado Belle

In the early Seventies, the full throated, bluesy Maggie Bell was a perennially celebrated vocalist. She wasn’t the only impressively voiced Scottish singer called Maggie, however, as this long-forgotten single by the long-forgotten Cado Belle demonstrated. The band were part of the Seventies tradition of Scottish soul bands, led by the Average White Band, though the Average Whites never had a singer remotely as distinctive and powerful as Maggie Reilly. This is slow, slinky, underpinned by a degree of blues-rock that never interrupts the song’s roots in passion and despair, and it should have been played every hour on the hour until people actually realised how good it is and started buying it in massive amounts. Instead, Maggie Reilly’s only commercial success ended up being vocals on a Mike Oldfield single. Mike Oldfield, I mean, come on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMPBRL817EM

White Lies, Blue Eyes – Silver Bullet

A tight, taut, blue-eyed soul pop rock song by a band who had to be renamed for the UK market, there already being a different Bullet operating over here. It was an American success, and got into the lower areas of our Top 50, with the right credentials to go higher if it had had more airplay. Tight, urgent harmonies, accusing the seemingly innocent object of the singer’s affections of being a serial cheat, a clipped, spiralling guitar solo, and some infectious rhythms. I even bought this at the time, having to specially order it to my local shop, but to no avail.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ua4sWxKKE-I

Couldn’t Believe a Word – The 45s

I usually leave the late Seventies songs to the end of these compilations, but though this single came out on Stiff, and couldn’t have existed without the punk era having upset the normal rules of the industry, the sound is too much Sixties pop clarity to be representative of the era. It’s a rush of guitar and organ, overlaid with vocals celebrating the best aspects of a relationship that, before even we hit the first chorus, we know is a thing of the past, ended by her, without warning, to the singer’s total disbelief. Whatever spurred her to it, it caught him completely blind-sided and he doesn’t even have an explanation to take into his desperate mourning. Meanwhile, the band play on as if nothing has ever happened, as if it’s alright, as if it’s still a sunny day.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofcHJw1spG8

Understand – Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel

Most of the tracks on the Lost 70s series are either singles, or else album tracks that became famous and much-played in their own right. This is neither. It’s a long, slow, reflective number played one day by Johnnie Walker, and taped by me on some impulse that proved to be very right indeed. Over an initial piano melody, Harley muses about spilling his secrets, telling ‘everything’. He’s thinking of, singing to a lover, trying to convince himself to spill what is on his mind. Something’s there, something has caused a rift between him and his lover. It has an explanation, but Harley doesn’t know whether to reveal it, or how to. The piano plays arpeggios as Harley works his way through the confusion in his mind over what is better. If I could put the words together, he decides, if I could only put the words together, you’d understand. Then a synthesizer slides in, bubbling and low, noodling sound as Harley’s thoughts spin and whirl. When he returns, Hamlet-like he is still no further forward, convinced that he can resolve this problem if only he chooses the right words, aware that the wrong words will have a disastrous effect, unable to go ahead or back. He’s there yet, where the beauty of the music is his only relief from the torment.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Kl4sa0Ky8o

Thomas the Rhymer – Steeleye Span

This is the one that went in between ‘Gaudete’ and ‘All Around My Hat’. You can tell why it got neither airplay nor sales, being a heavily rocked up version of a traditional tune, without either the novelty appeal of the one before it or the clear cut chorus of the one that followed, but it has a stop-go charm of its own. It’s uncharacteristic of the normal run of Steeleye Span music, and borrows more of Fairport Convention than Steeleye’s fans might have been comfortable with but it suited me admirably. I always was perverse in my music choices of the Seventies.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fo3VxbJ0RJ4

Water in my Wine – Fogg

Fogg came and went in my consciousness via this one-off single in 1973. A bit of daytime airplay on Radio 1, especially from Johnnie Walker, then nothing. The song is heavily influenced by Lindisfarne – Fogg were also Geordies, as is evidenced by the reference in the chorus to the ever-popular River Tyne – with acoustic guitar to the fore, and prominent, folk-oriented harmonies bursting out in the chorus, though the electric guitar solo bespeaks a more rock-oriented stance that was apparently the band’s usual style. The lyrics are incomprehensible, but its all very geordie in atmosphere and feel, and Lindisfarne weren’t being Lindisfarne at this point, so my ears latched onto it and refused to let go, and the soar into the chorus still lifts me up all these many years later.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1C3y9xDZ8I

Time – Taggett

There was no connection I was aware of between Taggett and Fogg, but my mind has always linked these two tracks together. Both have a strong, recurring chorus, with powerful harmonies emphasising a commercial tune, though Taggett (no relation to any Glasgow based detective series) display rockier roots than Fogg, and their single is sprightly where Fogg were stately. But that’s why they sit together on this compilation, because somewhere my musical soul hears these as twins.

This track is not currently available on YouTube

Chinese Restaurant – The Sarstedt Brothers

The Sarstedt Brothers – Clive, Peter and Robin – got together in 1973 for this vigorous, brash and intelligent single. Clive was a decade past his success as Eden Kane, Peter four years on from his momentary triumph with the much played and much mocked ‘Where do you go to my lovely?’ whilst junior brother Robin would have his brief moment in the sun with a deliberately retro song and performance on ‘My Resistance is Low’, in 1975. Peter being the one with the most contemporary track record, this song was clearly centred on him: its language and his distinctive voice at the front of the mix demonstrate that. The single was heavily backed by Noel Edmonds, who had only recently replaced Tony Blackburn on the Radio 1 Breakfast show, and you can tell how far back this was because Edmonds’ schtick was still an enthusiasm for music.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wb3SPUxK-k0

Clear White Light – Wishful Thinking

I apologise in advance for the quality of the link, which is basically a video of the single playing on a record deck whilst the camera mike picks up the sound from the speakers. Wishful Thinking was a band that were around in the background in the early Seventies, occasionally recording a single that got a small amount of airplay. This was one of those. It interested me by being one of only two Lindisfarne covers released in the Seventies (the other, of ‘Lady Eleanor’, is still not available in any digital form). It’s not a bad version, though not a patch on the heavily choral original, and the band have flattened out the song in the process of commercialising it. Think of it as an interesting, if ultimately sterile curiosity.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AzraV-XN1wU

Danger Signs    – Penetration

Penetration always occupied an anomalous position alongside punk. Their music echoed the punk ethos, and their sound was analogous to Siouxsie and the Banshees, but Pauline Murray always had more of a singing voice than anyone else in punk, including Siouxsie, and the band had a darker, more musicianly style. Indeed, for their second album, they added a second guitarist whose roots and preferences were in heavy metal! ‘Danger Signs’ was a non-album single that fell between the first and second albums. The NME praised the 12″ version of this for the sonic depth and power it gave the track and I took the chance and bought it. And it rocks!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKnX9-86BYU

Warning Lights – Richard Barnes & Tony Hazzard

Richard Barnes came closest to chart success in 1970/71 with a run of singles that peaked around no 34/36. Two of these, the more famous and memorable of his career, were written by professional writer and occasional singer Tony Hazzard. Barnes and Hazzard were friends as well as professional colleagues, and in 1976 teamed up to record an album together. Their version of Hazzard’s ‘Fox on the Run’, a slightly slower, less poppier version of the Manfred Mann hit, came out as a single, but ‘Warning Lights’ would have a far superior choice. It’s a beautiful song with a glowing melody and some of the duo’s most powerful harmonies, about a lonely lightkeeper seeking love. It sounds stupid but it’s far from it. It’s also the only track off the album available in digital form, which is why it’s on a Lost 70s compilation and not a CD of its own.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyViJJdYZx4

One More Dance – Jack the Lad

When Lindisfarne split in 1974, it was my first experience of having a favourite band break up on me. A version of Lindisfarne carried on, with new members, but never sounded quite right to me ears, whilst Messrs Cowe, Clements and Laidlaw added one member and turned up as Jack the Lad. They immediately came out with this jaunty but melancholy number, looking back on a relationship that grew out of an impromptu decision to have one more dance, that blew up out of all proportion in a way that caused harm to all. But all it takes is to hear that song again: they’re not free, they never will be entirely free, but the singer would do it all again in a heartbeat. The music isn’t entirely in harmony with the sentiments, lacking entirely of the wistful, but the sentiments are as powerful as they could possibly be.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KL1vXtiEfAc

Don’t Touch Me There – The Tubes

The Tubes were a great big rock’n’roll spoof of a band, overthrowing shibboleths at every turn, disrespecters of conventions and gloriously OTT in the process. ‘Don’t Touch me There’, a rock’n’roll melodrama, with Phil Spector production and great pleading lines about not touching her there, no, never ever there (where there was was never specified but we all took it to be what E. L. James prudishly described as ‘down there’). There was also never any explanation as to what might happen if anyone did touch her there, but the way the Tubes sang it, there wasn’t much doubt. This was only ever a b-side to the Tubes’ only UK hit, the maxi-single ‘White Punks on Dope’ (I said they were a cartoon) but I loved it ten times better than the a-side.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTd3PrTzSPY

Whispering Grass (BBC Session) – Sandy Denny

Sandy Denny covered this old, romantic song, originally a classic by the Inkspots, in 1974, putting it out as a single. I loved it for her cool, precise voice, and the respectfully old-fashioned arrangement. That was almost twelve months before the travesty version by two stars from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (and I never thought that much of Don Estelle’s voice anyway, which was sweet but wooden, much like his acting). This version is the one Sandy produced for a BBC Session, a slightly less polished version of the original, but a gem all the same. Beautiful.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrxB_9COPUE

Lady Eleanor (single) – Lindisfarne

It was hearing ‘Clear White Light’, rather fuzzily, on Radio Luxembourg, Fabulous 208, that alerted me to Lindisfarne, and this was the cool, collected, slow and hazy sequel, all Edgar Allan Poe and Ray Jackson’s mandolin. It flopped in 1971, but a year later, after ‘Meet me on the Corner’ had jangled its way into the top 5, Lindisfarne re-recorded it, in a louder, rougher sound, and reached no 3. It’s amazing that something like this could get to no 3, even all that time ago. But this is the quieter, more composed, more restrained and more spooky version. It’s all right Lady Eleanor. I’m alright, here in your arms.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zny53R1cJE

To One in Paradise – The Alan Parsons Project

The Alan Parsons Project was a studio ensemble, brought together by Recording Engineer Alan Parsons, to record an album of songs inspired by various Edgar Allan Poe stories. The vigorous and pounding ‘(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Feather’ followed the same old route as so many in these compilations: airplay but no sales, but I liked it. I also liked its slower, dreamier, floatier follow-up, though I only heard it perhaps half a dozen times. It’s here because when I got access to hear it properly, I didn’t recognise a thing, but I still like to get lost in its drifting sounds.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrMKh2M-qHM

Up for t’Cup: 1992 – 2001


The most unusual mowing pattern ever

The FA Cup had been conceived and commence in the Nineteenth Century. Had those whose inspiration it had been ever foreseen what it, what their youthful, unformed game would become? I doubt that they had ever imagined what this sport, so recently codified to eliminate handling and hacking, might become, though several lived to see the outline of the future. Several lived to see the Twentieth Century: could they have imagined their trophy might last until the Twenty-First Century?
One thing that did not was the trophy itself. The third FA Cup had, by 1992, become so fragile that it could no longer be risked and a fourth – identical but sturdier – was made. But the glamorous old trophy was reserved one final outing under the North London sky that season.
The Third Round began with a bang, with one of the great Cup results of all time. It came at Football’s New Year, the Third Round, at the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham, where the visitors were Arsenal.
The great beauty of the Cup is that on any given day, any team of eleven players can defeat any other team of eleven players. The distance between the two clubs could not have been greater: Arsenal were the reigning League Champions, whilst Wrexham had finished bottom of Division Four, and had only escaped relegation to the Football Conference because of a failed plan by the Football League to expand to 94 teams. First played ninety-second. If you could arrange for this to be played one hundred times as a League game, Arsenal would have won ninety-nine and drawn the hundredth. And they scored first.
But this was the Cup. In the space of two minutes, the oldest player on the field and the youngest player on the field scored for Wrexham to overturn Arsenal’s lead and send them out of the Cup. It was a welcome demonstration of what the Cup really meant. It is the stuff of which dreams are made.
In 1973, Sunderland had shocked the whole of English Football by winning a game they were never expected to compete in. They beat Leeds United, one of the greatest teams of the time, and they beat them whilst representing the Second Division. In 1988, Liverpool had played in the other shock Cup Final result of all time, but that time they had been the overwhelming favourites, losing a game they were never expected to be vulnerable in. For the first Final of this latest decade, Sunderland, once again a Second Division, were back at Wembley and looking to pull off the same feat against the other victim.
But history never repeats itself when you’re relying upon it to do so, and Liverpool, after a goalless first half, negotiated the Sunderland challenge more than adequately. Michael Thomas, who’d destroyed Liverpool’s Double Double dreams in 1989, by scoring the goal that enabled Arsenal to steal the League in the last minute of the season, opened the scoring, and Ian Rush became the first player to score in three different Cup Finals. It was his fifth Cup Final goal, a record that remains to this day.
Somehow, the sets of medals were switched round so that Liverpool’s team received losers medals and Sunderland winners. The players rectified the issue themselves on the pitch after the presentation.
The FA Cup still remained the showpiece, the climax of the season, but something went out of it in this season, heralding a new decade. With effect from 1991/92, there were to be no more marathon ties. Henceforward, if the scores were still level after extra time in a replay, the game would be decided that night, by a penalty shoot-out.
It was not a decision taken by the FA, rather one that was enforced upon it. The game was emerging from the dark ages of being regarded as the cause of hooliganism, as opposed to being its victims. Football fans had refuted their image as thugs at Italia ’90. Manchester United had gone straight back into Europe and won a trophy at the first time of asking. All-seater grounds were beginning to spread, in accordance with the Government’s directives. The membership scheme was gone, the fences were gone, good things were coming.
But the Police, whose relationship with football had been forever soiled by the experience of Hillsborough, decided to put their foot down. Their presence for crowd control and safety was mandatory before a game could take place: suddenly, they decided that they would no longer provide that on anything less than ten days notice.
It was a direct blow to the Cup. Traditionally, replays were instant: draw on Saturday, be back at it by Tuesday or Wednesday. That was gone in an instant: no replays until the week after. And any subsequent replays would also need ten day’s notice. And there wasn’t that much time between Rounds that could accommodate later replays.
So the FA gave in, decided to cut their losses, accept the police’s position, introduce penalty shoot-outs as a standard Cup feature. In the Fourth Round, Manchester United became the first First Division Club to go out of the Cup without losing, at home to Southampton.
And it diminished the Cup, just as so many things would begin to do so in this fateful decade.
The biggest of all, though it made no direct difference, came that summer, though it had been bruited almost all the season. The long years of rivalry between the Football Association and the Football League over who really controlled English football were settled when the FA persuaded (it was down to money, which was always the most convincing talker) the entire First Division to secede from the League and form the English Premier League, a separate competition.
It settled the argument decisively: it was the Clubs, hand in hand with the money from BSkyB Satellite Broadcasting, buying Football, hook, line and sinker. It made no difference to the Cup, structurally: The Premier League simply took the place of the old First Division, the Football League renumbered its Divisions, moving everybody one level up, and the game went on as normal, or so it seemed.
But the money went into the Premier League, not the Football League. And the financial benefits of a successful Premier League season suddenly outweighed the glamour of the Cup. It didn’t happen immediately. But the seeds were sewn, and in very fertile ground, well-watered with money.
Arsenal would be the first Premier League team to win the Cup, completing as they did a new Double, the first club to win both the League Cup and the FA Cup in the same season. Both games ended 2-1 and both times the defeated side was Sheffield Wednesday, proving yet again that football is weirder than fiction. It is the only time this has happened.
But there was much more to this Cup season than that. Once more, only two years later, the North London rivals were drawn together in the semi-final, making a mockery of the FA’s claims, in 1991, that a Wembley-staged semi-final would be a complete one-off. Given the greater capacity, the FA were hardly upset at having to repeat the exercise, but were faced with a revolt over the other semi-final venue.
By an odd coincidence, this too was a derby match, the two Sheffield clubs having been paired by the draw. Originally, and in accordance with the traditional approach, the game was scheduled for  Elland Road, Leeds. But United and Wednesday protested furiously. They were upset that their rivals were being favourably treated by experiencing the Wembley atmosphere ahead of them, and given the rivalry between Sheffield and Leeds, they were unhappy at being required to play in a city where they both were hated.
So, after an initial show of reluctance that seemed to be based more in trying to demonstrate who was boss, rather than upholding principle and tradition, the FA accepted the Sheffield clubs’ proposals. And got a much higher gate than any Elland Road could have produced.
There was another shift as well. The live televised semi-finals of the past two years had both been free-to-air on terrestrial television. But the advent of BSkyB as a major player, televising live Premier League games, extended to the Cup. The Sheffield semi-final took place on the Saturday, on Sky TV: only the North London semi-final – won on this occasion by Arsenal – was shown on BBC.
Unusually, the Final began with the presentation of a Winners’ Medal, to Arsenal’s Steve Morrow. It was a holdover from the League Cup: Morrow had scored the winning goal and, at the final whistle, was lifted off the ground by team-mate Tony Adams, who unfortunately dropped him, causing Morrow to break his shoulder and have to be rushed off by ambulance with receiving his medal.
The Final was drawn, one apiece, making this the fifth Final in the last thirteen years to require a replay. It was also the last time this would occur. In 1999, the FA would decide to abolish replays for the semi-finals and Final: any such match not settled after extra-time would go to a penalty shoot-out, an indignity that all fans of the Cup immediately and devoutedly hoped would never be required in  the Final.
It nearly came to pass in the replay. The match finished 1-1 again, Arsenal’s goals in each match both scored by Ian Wright, adding him to the short list of players who’d scored for two different Cup  Final teams and bringing his total in Finals to four, one short of Ian Rush. And the game was in injury time at the end of extra-time when Andy Linighan headed the Arsenal winner to spare that fate.
This was also the first Final in which the teams played in squad numbers, with their names on their backs, instead of the traditional 1 – 11. The innovation was taken up the following season by the Premier League and has now spread to all of English professional football.
The first Premier League was won by Manchester United, ending their twenty-six year long quest for another title. It was to be the springboard for a season that would see them come closer than anyone ever before or since to winning not merely the classic Double, but a Grand Slam, a Clean Sweep of every trophy in the domestic game.
United were League leaders for all but twenty-eight hours of the season, and they won the Charity Shield after a penalty shoot-out (shared Shields were no longer permissible in the BSkyB era). At one point, they led the League by sixteen points, but in the Spring they suffered a collective loss of form that threatened to leave them with nothing. It did cost them the League Cup, beaten 3-1 by Aston Villa, and suffering their fourth red card in the space of a month, two of which in successive games having led to a five match suspension for their talisman, Eric Cantona.
One of those other matches Cantona was disqualified for was the FA Cup semi-final.
Once again there was controversy over the venues. Mindful of the income a Wembley tie would produce, the FA seized upon the draw pairing Chelsea with Luton Town as an excuse to nominate the Empire Stadium, and with a sanctimonious air, proclaim that fairness demanded the other tie also be held at Wembley, even though United were paired, for a second time in five years, with their Greater Manchester neighbours, Oldham Athletic.
United protested loudly at the expense yet another trip to London would mean for their fans, particularly pertinent with the country still in recession. The FA decided to let things rest upon a ballot of both clubs’ fans, agreeing to switch if both sets agreed. United’s fans voted overwhelmingly for change, but a majority of Oldham fans wanted Wembley, and so it was. It is rumoured in Manchester to this day that the Oldham verdict was tipped by a large intake of Manchester City fans, out to inconvenience their rivals.
United were in poor form. The semi-final was not the six goal thriller of yesteryear, and an Oldham goal nine minutes from the end of extra-time was on the point of taking the club to their first Final, when a spectacular equaliser by Mark Hughes secured a replay. This was played at Maine Road, Manchester, where the tie should always have been played, and United were comprehensive 4-1 winners.
This was another Final I failed to see on TV, for the simple fact that I was at Wembley itself. The omens were mixed, with Chelsea the only team to do the League double over United, both times by a single goal from Gavin Peacock. Who hit the bar in the first half, which was goalless. The second half was a different story as United were twice awarded penalties, one clear cut, the other controversial. Both were stroked home in identical manner by Cantona, the first Frenchman to play in the Cup Final.
It was the first, and to date only occasion when two penalties have been awarded to the same team, and Cantona’s first was the first Cup Final penalty to be scored since Arnold Muhren for United in the replay eleven years earlier.
The second penalty was the subject of controversy, referee David Ellary giving the award from thirty yards away when his linesmen, ten yards from the incident, failed to flag. However, Ellary was at the correct angle to see the offence, whereas his linesman’s view was blocked by the body of United’s Andrei Kanchelskis. I have always found it significant that, despite England’s top referee being correct in seeing the offence, his linesman was unable to tell him that contact had been two yards outside the area. Subsequently, Elleray admitted regretting his decision.
Not being at home, I missed the BBC’s near blunder in allowing replays of the penalty incident to nearly overrun United’s third goal, by Hughes. This too was a personal record: it was Hughes’ fourth Wembley appearance of the season – Charity Shield, League Cup Final, FA Cup semi-final and Final – and he had scored in every game. Indeed, Cantona’s first penalty had been United’s first Wembley goal that season NOT to be scored by Hughes!
The Frenchman came inches from scoring the first Cup Final hat trick since 1953 but United equalled their own record for biggest winning margin at Wembley with a fourth goal just before time, set up on a plate for Brian McClair by an act of unselfishness above and beyond the call of human nature by Paul Ince.
United’s eighth win equaled Tottenham Hotspur’s record and they also became the sixth team to win the Double of League and Cup in the same year. That the Cup was still the great glory game may be signified by the fact that it was not until the third United goal, securing the Cup, that I remembered United were the League Champions, and had therefore won the Double!
This was also the first Final to features three substitutes for each team, enabling clubs thereafter to always have a goalkeeping substitute available in the event of injury or sending off.
After winning their Double, Liverpool had come close three times in the next four years to be the first Club to win in twice. In 1994/95, Manchester United came within two blinding saves of doing it back-to-back.
That season’s Cup almost began with a team short, as Tottenham Hotspur were initially banned from entering the Cup, as a punishment for financial irregularities. On appeal, however, it was decided that a financial penalty was better suited for financial improprieties and the joint record-holders were reinstated.
Manchester United’s season was rocked in February by the suspension of their talismanic striker, Eric Cantona until September 30 1995. Cantona had been sent off in a League game at Crystal Palace and was pursued along the touchline by a home fan spewing racial and obscene taunts at him, until Cantona vaulted the fence and kung-fu kicked the fan (quickly revealed to be a National Front member).
United reacted promptly and responsibly by suspending Cantona for the rest of the season, though the FA decided it needed to be seen acting and extended that ban by a further ten weeks.
Without Cantona, United still reached the Final, needing a replay to beat their 1990 Final opponents, Crystal Palace in the semi-final, whilst Everton comfortably beat the reprieved Spurs to set up a repeat of the 1985 Final. United, hampered by the absence of Cantona, arrived at Wembley as Premier League runners-up by a single point, a title-winning win in their last game denied by great saves from Ludek Miklosko for West Ham.
The repeat Final from ten years previously would end with the same score, but this time Everton prevailed. United were denied extra-time by a blinding save from Neville Southall, who played in both games, preventing an equaliser by substitute Paul Scholes. Scholes would score in a Final before the decade was out.
Nevertheless, United’s failure in 1995 was reversed only twelve months later. Cantona’s return from his lengthy suspension saw him create one and score one in a 2-2 home draw with Liverpool, and several vital goals from the Frenchman saw United overhaul season-long League leaders Newcastle United to regain the title.
Once again, an entire round was almost wiped out by snow, in late January, with only four of sixteen ties in Round Four being completed on the day. There was another oddity when Round Six featured an all-Premiership line-up, a very rare occurrence, and due to television’s demand for live games, all four ties were played on different days.
In the semi-final, United were drawn to play Chelsea. It was their third successive semi-final and their third against recent and previous major Cup opponents: in order, United had played their 1990 semi-final opponents, their 1990 Final opponents and their 1994 Final opponents, who they beat 2-0 at Villa Park.
For once, the Cup missed a trick. The other semi-final was played at Old Trafford between Aston Villa and Liverpool, who won by a comfortable 3-0, denying the Cup a Final between clubs who had won their semi-finals at each other’s ground!
For a second successive season, Manchester United faced a repeat Final against opponents they had previously beaten at Wembley, but where Everton had gained revenge, Liverpool were unable to prevent a second defeat, inevitably at the hand, or boot, of Cantona, four minutes from the end. For those who watched on TV, the game was a dull disappointment, but I can only speak for myself when I say that inside Wembley, the game was tense and fascinating at every minute.
United became the first team to win the Double Double, only two years after completing their first such. This was their ninth Cup win, setting a new record, and Eric Cantona became the first player to score Cup Final goals from both the penalty spot and in open play. They also became only the fifth team to reach three successive Finals, as recently achieved by Arsenal and Everton.
Speaking in my personal capacity as a Manchester United fan, I have to comment that when United were beaten in a Fourth Round replay in the 1996/97 tournament, it was a very strange sensation. It was the first time in four years that we had no interest in the Cup after January. I don’t mean to be big-headed at that: I am sure that Arsenal fans in 1981 and Everton fans in 1987 had exactly the same sense of vague displacement.
There was a guaranteed first time Finalist that season when Middlesbrough were drawn against Second Division Chesterfield. This was the first appearance in the semi-finals by a third tier team since Norwich City in 1959, and Chesterfield took their Premier League opponents to a draw, or rather it was the reverse, as Chesterfield led twice and were denied a third goal when the referee, David Elleray again, missed seeing a shot bounce behind the line. Within two minutes, the referee awarded a penalty to Middlesbrough for an obstruction that took place outside the penalty area, from which Boro scored their second equaliser. Chesterfield’s run was broken in the replay, which Middlesbrough won comfortably.
In contrast, Chelsea were easy winners in their semi-final against Wimbledon, coming their closest to repeating the glories of 1988, just five years before the controversial and fatal decision to allow the club to be uprooted to Milton Keynes. Chelsea were equally comfortable at Wembley, winning their second Cup, twenty-seven years after the first, whilst Robert di Matteo broke Jackie Milburn’s record for fastest goal at Wembley, set forty-two years earlier, scoring after only 43 seconds.
Middlesbrough would complete the unwanted Double of Cup Final defeat and a very controversial relegation in the same season due to a points deduction, not to mention defeat in the League Cup Final. But it was a personal triumph for Chelsea striker Mark Hughes, winning a record fourth Winners Medal after three with Manchester United. Chelsea manager Ruud Gullit became the first foreign and non-white  Manager to win the Cup.
Chelsea would go on to record the seventh English win in the European Cup-Winners Cup, the only English team to win it twice. Their victory came in the Cup’s penultimate season: it’s reputation had seriously declined and a decision was taken to abolish it after the 1998/99 season.
In 1988, Arsenal emulated Manchester United by winning their Second Double, though this came twenty-seven years after their first. Arsenal were also the first team to win the Cup after progressing through two penalty shoot-outs, the second of these in the semi-final. Their opponents at Wembley were Newcastle United, the third time this pair of clubs had met in the Final, the only pairing to meet more than twice. Newcastle had won both the previous encounters.
Though he was not in the match-day squad for the Final, the first in which  each team could name five substitutes, of whom only three could be used, Ian Rush had scored for Newcastle in Round Three against Everton, his 43rd goal in the FA Cup. Like his five in Finals, this is a Cup record that stands until today: no player has scored more Cup goals.
This year saw ITV replace BBC as the terrestrial TV broadcaster. Because of Arsenal’s Double, Newcastle became the last English team to qualify for the Cup-Winners Cup, alongside holders Chelsea.
This was another Final that I refused to watch, the reason this time being the teams playing. In every Final where I did not have a personal stake in the outcome, I could always settle upon one team to support. It seemed as necessary as breathing. I cannot be perfectly neutral, perfectly disinterested. I need some element of passion, however spurious or brief. How this was to be determined depended on multiple factors: sometimes, I would support one side because I couldn’t stand the other. This Final presented me with a conundrum. I couldn’t stand Arsenal and their manager Arsene Wenger, and wanted them to lose. On the other hand, I couldn’t stand Newcastle manager, Kenny Dalglish, and wanted them to lose.
So I went up to the Lake District for a day’s walking and managed to avoid learning the result until the Sunday paper was delivered.
Arsenal had equaled Manchester United’s record of winning the Double twice. Practically the whole 1998/99 season, in League and Cup, was a struggle between the two teams to become the first club to win it three times.
Before this reached a head in the semi-final, there was a sensation in Round Five involving Arsenal, who defeated Sheffield United thanks to a controversial goal, breaking the unwritten ‘rule’ about returning the ball to opponents who had knocked it out of play to allow medical treatment for an injured player. Manager Arsene Wenger offered to replay the game, which Arsenal won second time round.
Neck-and-neck in the Premier League, Arsenal and United were drawn together in the semi-final, where a properly dramatic draw would have paired them at Wembley. The game was goalless with David Elleray once again at the heart of controversy, disallowing a valid United goal over a misinterpretation of the offside rule.
This set the scene for the last ever semi-final replay. Ellary sent off United captain Roy Keane and disallowed an offside Arsenal winning goal. United saved a last minute penalty and the game was won in extra-time by a goal from Ryan Giggs that was immediately hailed as one of the greatest ever scored in Cup history.
United’s win prevented the first case of back-to-back Finals with identical teams since Blackburn Rovers vs Queen’s Park, in 1885 and 1886. They duly completed their Third Double in six seasons (and the fourth in that same period) before going on to win the Champions League Final, and complete the Treble that they had denied to Liverpool in 1977. Almost unnoticed, United extended their record as Cup Winners to ten. As the Cup-Winners Cup no longer existed, Newcastle United became the first English club to qualify for the UEFA Cup by this route.
Much was (unavailingly) expected and feared of the Millennium. For the Cup, it was a progression into the third Century of its existence, and it was also the seventy second and last Final to be played at the Empire Stadium Wembley, with its famous Twin Towers. To their everlasting shame, defending holders Manchester United withdrew from the Cup, the only winners to fail to defend their trophy. United were under pressure to play in the FIFA World Club Championship in South America, in the misguided belief that it would support the FA’s bid to host the 2006 World Cup. The Championship would have clashed with the Cup’s Fourth Round, and the suggestion that United muster a team of reserves and juniors for that Round – assuming they would reach it, which was not a given – was dismissed as an insult to the Cup. How that could have been worse than simply refusing to play – as holders – is hard to understand.
The FA Cup’s prestige was delivered a blow, by the people charged with maintaining its history and tradition. In one moment, that was discarded, and the Cup’s meaning, except for romantics such as myself, has diminished ever since.
To accommodate United’s absence from the Third Round draw, the FA opted to re-include a ‘lucky loser’, a random Second Round victim. This fell upon Darlington, the only club ever to get a second Cup life. They were promptly beaten by  the eventual Finalists, Aston Villa.
There was a big shock in Round Five when League Two (i.e., fourth tier) club Gillingham beat Premier League Sheffield Wednesday, but their hopes were crushed in the quarter-finals by eventual winners, Chelsea.
With the demolition of the Empire Stadium, and its replacement to be paid for, the FA dispensed with the neutral ground tradition in favour of the increased gate money and brought the semi-finals to Wembley again. This was a foretaste of the eventual decision to make Wenbley the semi-finals’ permanent home. Chelsea kept Newcastle from reaching a third successive Final whilst Aston Villa reached their first Final since setting their seven win record in 1957, thanks to a penalty shoot-out.
But the last Old Wembley Final went to Chelsea, the claret and blue shirts finishing on the losing side as they had in the very first on that ground, with Roberto di Matteo scoring for Chelsea in the Final a second time.
So, for the first time in seventy-eight years, the Cup Final needed a new home. It was suggested that Old Trafford, Manchester, be used, as the stadium with the greatest capacity in England, but instead the FA chose to take the Final away from England, agreeing to utilise the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for the five years it was estimated it would take for the new Wembley to be constructed (it would, in practice, take six years).
Manchester United returned to the competition they had dishonoured, winning 2-1 away at Fulham in the Third Round, but beaten in unusual circumstances at home by West Ham United in the Fourth Round, when an attempted bluff by goalkeeper Fabien Barthez failed to deter Paolo di Canio from scoring the only goal.
There was a shock in the Fifth Round thanks to second tier Tranmere Rovers, who came from 3-0 down to Premier League Southampton to win 4-3, thanks to a hat trick by former Southampton striker Paul Rideout, scorer of the winning goal in  the 1995 Final for Everton, but it was overshadowed by fourth tier Wycombe Wanderers in the next round, by beating Leicester City 2-1, their late winner coming from a player who had only recently joined the club after seeing a newspaper advertisement.
Wycombe made history by becoming the first fourth tier team to reach the semi-finals, where they were only narrowly beaten by Liverpool, all three goals coming in the last twelve minutes.
The other semi-final was the third meeting at this stage between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. Surprisingly, after the FA’s sincere concerns about capacity for such a meeting, the clubs managed perfectly well at Old Trafford, Manchester. Then again, Old Trafford did hold more than 70,000 by that time, so everybody was happy, except perhaps for the fans, with both sets of supporters having to travel over 250 miles – on the same routes – to reach the venue.
The Spurs fans were certainly the unhappiest: for once, their Cup affinity with years ending in 1 let them down.
The first wholly Twenty-First Century Cup saw the first Final to be held outside England. There was no score until Arsenal took the lead, twelve minutes from time, and looked to have secured the Cup, but two late goals from Michael Owen turned the game around, and it was Liverpool who ended the thirteenth decade as Cup-Winners, exactly as they had started it.
This was the fourth, and to date last Final that I missed watching, and for the same reason as 1998: Arsenal? Liverpool? What joy can be had from watching a Final where you desperately want both teams to lose, and one must win?
The FA Cup was now 130 years old. But at last it was beginning to show its years. It wasn’t just the indignities shown to it during its thirteenth decade, many of them practiced by the men who were supposed to be respecters and guardians of its heritage, record and glamour. But football as a whole underwent a massive change in the Nineties, thanks to Sky TV. Millions were poured into the game, much more than the game that had once been the province of sportsmanlike Public schoolboys and hard-nosed working class men alike had ever seen. And money changed everything, in many ways for the better but, for good or ill, it changed things irrevocably.
If it was about anything, Sky TV was about control, which came from exclusivity. But it couldn’t show the FA Cup exclusively. The Final was still a ‘Crown Jewel’, a Protected event that had to be shown free-to-air. So the Cup didn’t get what the Premier League and the Champions League got. These became the money-pots, the tournaments to win. Glamour is all very well, but it doesn’t pay for that new record signing who doesn’t know that once upon a time you won one of the most exciting FA Cup Finals ever.
This was demonstrated vividly by the scheduling of the Final. For the first time, the Final was deliberately scheduled to be played a week before the end of the League season. Though the day was cleared for the Final itself, nevertheless one final round of matches (with nothing but relegation to settle, Manchester United having won the League at a canter) was scheduled for the week after the Final.
The men who ran the FA betrayed the Cup, betrayed football, for the smell of the money. Weak men in power, a dangerous, indeed fatal combination. Nothing was safe in their hands, not if the chance of an extra buck was dangled before them. Everything was for sale, even the FA Cup.
This degradation of the Cup would only rise through its next, and last complete decade so far.

WINNERS
(all Finals played at the Empire Stadium, Wembley unless otherwise stated)

1991/92   Liverpool 2 Sunderland 0
1992/93    Arsenal 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1 (aet)
R:   Arsenal 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1 (aet)
1993/94   Manchester United 4 Chelsea 0
1994/95   Everton 1 Manchester United 0
1995/96  Manchester United 1 Liverpool 0
1996/97   Chelsea 2 Middlesbrough 0
1997/98   Arsenal 2 Newcastle United 0
1998/99  Manchester United 2 Newcastle United 0
1999/2000 Chelsea 1 Aston Villa 0
2000/01  Liverpool 2 Arsenal 1 (Millennium Stadium, Cardiff)

The third decade of the FA Cup’s second century featured only eleven clubs, and only five winners, this latter equalling only the previous decade. Manchester United, with three again, were the most successful team again, and there were two wins for Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. Only Everton disturbed the ‘Big Four’ clubs in their dominance. Each of the ‘Big Four’ appeared in one losing Final as well as their wins, and, with the exception of Everton, each of the other one-timers went down to defeat, including Middlesbrough, the Decade’s only First-Tine Finalists. But Manchester United have to be the team of the decade, each of their three wins being Doubles and, in the case of the third of these, a Treble unprecedented amongst the major Leagues of Europe (a formulation chosen to obscure the fact that, in 1967, Glasgow Celtic had gone one better than everyone). ‘Big Four’ domination would continue into the next decade, as the romance of the Cup, and its unpredictability diminished even further.

End-of-Term Report: Lucifer


An all together more convincing Devil

Having already made my opinions clear about the TV version of Lucifer, in no uncertain terms, an End-of-Term Report may be regarded as otiose. Lucifer has come to the end of its thirteen episode first season, and it has been renewed for a second season. After the current season finale, it would appear that substantial changes are on the way, with two cast members being rendered hors de combat (though there’s nothing to stop the series coming back to Malcolm in Hell next year), and we were treated to a final word cliffhanger climax that gave us the line for season 2.

Nevertheless, I will not be playing in this particular sandpit next year.

I knew from the outset not to expect the TV Lucifer to emulate the Mike Carey/Neil Gaiman character from the Vertigo series. Those were, and still are, just not the kind of stories that can be adapted to television with any fidelity, and that is not going to change in my lifetime.

They deal with profound and fundamental issues concerning Predestination and Free Will, and a relationship between Lucifer Morningstar and God, his Father, that in the nature of the two beings/entities, was plainly incapable of resolution. Lucifer’s pride, his arrogance, every atom of him demanded something that could not be given: he could not cease to be, or ever have been, the creation of his Father. All Lucifer could, eventually achieve, was to remove himself, to go forever beyond the reach and presence of his Creator. He could not uncreate that Creator.

Carey’s series dealt with heavy issues, issues that many of the religious could not have helped but see as blasphemous. Fox were prepared to deny the Christians enough to present ‘Lucifer’ as hero/anti-hero, but not to tackle anything serious whilst they were at it.

No, all I hoped for was Lucifer himself, Lucifer as defined by Carey, and Gaiman, and John Milton before them. Cold, callous, invincible, reeking with ancient authority, superior, never at a loss, calm, polite, gracious, consumed by himself and his wants alone. In Carey’s hands, Lucifer was in control, supercilious and often tremendously funny in how he allowed no pomposity or presumption, not even in himself.

But that’s not the Lucifer we were given nor, in retrospect, do I think that portrayal was ever possible. That would to have accorded too much to the Devil, to have drawn down too much disapprobation, of a kind that couldn’t be shrugged off or laughed away.

So Lucifer was not, and was never going to be what I wanted it to be. Was what it was any  good in itself?

Well, I’ve already made it plain that I don’t think so, not for a second. It was hard to try and see Lucifer for itself, let alone judge it, and I’m afraid I never managed a clear-eyed look. Because Lucifer the tv series was, from start to finish, a cheap giggle, a deeply unserious thing, daring to believe it was transgressive, when in truth it never exceeded the level of a twelve-year old virgin who still found wank-jokes to be the height of humour.

Well before we reached the depths of having the Lord of Hell, the Prince of Darkness called ‘Lucy’, Tom Ellis’s portrayal was of an ultimately shallow, fayly-giggling, retarded adolescent who combined an unheathily juvenile interested mainly through blatantly obvious knob-jokes, overlaid by a nudge-nudge, wink-wink air of perversion that was outdated in the dark ages when homosexuals were fairies and pooftahs and all behaved like that.

TV Lucifer’s evil and transgressive nature was reduced to toilet-wall sexuality, whilst its serious side, when it came to the crime-of-the-week was if anything even more demeaning. Lucifer’s ageless intelligence, his infinite subtlety, was reduced to that of a brainless clown shrieking around, banging his head on a completely irrelevant brick wall that everyone his inferior  has already identified as propping up somebody else’s kitchen in a different city. Lucifer’s complete blindness to what has been going on around him has been embarrassing to watch: satanist cults should really have been suing for defamation long before now.

Along the way, there were a couple of moments when the show stepped out of its limited and grubby little pen to deal with things of higher moment. The thing  with Lucifer’s wings came to absolutely nothing, at which point I lost all hopes I had for it ever getting better, and there was a potentially interesting scene in the penultimate episode which was swamped by the morass of what had gone before.

This involved Lucifer hurt, rattled, despairing of ever escaping the blame for sin and evil. Lucifer is not himself Evil: he is Lord of Hell because that is how he was punished by God, but he is not evil, he does not solicit evil, he is there solely to punish. Lucifer is the victim of the longest ever misappropriation of blame.

Too little, too late to turn the tide of what had gone before, and too implausible in the light of the horrified boy scout act Lucifer was putting on at the sight of cultists killing people. I’m sorry, Lord of Hell, punisher of Evil for how many millennia is it, and you’re trying to sell me on your feeling shock and disgust at one ritual slaying? Oh, no.

The final episode, which began with Lucifer under arrest by Chloe Decker for a murder of which he was being framed was, quite frankly, an incomprehensible morass, with neither the writers nor the show-runners knowing what to do except throw in several stainless steel kitchen  sinks and hear them go crash! It was desperately stupid from every angle and I don’t propose to try to explain any of it.

As for the set-up for next year, at one point Lucifer is killed and goes back to Hell, only for God to grant his request for a favour and restore him to Earth, provided Lucifer re-enters his service and hunts down a single escapee from Hell. An escapee who frightens Lucifer. Who is this season 2 big bad? Why, it’s Mummy.

Lucifer clearly has its fans and they can enjoy the show without me. I confess that I only stuck it out to the end just to see what the end would be, and I have no qualms about steering a wide berth in season 2. The teaser doesn’t tempt me, far from it, and I will leave you to come up with your own reasons for why, on every possible level there could be, it is such a dumbfuck idea to have your Big Bad be Mrs God.

Good luck.