Tuesday, 21 December 2021

Reality TV has a purpose

I've been thinking about my prejudices again in my long and torturous process of trying to become more of a human being. What prompted this? Strictly Come Dancing, actually.

The final, featuring Rose Ayling Ellis and John Whaite after A J Odudu had to pull out with injury was wonderful heart-warming TV, even if it was too much of a tear-fest for misery mush Piers Morgan.

At the start of the series I couldn't figure out how a deaf person could perform well in a dance competition. But I was even more sure I wouldn't warm to two blokes dancing together. Oh, I've long since stopped having any hang up about gay couples. And I've enjoyed watching blokes dance together before: in particular a rather macho, athletic Cirque du Soleil performance showed breath taking control with slow and precise movements, requiring impressive strength. And blokes dancing together side by side has been well established in song and dance routines for many decades - Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in White Christmas from 1954 for example. But in ballroom hold?

I was concerned that the producers wouldn't give the full range of dances to John and his partner Johannes Radebe. It's seemed obvious to some of us cynics for many series that some couples seem to get remarkably favourable breaks in what dances they have to do, so I rather expected John and JoJo to be given dances that suited them. In other words to benefit from favouritism from the producers. 

For any male celebrity the rumba is a "wild card" which can stymie their chances of making progress, as it is notoriously the hardest dance to get a good score from the judges. OK, I could see a tango or paso doble working but a waltz? A foxtrot? The time in the competition that a contestant has to tackle a particular dance can easily seal their fate. One thing the Beeb has never made clear is how the dances and the music are chosen. I assume it's not random...

In the event it was Rhys Stephenson who arguably got the favours - no rumba and not much ballroom either, after week one. He was a decent dancer but so much better out of hold so I wondered whether this was the Beeb protecting its own, Stephenson being a CBeebies presenter. 

My fears about John and Johannes though were totally unfounded. They were given the rumba in week 7 which could have proved very dangerous for their prospects. But they produced such a good and compelling dance that, when it they repeated it in the final, it equalled the best ever score for a rumba in a main series of Strictly - 39 points (Craig has only ever given a rumba a ten in a Christmas special). The only male celebrities to achieve that previously have been Matt Di Angelo, way back in 2007 and the imperious Jay McGuinness of Pulp Fiction jive fame in 2015.

Indeed John was given more ballroom than latin dances. While he was very competent at ballroom this didn't do him any favours. Possibly to avoid the ballroom dances looking too much like a pastiche (ok, guilty, I suppose I mean "too gay") Johannes choreographed the dances with the two men alternating as lead. While this worked well it increased the degree of difficulty. Although John coped well with it the simple fact is it didn't always look "right". And if it doesn't look like a tango, guess what: it isn't a tango. This was reflected in the judges scores. 

Perhaps surprisingly, Rose had the lowest average score going into the final. She had the highest average ballroom score of the semi-finalists but much the lowest latin score. I don't remember the exact number and I'm not going to crunch a spreadsheet but it was below 30. Indeed, she was perhaps fortunate not to get a latin dance after week 7. John had the highest average score and the highest latin score of the finalists with a ballroom score of about 32. A J was actually the best all-round dancer, with a very even split between ballroom and latin, around 34. It was unfortunate she couldn't compete in the final but I suspect she also couldn't compete with the narrative Rose and John had going with the public.

And anyway, although the Beeb's data crunchers never seem to leak, we can be pretty sure Rose's public vote was off the scale all through the competition. There could only be one winner - and she was a worthy winner. It was wonderful to watch her grow in confidence through the series and to see how her professional partner, Giovanni Pernice, rose to the challenge (sorry) of communicating with her,  empathically as much as telepathically. Unlike rumba, "Couples Choice" is an open invitation to a high score, but their dance was exceptionally moving. And her "leap of faith" into Gio's outstretched hands in her American Smooth was the "wow" moment of the series for me. (Though John and JoJo's bagette sequence in the Charleston was memorable. No, "baguette" isn't a euphemism: if you haven't seen it, find the video and watch). 

On the night, if I'd had to choose, I would have voted for John.

So in the end I had no problem with two blokes dancing ballroom together. There is a proviso, though. We warm to contestants on shows like Strictly partly by how they respond to the challenge as competitors and partly by what they're like as people. Though you can never fully see the real person on the screen, John Whaite seems to be a fantastic bloke: warm, cheerful, friendly, talented - so light on his feet and by far the most precise dancer of the finalists from what we could see - and hugely supportive of his rather touchingly emotional pro partner. He didn't expect to win on the night and didn't seem too bothered either way. He wanted to give of his best and he gave us wonderful entertainment. For example:

Part of the reason I didn't know beforehand if I could stomach two blokes dancing in Strictly was because I hadn't enjoyed watching two women dancing together in the previous series. But the reason for this is now completely clear to me. Unlike some people I have no problem with Nicola's partner, Katya Jones, who seemed to lose public support over a dalliance with her partner in 2018, Seann Walsh. What I remember is her amazing choreography for their Matrix themed dance in musicals week, with its portrayal of the slo-mo bullet dodging scene. What was really amazing was that it transpired Walsh wasn't actually a very good dancer, but boy she made him look like one that week. So my problem was with Nicola, whose exploits I had admired winning her boxing golds at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. It turned out she didn't come across as likeable. Worse, she was one of those contestants who thinks she is doing much better at dancing than she actually is.

For me that's not prejudice: I'm entitled to not like people.

And I've decided reality TV does have a purpose. It allows us to identify with people from different backgrounds to ourselves, be it Rose and the deaf community, John's wonderful warmth as a gay man, AJ's ebullient enthusiasm, albeit always on the verge of becoming over-powering or some vacuous tattoed contestant in Love Island. We can see the world for a moment through the eyes of others.

And understand a little bit more, empathise a bit more and, hopefully, become more inclusive and accepting of people as a result.

Of course, it was great entertainment too, otherwise I wouldn't watch.

And no, I don't watch Love Island and don't intend to start. There are limits!

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Apartheid in the UK

University staff are striking and one of the reasons is a proposal to cut their pension benefits to maintain the funding in the scheme. 

Nearly everyone in a private sector final salary scheme - not many still exist - has long since had to pay in more, retire later, receive a lower pension or a combination of the above. The large increases in life expectancy seemed to catch pensions actuaries on the hop in the 1990s. Schemes were nominally overfunded and I recall employer's taking contribution holidays. I also remember the first time I realised that tide had turned as my company's employer's contributions had rocketed from the holiday level of 4% to the standard 7.5 and then on to 10 and 11%. This would have been 2001 and our pensions advisers briefed me on the reasons as we had to answer due diligence questions on a business we were selling. I remember predicting to Mrs H that we would read a lot more about pensions in the coming years. By the end of the decade most private sector pension schemes had been restructured, at best with individuals given a choice over pay more, retire later or take less. The more usual and more guaranteed solution for companies was to draw a line under benefits earned to date, preserving what individuals had already paid for and start over with a money purchase pension. But here we are nearly two decades later and the notional deficit on public sector schemes still yawns large even after some changes were made 6 years ago. I say notional but it isn't really - it means future taxpayers, our childen and grandchildren, will have to meet the shortfall. I doubt the university staff see themselves as inter-generational looters but I could easily argue that they are.

Much of the recent publicity about public sector pensions has concerned hospital consultants, where the NHS is so poor at administration that it allows key employees to inadvertently stumble into incurring huge tax bills for working extra hours and breaching the lifetime limit. Ah but you need to be a high roller to do that, I hear you think. Nope, not really.

And, while the NHS has a stonkingly good pension scheme, it's the judges and civil servants who have the best. Their benefits build up faster, they pay in less and their employers pay in more - equivalent to up to 30% of salary. When you read about public sector pay being higher than private this huge extra benefit isn't usually counted along with pay. Of course it should be as a pension is simply deferred salary.

Here are some numbers, courtesy of a recent Sunday Times article.

A civil service manager on average pay (I assume having worked the maximum 40 years that count at that average salary as even the civil service scheme isn't final salary any more) would receive a pension of £47,215 a year. For tax purposes that is equivalent to a lump sum pension pot of £944,300.

But to get that same payout from a money purchase pension, with inflation indexing and spouse's benefits, a pot of £1.77 million would have to be built up. In principle you could pay in about £1300 a month for 40 years to do it. However, the lifetime allowance is £1.073 million after which large tax charges are incurred, so it would actually be very difficult to achieve. The Sunday Times estimated that if you were auto-enrolled into a private scheme and earning the same as the civil servant you would have to pay into the scheme for 73 years to be able to afford equivalent benefits. I don't know if they've allowed for the tax in that hypothetical calculation but it seems academic.

You could do it more quickly if your pay package (salary plus pension) was actually equivalent to the civil service manager's. This would probably mean a salary of something like £65k to 'match' the civil servant's £50k. By paying something like 30% of your salary (and ending up with roughly the same take home pay) you would think it might be possible. But no. That lifetime limit and tax charge would make the hurdle much higher. There is a 55% tax above that limit, so I think that means you'd have to stash away a total of nearly £2.5 million to achieve the pot of £1.77 million. 

I might not have this quite right but you get the drift. To get the same pension as the civil servant the private sector employee might have to be earning 50% more and make colossal monthly contributions. For practical purposes it's impossible.

The gap between public and private sector pensions was reported to be the largest in the developed world 5 years ago. No wonder the comparison has often been referred to as a 'pensions apartheid'. 

I have friends who work or have worked in the public sector who say it's not their fault that the private sector can't offer equivalent pensions. I'm sorry but that's just not right. Public sector pensions are building up unsustainable deficits and are relying on being bailed out by future taxpayers while the tax playing field is rigged against their private sector equivalents.

What can be done?

Firstly, while the pensions regulator provides advice and information for those charged with running some public sector pension schemes I don't think it has powers to require higher contributions to maintain viability, as it does for private sector schemes. If not it should be charged with doing so, or at least reporting on it, a bit like the OBR  is there to keep the Treasury honest.

Secondly the pensions lifetime limit needs a serious overhaul. I don't know how much tax it brings in - I suspect not much directly though it probably increased income tax receipts by switching excessive payments free of tax into pensions to taxable income. But as there are limits on what can be paid in why is a lifetime limit also needed? Logically it isn't. It also penalises wise investment as no distinction is drawn between payments in and  investment returns. This has all gone badly wrong from Gordon Brown's tax on pensions to George Osborne's ill thought out impositions.

Thirdly all public sector pay ought to be quoted as its full package cost of pay plus pension. It would be an eye opener. The university lecturers are on strike over their pay and pension. OK, bring it on.  Pension is deferred pay and they should be considered together. Let's negotiate on their full package compared with private sector equivalents. 

Either that or maybe all the private sector baby boomers should go and stage a sit in back at their old universities. 

The current situation is indefensible.

  • How to match a civil service pension. Clue: it may take you 73 years. Sunday Times 27 November

Monday, 29 November 2021

The more there is of mine the less there is of yours

... said the Duchess. The quote is, of course, from Alice in Wonderland. I'm reminded of it by the mess the government has got itself into over the new care costs cap of £86k announced only in September.  The government has clarified that, as an individual's assets reduce below £100k and means testing comes into place, with councils making a contribution from the public purse so that the individual's dwindling assets last a bit longer, the contribution from the council does not count towards the £86k cap. People still have to shell out until they've coughed up £86k of their own money.

I must say I was astounded at the reaction. What part of an £86k cap on an individual's contribution would you expect to come from someone else, Alice?

To be fair I hadn't realised the original government announcement implied that the £86k cap wasn't really an £86k cap. And so those in high dudgeon have a point. Kind of.

It is that the cap hits folk in low cost housing areas (mainly but not exclusively the north) disproportionately. Sure, if you are wealthy, you'll never get the benefit of this council funded taper and will hit the £86k cap first. And in all probability have more left over once the cap comes in. So yes, the cap implies that rich people will pay the same and retain more than less affluent individuals. But that was always implicit in a cap.

Sir Richard Dilnott apparently predicted this situation in his original report, aeons ago and says the government has now got it wrong. But wait: Dilnott and others could have framed it the other way round: there's a minimum you can keep rather than a maximum you have to pay. Yes, I know that wouldn't work for the Tories. And might not work in a revenue generating sense: it's a perennial rule that you only generate a lot of tax by hitting ordinary people, not just the "rich". But in principle you could devise a progressive tax-like system. Except the government having inherited a situation where everyone had sat on their hands for more than a decade, had to do something quick, not good, so didn't have time to devise anything complicated.

Notwithstanding the current storm in a teacup, the real problem is that the government didn't "fix social care". Indeed it hasn't yet tried. It came up with a hastily devised revenue generating tax and a boosted cap to protect most people's assets to some extent. A cap will always favour the wealthy though the decision was, initially, almost pathetically well received in the less affluent areas characterised as 'red wall'. When you don't have so much you may be very grateful to keep some of it. Indeed a higher proportion in some cases, when you factor in inheritance tax thresholds. 

But isn't that the problem? The solution not only didn't address the actual issue of provision and quality of care, it left more rather than fewer anomalies in the way the care costs cap works with inheritance tax, when logically it was an IHT issue the government was actually addressing not a care costs issue. 

I don't know what those red wall voters, let alone Alice, will say when they realise the cap only applies to personal care, not 'hotel' costs. I don't know the balance but I'd have thought the hotel costs were the larger component. In a kind of cost-price averaging, nursing care home residents all pay the same weekly cost (in my experience) irrespective of their actual care needs. So if you need a lot of care, the others in your nursing home who don't end up subbing you. Just as the self funders sub the local authority funded residents, who pay a block rate driven down by bargaining power, to the short term benefit of council tax payers but creating even more anomalies and lower funding for a chronically underfunded service.

This could get messier yet. As I predicted in my post of 9 September Taxing Times, which noted that the PM didn't have a plan for social care, he had a funding mechanism which was actually more about protecting the value of people's houses than anything else.

And his problem is - that's what a lot of people thought, not just me.

Thursday, 25 November 2021

It's all an act

It won't surprise readers that I struggle with some of the concepts often brigaded under the banner of 'woke'. For example, I pondered aloud to Mrs H today that it didn't seem very inclusive that I can't be a lesbian. Unless, I went on to say, I first declare myself to be a trans woman, then - presumably - I could. Sort of.  Maybe I am getting the hang of it?

But I still can't get my mind round this next one. 

Without becoming a trans woman I could act the role of a lesbian. OK, I might need some drama lessons and a good dose of wardrobe and make up, but in principle I might achieve the credible appearance and some of the other attributes of a lesbian.

However, for many in the field of drama this is a no-no: they take the view that only gay people should be cast gay roles on TV and in film. I note in passing that this would appear to be a counter-productive stance for gay actors, condemning them to a minority of roles, since obviously and inter alia if only gays can play gays, logically they couldn't play straight roles.

I reflect on all this having read in last weekend's newspaper that Connor Curren, an autistic actor, has been cast in the role of Christopher Boone, who has characteristics similar to autism, in the National Theatre's production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time. It's great for him to have that opportunity and good luck to him. The piece went on to quote Russell T Davies, who cast gay actors in the lead roles in Channel 4's It's A Sin: "You wouldn't cast someone able-bodied in a wheelchair, you wouldn't black someone up. Authenticity is leading us to joyous places". I can buy that as well, though I'm waiting for a white person to play a black person without blacking up as it's been done the other way round quite often. But journalist Liam Kelly went on to say:

"Attitudes have changed rapidly in the past few years. While Eddie Redmayne won critical acclaim and awards for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and a transgender woman in The Danish Girl released in 2014 and 2015 respectively, his casting in those roles might have produced a backlash were it to happen now".

And that's where I struggle. Redmayne brilliantly portrayed the cruel journey of Hawking's form of motor neurone disease from an able bodied man through to someone unable to speak let alone walk. But, reductio ad absurdum, how could someone who can't walk let alone speak portray the young Hawking?

In the limit if you are only allowed to act who you are, the only person you could portray would be yourself. And that's not acting.

Hopefully Connor Curren will in due course be considered for a full range of roles, not just people with autistic characteristics. But the converse also applies.

* Neurodiversity hands autistic actor his big break, Sunday Times 21 November

Friday, 19 November 2021

Tipping point reached?

There are some words that just seem to go together in the mind of the public and the sub editors who write newspaper headlines. "Sleaze" goes with "Tory" just as "militants" goes with "left wing".  The most remarkable thing about the present government crisis (for that's what it feels like) is that is entirely of its own making. Oh, there have been plenty of stories about PPE contracts and so on but the current situation was precipitated entirely by the prime minister's crashing lack of awareness in putting government support behind the original Commons vote on standards, apparently trying to retrospectively change rules to protect Owen Paterson.

It seems that even with a majority of 80 the PM is still not confident in taking on (or just ignoring) his backbench "Spartans". There was then a bizarre attempt to outflank Labour on poorly thought out new restrictions on MP's activities.

Banning second jobs for backbench MPs is, for me, a non-starter. After all, being a government minister is a very distracting second job which must diminish the attention of MPs to their constituents. So there is no argument on grounds of focus on constituents unless we go French style. The legislature and executive are totally separate in France: their equivalent of an MP has to resign if offered a ministerial post. That would be a fundamental change in the UK. It would deter many from standing. Lawyers and doctors are examples of many occupations who need to continue working at some level to preserve qualifications if they wish to be able to resume their career when subjected to the whim of the electorate.

Restricting the earnings of an MP to an arbitrary level seems daft. You mean it's ok to be distracted by poorly paid work but not to get paid a lot for doing less work? I suppose you could say preserving high earnings is a potential distraction and presents more risk of corruption but it's still a weird kind of proto-communist levelling down, that one.

However, the real problem for the PM is that the mud suddenly seems to be sticking, when you look at these headlines from just three days worth of normally Tory supporting newspapers, the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail, aka 'the paper that preaches hate' (© Democracy Man):

It seems they hate everyone, including Tories... 

Some of their examples of the "Tories-on-the-take club" were very odd, mind. Nick Fletcher, MP for Don Valley, was listed for being vice-chairman of the All-party Parliamentary Group on electric vehicles while also being a director of electric vehicle charging point firm Analogue Electrics. I'm not sure if the paper was suggesting that is a conflict of interest but, if so, only in the way anyone actually knowing something about a subject could be said to be tainted. It was also observed that he receives a company car, phone and health insurance worth £800 a month which doesn't seem particularly excessive to me but then the last time I had a company car over 13 years ago I'm sure even then with private health insurance it was worth over £800 a month. (The car was nice but not that swanky: a Mercedes E class, used  by the Germans as taxis). I remember the tax made the perk effectively neutral from an income point of view but it saved some hassle in terms of fixing insurance and servicing etc. So this snippet made me wonder not about sleaze but why companies still offer lease cars instead of just paying the benefit as money, which my company soon did so it didn't have the pain of operating a lease car fleet.

Fletcher also benefited to the grand amount of £2,000 paid as a political donation by his firm - not at all unusual I'd have thought, you'd hope your own company might provide modest support after all. Maybe the Mail has an aversion to a firm trying to influence the government to install more electric vehicle charging points? But, shock horror, he also has shares in his firm! If this is on the take I suggest the Daily Mail looks through some expenses claims in the public sector for an eye opener, with its generous overnight allowances for civil servants that they don't actually have to spend on their trips.

Filling up newspaper columns with such ridiculous tittle tattle along with the genuinely dodgy, like guaranteed seats in the Lords for party donations, dilutes the message for me but presumably the Mail thinks that a double page spread of such nonsense will make the problem look bigger.

Nevertheless, I wonder if a tipping point has been reached, just as it was with John Major's government in the 90s after the "cash for questions" scandal involving a government minister (Neil Hamilton) and the oddity of David Mellor's defenstration clashing with Major's "back to basics" message. These cases seem almost small beer now, especially Mellor who was stitched up by the press and a kiss and tell lover willing to lie. (Though the Chelsea shirt part of the story still makes me smirk). 

In the Major government's case the sleaze accusations combined with the "Black Wednesday" financial fiasco when the flawed strategy of being in the exchange rate mechanism came home to roost. Of course it should really be called "White Wednesday" (and is by some people) because from that point on the British economy recorded unusually solid growth for 16 years all the way through the the global financial crisis in 2008. The policy shift meant joining the euro was no longer a goal (though it took a while for Blair and some others to accept that) and the modern financial framework with its so far robust but soon to be tested inflation target came in to being.

Nevertheless, though with hindsight White Wednesday saved the UK economy from an awful fate, Major's government lost its reputation for competence at the same time as probity. I remember it feeling like the electorate had already decided to kick them out at the next election. Has the same tipping been been reached for Johnson?

There are some differences. Johnson's party has lost its reputation for low taxation after increasing it to the highest level since world war II. But perhaps not yet for economic competence. However if, as I fear, the current inflationary spike does not prove transitory it will do so. Once such a reputation is lost it is very difficult to regain before the electoral cycle rolls round. After all, Major's government with Ken Clarke as chancellor turned into one of the most competent governments we've seen in a long time, bequeathing a benign economic environment and a burgeoning economy to Blair and Brown. Johnson's government is an accident prone, strategy free zone in comparison.

But the other difference is that firstly John Smith and Tony Blair made Labour look electable after Neil Kinnock had turned the tide against the militants. Keir Starmer is a long way off that pace, though he has made progress sidelining the Corbynites. Blair and Brown continued to ruthlessly eliminate the negatives. But Blair also transmitted an air of hope and optimism. On that point Labour still looks like a black hole.

It is also a big ask to turn over the large Tory majority in one go, which Blair didn't have to do. There are a very large number of quite tight marginals so I don't rule it out, though while the SNP hold sway where there used to be swathes of Labour MPs it seems highly unlikely.

So the see saw is tipping but it might need much more weight on the other end for the electorate to decide, as they did with Major, that come the election mate, you're out.

* Black Wednesday, 20 years on: a bad day for the Tories but not for Britain. The Guardian 13 Sept 2012,  https://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/sep/13/black-wednesday-bad-day-conservatives

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Cricket, racism and bananas

 Azeem Rafiq's testimony to the Commons DCMS select committee yesterday was a tough listen. It was compared today in a thoughtful column by Mike Atherton, the Times chief cricket correspondent, to Michael Holding's "magnificent monologue" about Black Lives Matter in the summer of 2020.

The after effects will run through cricket - and probably other sports and other institutions - for some time. As long as youngsters and their families of all backgounds aren't put off the sport the longer term impact should be positive. 

Though not for everyone: I can't see Michael Vaughan's career as a pundit continuing. Whether that is fair I can't judge. While it was Rafiq's word against Vaughan's denial we were in the usual grey area of 'not proven' but Adil Rashid's rather delayed backing for Rafiq's tesimony about what Vaughan said in 2009 will probably be decisive. 

Rafiq is a highly credible witness. And yet... Vaughan has always struck me as  a good character. I recall tipping him as a future England captain when he was first selected for the team. Though it didn't take much spotting: the sort of chap often dubbed "ideal son-in-law material". So I found the story a bit surprising. Clearly Rafiq suffered many micro and not so micro aggressions in his time at Yorkshire, though the fact that he was accompanied by at least three other ethnic minority players in the team that Vaughan is photographed addressing in 2009 and allegedly saying "there are too many of you lot" shows that those players were given more than a chance to make the team. Vaughan says he remembers the day well as a historic one for Yorkshire cricket as it was the first time four players of Asian heritage had been selected in the same Yorkshire team so he made a point of congratulating them:

While Rashid and a third player have supported Rafiq's testimony other Yorkshire players present that day, including Ajmal Shazad, have not. Witness testimony can be unreliable, especially after 12 years or so. And things people say can be misconstrued, even if the memory of the words is faultless, which may or may not be the case. Even if words like that were used, context can be all: Vaughan might have said "some people think....". But then he might not. Sky Sports footage has been unearthed which might shed light on what was said, though evidence of this type rarely proves conclusive. There didn't seem to be a lack of welcome in this scene:

Of course appearances can be deceptive and it's not great to be included only on unreasonable terms.

Vaughan will probably be colateral damage of a fight in what is clearly a good and necessary cause. One that has quite a long way to go yet in turning sport and plenty of other aspects of our life into the fair and inclusive society that most of us would want to see. After all, Rafiq's testimony was that things got worse when the Yorkshire head coach changed in 2016, so even if tempted we can't dismiss 2009 as ancient history.

The aspect I found most egregious in Rafiq's tesimony was his treatment after losing his stillborn baby son. Of course we don't know if his callous and inhuman treatment was necessarily driven by racism or just misplaced priorities by unsympathetic management. But given the overall picture it seems likely.

It is easy to wonder "why didn't you say something at the time?" but to the victim it may well feel better to keep your head down for fear of making things worse. This is why it's so important that there are rigorous complaints procedures which are applied properly in practice. And why management can't afford to turn a blind eye to low level "banter" (i.e. abuse). Or be so remote that there is no awareness of what is actually happening.

I was thinking about these issues yesterday before seeing Rafiq's testimony as the issue came up over coffee after a tight and entertaining betterball match at golf had put my group in a buoyant mood. One chap had been in the army before his current lucrative career as a train driver. He was in the Guards and was present when the first black guardsman was introduced to the mess. We went quiet as the hurt, bewilderment and anger were still there in his eyes and voice after more than three decades: "they threw bananas at him".  One of Tony's friends was designated as the new guard's "minder" to afford him at least some protection from the ongoing abuse.

In our now serious discussion about whether or not progress is being made we noted this was three decades on from the Windrush generation arriving to help us rebuild the British economy and another decade on from campaigns such as Rock Against Racism which helped to educate a generation in the 1970s. Across the board a lot of progress has been made but the worst incidents, when they occur, seem to be more hateful than ever.

Beyond the obvious aggravating factor of social media my buddy Tony has an explanation which I think has some validity. There was so much ignorance which has been lessened by education, he said. But this has made the real hard core racists, who as a result have fewer followers and copycats, much more virulent and aggressive as they see the battle being gradually lost.

This made me think back to my outrage in the 1990s when I was told one of my younger son's team-mates in the under 11s had been called the P word in a match by an opponent. I referreed the team's games on occasion and assured them if I heard anything similar when I was in charge an automatic red card would be issued. (The risk of a bit of an argument with a player's parent afterwards wouldn't have dissuaded me as those who know how much I like an argument will probably understand).

It also reminded me of my school days and the introduction of the first black pupil to our grammar school when I was about 13 or 14. The lad was in my year but not my class and, very soon after his arrival, we happened to engage each other in conversation one day as we walked away from the school for a hundred yards or so until I turned off toward's my parents' house. "What were you talking to him for?" I was subsequently challenged. "Why not?" was my response. But this was how it worked - peer pressure from the alpha males meant that this young scholar and the ones who gradually followed were cold-shouldered. So even though there was no banana throwing and very little blatant hostility the extent of integration was, to choose an odd phrase, skin deep at best.

Tony's analysis is that more and more people are refusing to follow the few who spread the poison which in turn is making them ever more aggressive.

If so we need to push harder. In that context Azeem Rafiq's brave testimony can only have helped.

Saturday, 30 October 2021

Ghost songs for Halloween

A couple of spooky ghost songs for you. 

In my ramblings on seeing Genesis Live (Turn It On Again, 28 October) I mentioned how fond I've become of Home By The Sea. The song dates from the band's transitional era moving from prog towards  more conventional pop/rock. It doesn't sound spooky - it's catchy with a singalong chorus and an addictive keyboard hook. But the song is about a burglar who breaks into a house only to feel something isn't quite right:

Then out of the dark was suddenly heard
Welcome to the home by the sea
Comin' out the woodwork through the open door
Pushing from above and below
Shadows but no substance in the shape of men
Round and down and sideways, they go
Adrift without direction, eyes that hold despair
Then as one they sign and they moan
Help us, someone, let us out of here
Living here so long undisturbed
Dreaming of the time, we were free
So many years ago
Before the time when we first heard
Welcome to the home by the sea
Aha. So the burglar isn't the first to find the house is haunted...and he gets an invitation he can't refuse:
Sit down, sit down
As we relive our lives in what we tell you
Let us relive our lives in what we tell you
Sit down, sit down, sit down
'Cause you won't get away
No, with us you will stay
For the rest of your days

Clever but spooky. You can hear the song on youtube at:


On the album and in the live show it's followed by Second Home By The Sea, an extended prog style instrumental, eventually returning to the original theme in a combined eleven minute single piece.

Home By The Sea reminds me of another clever ghost song, by Roy Harper and Dave Gilmour. Gilmour gave the music for Hope to both Roy and Pete Townshend hoping one would come up with lyrics he liked for use on one of his solo albums. Both had a go, Gilmour didn't take them up and both released versions of the song. I can see why he didn't as neither has a Gilmour feel (as the riff doesn't, to be honest). Townshend's is called White City Fighting, which really doesn't sound very Gilmour at all, though he did play on the track. 

Like Home By The Sea Harper's Hope also doesn't sound spooky with a vigorous guitar run from Jimmy Page driving through much of the song apart from a quieter middle section. It's a take on the feeling we all have of looking in the mirror and thinking we've seen a ghost, or at least a person we don't recognise anymore. Except in this song the first person is the ghost looking out of the mirror, not the one looking in:

But when the winds blow
From this direction
You may sense me there
In your reflection...

When I caught you there
In tomorrow's mirror
I thought felt you
Jump out of my skin
Throwing oil into
My blazing memories
Filling empty footsteps
I was standing in
I wanted to live forever
The same as you will too
I wanted to live forever
And everybody knew

I love that lyric "I thought I felt you jump out of my skin" and the following lines, very graphic and imaginative. So where does Roy take it now the ghost is in your skin? Well, as is often the case with Roy's songs it eventually turns to making out under the duvet or in the long grass:

She moves her body
And her whispers weave
And the world spins
And tells me that I'll never want to leave

Although on the face of it the burglar's fate in Home By The Sea is spookier, the thought of the ghost in the mirror joining you for three in a bed is pretty spooky too. But Harper's lyrics are poetic and therefore there are layers of meaning (and obscurity) the hint being "when I caught you there in tomorrow's mirror". So Roy is a ghost from the past looking at someone in the future. The song ends in a kindly way, on a positive note:

As I think of you
From this dark century
It must always be
With generosity
That we both may share
The hope in hearing
That we're not just
Spirits disappearing

Roy is implying that we humans want to leave an impression on the future, to be known to have lived and made the world a better place, living on in our DNA strands and culture we have passed on. And, in that way, forever tied to the planet, not just "spirits disappearing" into some imaginary afterlife (Harper being deeply irreligious). In other words, living forever. So the song is even more complex than it appears at first sight - a very thoughtful kind of "spooky".

You can also hear Roy, Dave and Jimmy's song on youtube, at:


Enjoy Halloween!

Thursday, 28 October 2021

Turn It On Again

My previous post waxed lyrical about the Liverpool waterfront, which we visited for a Genesis gig. Enough of the architecture, I hear you say, how was the show?

We'd been told to bring evidence of covid double vaccination or a negative test, even though this was not officially required in England. It is for nightclubs and large events in Wales, but the NHS app does not work if you are registered with a Welsh GP. You can still get the QR code via the NHS website: it comes marked "valid in England"! I'd had some technology issues getting Mrs H's but it turned out you could take your vaccination card. It also turned out that, despite there being a very long queue to get in the arena, we didn't see anyone asked to show their covid pass. They were checking handbags. Mrs H was not impressed but I observed I'd rather sit next to someone with covid than someone with a bomb*. I suspect the queue was also to limit the numbers gathering on the concourse inside. As the weather was kind it was much nicer to look out over the river Mersey in the fresh air than to be in a crush indoors.

Nevertheless, being among the perhaps 3% of people wearing a mask we still felt a bit apprehensive. Even though they were the fancy FFP3 type specially bought for the occasion rather than the standard medical mask or piece of everyday fabric. I decided feeling a pillock was acceptable and found the mask ok to wear once I got used to it.

We were on the very back row - so no-one breathing on us from behind - but not far from the stage at the side. All OK so far, but given the publicity about how frail Phil Collins has become - and he looked it as he slowly hobbled on stage with a stick towards his chair at centre stage - what would the performance be like?

Somehow I'd never seen Genesis before. I'm not sure why, being a huge fan of prog rock in it's halcyon days of the late 60s and early 70s. My first ever gig, along with the buddy I was sitting by, was Pink Floyd in 1969 and The Nice, King Crimson, Soft Machine, Yes and  others all followed over the next few years before and while I was at university. Maybe Genesis didn't play Manchester during term time or Liverpool in the vacs? Of course you can find all sorts of retrospective information on the internet and Genesis did play Manchester Free Trade Hall early in my autumn term of 1972, supporting Lindisfarne, curiously in hindsight**. I can only assume money or time priorities precluded it. Managing money probably, especially in the long first term. No student loans of course - I got the same amount of grant cheque for each of the three terms so some caution was needed to get through to Christmas***. Though I wasn't one of those students who went out and bought the whole book list at the start of the year, but waited to see which books colleagues actually found useful before shelling out, leaving more available for booze and gigs. But I missed out on Gabriel era Genesis.

Although we only spoke about it later, both Mrs H and I had some concerns in the first couple of songs. From the big screens, which always tend to take your attention, we couldn't help noticing that Collins didn't just look very old but seemed to be gurning or in some discomfort as he turned his head to one side while trying to hit notes, as you can see in this rather poor photo:

But it often takes singers a couple of songs to warm up and, as Collins got into his stride, I began to think that he probably always tilted his head and pulled faces as he sang. Which indeed youtube videos over the years confirm, though if you go far enough back the beard conceals some of the grimacing. And what I thought was a rather forced vocal is actually how he has always sung, when you listen back to the records, notwithstanding him winning Grammy awards two years running for best male pop vocal performance in the 1980s.

These things are always more obvious when you see a live performance. When I finally got to see Jethro Tull in the 1990s (another super band I somehow missed in the 70s) my first thought was that Ian Anderson couldn't actually sing anymore, as his voice went up and down as if on a staircase rather than smoothly. But when I listened back to the records he'd always sung that way, it had just become slightly more accentuated and noticeable with age (and the recordings would have been "good" takes).

By the fourth song, Mama, a favourite of both me and Mrs H (and their biggest UK hit single, we were both surprised to find) Collins was at full throttle. As the set progressed he was able to project far more personality from his chair than one might have expected possible. His band mates Banks and Rutherford are fine musicians and played well, Banks looking somewhat distant and edgy, Rutherford looking relaxed and smiley. Probably entirely in normal character, as old photos confirm. Here is Rutherford on screen: 

Daryl Stuermer on guitars - he has played with Genesis since 1977 - and Collins's 20 year old son Nic on drums were superb. Collins had the reinforcement of two backing singers but much of his vocals appeared to be rendered solo.

As for the set the mix of songs across the Genesis eras worked well, but then it was very similar to the set they played when they last toured 14 years ago. Mrs H declared the "prog doodlings" to be brief enough to be tolerable, while I thought they perhaps could have been quite a bit more extensive. 

We would both have preferred to hear Abacab and some of Trick of the Tail but never mind. In exchange I'm now very fond of some tracks I wasn't familiar with before, my collection of Genesis albums having a lot of holes in it. The catchy Home By The Sea is now a favourite and I found the rendition of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a song I'd never previously cared for, to be much more fun than I expected with the audience joining in the chorus.

With the perspective of time there was more similarity between the early Genesis material and other prog bands. The quirky Gabriel era I Know What I Like (In Your wardrobe) - the band's first chat hit - is both delphic and very Syd Barretish, starting

It's one o clock and time for lunch/Hum de dum de dum

and ending

Me, I'm just a lawnmower/You can tell me by the way I walk

But it does have a catchy chorus and I'm strangely fascinated by the almost tuneless flute bit at the end.

There are other echoes of Pink Floyd to be heard and the guitar solo from Firth of Fifth develops a very King Crimson feel and Frippian guitar sound. But then those bands were all drinking from the same well and the influence would equally be in the other direction.

The upbeat songs like Invisible Touch were barnstormers and the audience had a great time bellowing out the words. Indeed, the chorus of the wonderful No Son of Mine was belted out so strongly by the audience I felt sure that a remarkably high proportion of scousers must have fallen out with their fathers.

Despite it including Turn It On Again I didn't buy Duke: I think I found the album cover showing a headless character called Albert looking out of a window very off putting. But then I would have been heavily into the new wave at the time. So I wasn't as familiar with the other tracks from it they played and I'd never seen much point in the song Duchess, but on this occasion it came over well. 

There were some other interesting things to come out of my Genesis catch up immersion course. In the innumerable lists of Genesis albums ranked to be found online, the hard prog websites pretty much universally subscribe to the "Gabriel good, Collins bad" philosophy. I always thought Gabriel fans finding Collins overly commercial was a bit odd. The moves Genesis made towards world domination after Gabriel left in 1975 were pretty gradual. Follow You Follow Me was the first big hit in 1978 and the next was Turn It On Again in 1980, both staples of the then fairly new independent local FM radio stations like Radio City in Liverpool rather than mainstream pop. In the meantime Gabriel, having taken a couple of years out of the music business, had already had quite a big hit with Solsbury Hill in 1977 followed by the very poppy Games Without Frontiers in 1978. By 1986 Genesis had gone mainstream with Invisible Touch  but so had Gabriel with Sledgehammer and its MTV friendly video that won numerous awards. Sledgehammer is a song I've never cared for; if I want that kind of sound I'll listen to Robert Palmer, thank you very much.

So it seems to me that Gabriel and Collins were moving in much the same direction and at similar speeds, though Genesis undoubtedly eventually went poppier after Collins started having his huge solo successes and that influence bled over into Genesis. Indeed, Genesis is an example of one of very few bands who successfully made the move from Prog/underground to mainstream pop. The only more conspicuous example I can think of, but with a much faster transition, was Marc Bolan aka T Rex.

The other thing that came out of it for me was how much I enjoyed listening to the Gabriel era Genesis material again. I dug out my vinyl copy of Trespass, which I'm fairly sure I hadn't listened to since before 1975, thinking I won't remember this at all. But from the first bar, as Gabriel croons the title of the opening song Looking For Someone", I thought "I remember how this goes". And also the last track, The Knife. I must have listened to it a lot, but not for a long time.

And I realised what a sophisticated drummer Collins was when I listened to that early material. Having been given a toy drum kit aged five, followed by a makeshift kit made by his uncle, as a teenager he learned the "drum rudiments" from a specialist in the jazz big band style. Collins later said "Rudiments I found very, very helpful – much more helpful than anything else because they're used all the time. In any kind of funk or jazz drumming, the rudiments are always there". Wikipedia devotes four paragraphs to the awards Collins has won for his drumming and the many drummers who have been influenced by him, including Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters. Nic's good but not as subtle. Mind, Collins reckons he already couldn't play like he did in the 1970s by the time he was in his mid 30s.

Collins is also very musical. He entered a talent contest at Butlins aged five, but stopped the orchestra half way through the song to tell them they were in the wrong key.

So yes, a big tick for Genesis. And we didn't catch covid, though the band did - within fve days of their two Liverpool gigs they had to postpone the rest of the UK leg of the tour due to positive tests "within the band". All I got was an Afterglow.

P.S. A quiz question. Who are the only artists to have sold over 100 million albums both as a solo artist and a member of a band? Answer below.

* A boss of mine used to joke that, as the probability of there being two bombs on a plane was so vanishingly small, he would obviously be safer if he took his own bomb with him. This was of course a joke aimed at folk who didn't understand how probabilities work.  And he was a Fellow of the Royal Society.

** They were touring Foxtrot. All those tour dates, together with links to memorabilia such as tickets and sources of bootleg audio are available on the 'Genesis - The Movement' fans' website at https://www.genesis-movement.org/php/listtour.php?tourid=4#   

*** I'm not expecting any sympathy, having got an education that money couldn't buy (i.e. it was free). But money seemed to be a lot tighter than living on a modern day student loan, though I did counsel my sons at the time that that didn't actually have to spend every last penny of it...

Other sources:


Phil Collins, Wikipedia

Genesis and Peter Gabriel discographies, Wikipedia

The quiz question answer: Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and Phil Collins

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

From revelation to Genesis at Liverpool's waterfront

Back in August I railed against UNESCO for retracting the world heritage status of the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City. The other week I was back in that area of Liverpool for the first time in over 15 years. The area around the pier head, the Three Graces and the Albert Dock was outstanding then. But there has been lots of change. As the Liverpool Echo said a few days ago in an article covering all the major new buildings of that period "if you haven’t been in the city for a few years, it’s likely the view may not be exactly as you left it."

Although I've read about various proposals and actual developments, together with all the hyperventilation over UNESCO's decision, I hadn't realised just how much development had taken place in that time. I was, however, aware that some of the new buildings, sandwiched between the Three Graces and the Albert Dock on an area known as Mann Island, were conspicuously modern in appearance. This area was previously occupied by rundown warehouses and dock buildings and Liverpool city council had tried nearly 20 years ago to build a "fourth grace" on the site. A competition yielded three proposals, all of which were criticised for their appearance and contrast to the city's skyline. Work on the chosen option was cancelled in 2004. Subsequently the three mixed-use Mann Island buildings were completed by 2011 and the adjacent Museum of Liverpool by 2012.

To the north of the pier head there has been a lot of construction. Some of the buildings are tall enough that I had seen them from well outside the city centre. West Tower, completed in 2008, is Liverpool's tallest building. Indeed at 134m tall it is the tallest building in the UK outside of London and Manchester. It overtook the  Radio City Tower, built in 1969 and in it's time seen as both controversial and an eyesore. The Radio City Tower is still known to us as St John's Beacon as it was originally named after the adjacent St John's market, not the Liverpool centre forward of the era in which it was built. Its futuristic design had an observation deck and restuarant with spectacular views. That restaurant and a successor had closed by 1983 leaving the tower empty and derelict. The tapering concrete column with the non-functioning revolving top section understandably became seen as an embarassing white elephant by Liverpudlians. But in the late 90s it was refurbished by Radio City as studios and office space. By 2020 it had been grade II listed by Historic England who decsribed it as "embodying the technological bravura and spirit of the space age". Which just goes to show how opinions can change.

But, unlike West Tower, the Radio City Tower is not immediately adjacent to the what was previously the tallest building near the waterfront, the Liver building. More recently the Lexington, completed in 2021, has also surpassed  the height of the Liver Building. These skyscapers (for that is what they are) are in between the historic waterfront area and the site of Everton's new stadium, the development which seemed to be the final straw for UNESCO.

We were in Liverpool to see Genesis play a gig at the Liverpool Arena, re-arranged from 2020 due to covid. The Arena was built on the site of the former King's Dock which had been the location proposed for Everton's new stadium in the 1990s. That project fell through in 2003 - my recollection is that Everton could not come up with a measly £30m to secure the site. The two branch docks which formed King's Dock and connected Wapping Dock and Queen's Dock were filled in, just as is now being done at Bramley-Moore. According to Wikipedia the Arena project, completed in 2008 utilising the space of what were the two docks and adjoining vacant land, became "an exemplary case of brownfield land development".

A few years later, the reception for the controversial Mann Island buildings was mixed. The Daily Post, shortly before its demise, lamented the loss of several key views of the Pier Head (then) world heritage site. The buildings were nominated for the Carbuncle Cup, an architecture "prize" given annually by the magazine Building Design to the "ugliest building in the United Kingom completed in the last 12 months". It didn't win, though three years earlier the new Liverpool Ferry Terminal had been given the dubious accolade. Looking like a "stick of rock" or, to me, a rather angular version of the Lord's cricket ground media centre, the terminal sits, of necessity, at the Pier Head and so full centre of the view of the historic waterfront from the river.

Anyway, enough of what others have said. What did we think after driving into the city from the north, past the new skyscrapers, parking up by Albert Dock and walking along the waterfront King's Parade towards the Pier Head on a beautiful early autumn afternoon? Here's a picture I took as we reached the end of the Albert Dock buildings to see the interrupted view of the Three Graces:

On the far left you can see one of the new towers, then the ferry terminal towering over the 19th century brick Piermaster's House and obscuring most of one of the twin Liver Building towers. Then West Tower peeping through between the two towers of the Liver Building and then the dome of the Port of Liverpool building, partly obscured by one of the two black angular Mann Island buildings. The second angular Mann Island building to the right hides most of the more regular third building. 

We thought this eclectic jumble of preserved old and new modern was - absolutely fantastic and inspirational. Had we walked further in that direction the full view of the Three Graces would have opened up. Sometimes, as all good gardeners know, it's better for a view to open up in stages, rather than all at once.

But instead we turned right and went into the Albert Dock complex. The whole area around Albert Dock buzzes with far more eateries, as well as museums, than on our last visit. Here's another photo,with a clear view of the new buildings on the left and theThree Graces on the right between buildings of the Albert Dock:

And here's what was Liverpool's tallest building before St John's Beacon and the new towers came along*, the Anglican Cathedral, peeping through the Albert Dock buildings looking east:

We thought we knew the area well but we ran out of superlatives. It was a revelation. As were Genesis that evening.

So that's a big thumbs up from me and Mrs H and one in the eye for UNESCO.

As I said before: UNESCO can do one. Liverpool should have no regrets about moving forward. I know the city council has a desevedly dodgy reputation but, as someone who now counts as a tourist, I can only say "great job".

* Pedants might point out that the Anglican Cathedral wasn't completed until 1978. But as it was started in 1904 the structure had stood on St James's Mount, a bit more than a mile from the Pier Head, glowering over the city from long before the upstart Beacon was built. I've never heard it referred to by it's proper name (Liverpool Cathedral). It's called the Anglican to distinguish it from the other one, the Roman Catholic cathedral universally known as Paddy's Wigwam because of it's shape and which I have also never heard referred to by its proper name, the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Scousers, eh?


Liverpool's iconic changing skyline captured in images down the years. Liverpool Echo, 20 October 2021. https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/nostalgia/liverpools-iconic-changing-skyline-captured-21886276

Mann Island Buildings, Wikipedia

List of tallest buildings and structures in Liverpool, Wikipedia

Ferry Terminal's carbuncle award. BBC 4 Sept 2009,  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/8226211.stm

Thursday, 23 September 2021

The greatest English goalscorer of all time

 It's not often I agree with Alan Shearer on Match of the Day, as he usually says little of any note or import - it would normally be tantamount to ageeing what day of the week it is. However, on the edition shortly after Jimmy Greaves died on 19 September, Shearer ended the programme's tribute by saying "he should have been knighted".  Which I thought was, as usual, totally obvious but on this occasion worth saying.

I wrote ages ago about how remarkable it was, if we are going to honour sports people and footballers in particular, that Greaves had no honour whatsoever. This year that was "corrected" in the New Year's honours list but he was only given a miserable MBE.  So when I saw Boris Johnson had tweeted about Greaves's death I wasn't impressed. The reason being that Shearer and Lineker got CBEs, as did Kevin Keegan and David Beckham. Shearer and Lineker have done nothing else other than play and have a media career: ditto Greaves, who with Ian St John set the template for presentation of football on TV in the modern era.

As I said in an earlier blog, one can only wonder what Greaves could have done to be black-balled for so long by the suits who control the lists put before the politicians. Maybe it's something to do with perceptions of role models. The fact that another great goalscorer Michael Owen has no honour makes me think that if, like him, you like bet or like Greaves for a while you like a drink (Greaves struggled with alcoholism towards the end of his career) or, I suppose if you like shagging a granny like (allegedly) England's most capped outfield player Wayne Rooney, you are considered an unsuitable role model compared with goody two shoes characters like Gary Lineker or the wholesome Alan Shearer, or ultimate celeb David Beckham, none of whom made as large a contribution to football as Greaves.

Be that as it may, Greaves's record as a striker is arguably better than any player of his or subsequent eras, as can be seen from the following table of international goals for England, ranked by goals per game:




Goals per game

England dates

Clubs played for as an England player

Vivian Woodward






Steve Bloomer





Derby Co

Tommy Lawton





Everton, Chelsea

Stan Mortensen






Nat Lofthouse





Bolton W

Jimmy Greaves





Chelsea, AC Milan, Spurs

Harry Kane




2015 on


Gary Lineker





Leicester, Everton, Barcelona, Spurs

Peter Crouch





Liverpool, Portsmouth, Spurs

Alan Shearer





Southampton, Blackburn, Newcastle

Bobby Charlton





Manchester United

Mick Channon






Michael Owen





Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle

Wayne Rooney





Everton, Manchester United

I've used a cut off of 20 international goals here: every schoolboy used to know that the record otherwise is held by George Camsell of Middlesbrough who played for England between 1929 and 1936 scoring 18 times in 9 appearances. 

For obvious reasons I didn't see any of the players above Greaves on this list, but I've seen nearly all of the others. Thinking back to when I first went to matches in the 1960s, there were some outstanding players but I was as excited about seeing Greaves as any of them, including George Best and Bobby Charlton. Greaves was the reason, from around 1961, I always wanted to wear the number 8 shirt, though later in the 60s Alan Ball became my number 8 hero. During my time playing footie I did get to wear most of the shirt numbers in the 2 to 11 range in the old way of numbering, but never a number 8 to my recollection. Never mind....

Of the other players on that list Lawton, Mortensen and Lofthouse must have been superb strikers. Lawton could probably have broken nearly all records if the war hadn't taken so much time out of his career. But I have a particularly soft spot for Derby's Steve Bloomer. It was in 1928, so legend has it, that Bloomer said of Everton: "They always manage to serve up football of the highest scientific order" and "worship at the shrine of craft and science", leading to the club's nickname "the school of science". As Stephen Bierley noted in the Guardian, clearly footballers were a good deal more eloquent in those days.

Greaves's scoring in club football was even more notable, as he holds the record for the most goals scored in the English top flight with 357. In the list of players who have scored over 200 goals in the English top flight only Dixie Dean and the Scot Dave Halliday have a higher goals per game ratio than Greaves:






Dixie Dean





Dave Halliday





Jimmy Greaves





Hughie Gallacher





George Camsell





Hughie Gallacher was also Scottish, of course. Greaves is the only player this high on such a list who played after the second world war. You have to go down 16th on that list before you get to another post war player, Nat Lofthouse with 0.56 goals per game. Once you get down to around 0.5 you find Alan Shearer, Ronnie Allen, Wayne Rooney and Tony Cottee along with Scots David Herd and Denis Law and Wales's Ian Rush.

Bearing in mind both Greaves's club and international record I would argue that if you were nominating the greatest English goalscorer of all time only Dean and Camsell could seriously be put up against Greaves.

The youtube videos of Greavsie's goals (for example at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9W2fp5eVjtQ) naturally suffer from poor picture quality. But what is obvious is Greaves scored every type of goal: calm slots, dribbles round the keeper, rocket shots from range and close in, bicycle kicks, headers - the lot. He could dribble just as well as George Best but was generally much more focussed on the simplest and most efficient way of scoring. 

Greaves's total is not disporportionately boosted by penalties, only 27 of his 220 goals for Spurs being from the spot. In internationals Greaves was England's nominated penalty taker from 1959 till 1967. And how many did they get in that time? None. It was an era when, as he put it, a defender  "pretty much had to take attack a forward with a machete to concede a penalty". But isn't that remarkable? So none of his England goals were penalties.

The football website transfermarkt has details of 17 of Greaves's penalties, two of them in his brief stint in Serie A, where he scored 9 goals in 10 games for AC Milan. They have Greaves never missing a penalty but that isn't true as he missed at least one. In the Mirror link below Greaves recalls taking a penalty against West Ham. He saw Bobby Moore gesture to the keeper that Greaves would go right. The keeper went early and right and, with the goal gaping, Greaves rolled the ball past the left hand post.

The perfect striker hasn't been born (and probably never will be) but for me Jimmy Greaves was the best ever English player at doing the thing that attracts the most interest and monetary value in football - sticking the ball in the back of the net. 

Of course he should have been knighted.

Goals and games data from https://www.myfootballfacts.com/england_footy/england_national_football_team/england-players-strike-rates/ and Wikipedia

"Goodison's School of Science loses out to Darwinism" was in the Guardian on 14 March 2002 and included the Bloomer quote;  https://www.theguardian.com/football/2002/mar/14/sport.comment

English top flight scoring records from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_football_first_tier_top_scorers#All-time_top_scorers_with_over_200_goals