Dover

‘Dover Western Docks was once one of the most romantic destinations on Britain’s railway network – your eventual destination was probably Paris’

Dover Western Docks was once one of the most romantic destinations on Britain’s railway network. To have a ticket to Dover Western Docks meant you were traveling on the boat-train; your eventual destination was probably Paris. If, like me, you were thrifty, you were probably traveling at dead of night into the bargain, which added to the romance. Theoretically, at least.

Before ever I made the trip I thought the boat-train somehow trundled from the pier right into the bowels of the cross-Channel ferry. It was a disappointment, then, to have to disembark at a cold, dark, anonymous railway terminal and walk the last couple of hundred yards. Any remaining shreds of romance were irrevocably whisked away on to the chill night breeze by the state of the vessel at dead of night. Squalor is the word that comes to mind. And yet when I think of that first trip the chief memory is of Ilse and the sense of romance returns refulgently.

Dover Priory railway station, trains, public transport, renovation
‘It was hard to be sure whether they were knocking down Dover Priory station or renovating it’

The last train arrived at Dover Western Docks in 1994. The listed station building remains on Admiralty Pier but the lines are long gone. Trains to Dover now deliver you to Dover Priory station, which sounds an acceptably historic alternative. Don’t get your hopes up.

In March 2020 it was hard to be sure whether they were knocking down Dover Priory station or renovating it. Perhaps they plan a future diametrically opposed to the fate of Western Docks – the rails will stay but the station will disappear. Either way, any romance or sense of history attached to this element of your visit will depend entirely on how you feel about your companion.

One final announcement from Platform 1. In March 2020 the UK, as elsewhere, was trying to keep Covid-19, the coronavirus, under control. The official advice was for us to wash our hands, long and often, with soap and hot water. The Gents at Dover Priory had neither soap nor hot water. This comment is not aimed at the station management; I mention it to illustrate a common British inability to match ideals with the daily reality experienced by most of the citizenry.

Dover Castle, Castle Street, Dover, lamp-post, flower basket, brooding, hill
‘If Dover were a golf course, you’d splash out on a buggy. Castle Street, encouragingly flat for the first hundred yards or so, soon takes a turn for the worse’

If Dover were a golf course, you’d splash out on a buggy. The flatlands of the town centre don’t require it, and here you will save further money by finding the Transport Museum and the Roman Painted House closed through the winter and Dover Museum is free. But up the hill to the west are the Western Heights and associated redoubts, plus the Templar Church. Up another hill to the east is Dover Castle. Even the football ground, at Crabble, is up a slope that would be regarded in most towns as challenging.

Dover, Dover Castle, hillside, fortifications
‘Experienced travelers will think nostalgically of European cities like Ljubljana and Salzburg, where castles are served by funiculars’

From the railway station, the hill closest takes you up to the Western Heights. The fortifications here are from the Napoleonic Wars originally. “The exterior and moat can be viewed daily during any reasonable daylight hours,” says English Heritage. As for the rest, then, you’d have to be lucky about the date of your visit.

Dover, Western Heights, Napoleonic Wars, English Heritage
Western Heights: ‘The fortifications here are from the Napoleonic Wars originally. “The exterior and moat can be viewed daily during any reasonable daylight hours,” says English Heritage’

It may nonetheless be worth trekking up there. For one thing, it will warm you up for the walk to the castle later. For another, it gives you fine views across the town, harbour and, indeed, the English Channel. Dover Castle is at a similar altitude on the other side of the town but unfortunately the photo opportunity is compromised from some angles by a pair of masts rising out of the landscape beyond.

Alternatively, if you turn left out of the station you’re into the town centre very quickly. Here you will find Dover Museum.

Bronze Age, ancient boat, oldest seagoing boat known, 3,500yrs, Dover, Dover Museum
‘The “oldest sea-going vessel known” may be 3,500yrs-old. It was apparently built of hollowed-out trunks strapped together. At intervals along the length of the base are what look strangely like the wheel-arches of a small car’

The Dover Museum has galleries on three storeys, one of which was closed when I was there, for an exhibition to be set up. No matter; the remainder was excellent. They soften you up with attractive displays of Dover through the ages, including an especially effective room devoted to the town’s military history. This included a sequence of seven or eight chronological models and, suspended from the ceiling, a V1 flying bomb. Not as obvious but worth equal attention is a portrait of Elizabeth I painted in about 1598 and displayed in Dover Town Hall during her reign.

And then we come to the pièce de résistance, the Bronze Age boat which merits its own gallery. This is fairly dark. If you have reactolite spectacles you may need to give them a few minutes to calm down.

The boat is apparently the “oldest sea-going vessel known”. It may be 3,500yrs-old. Laid out behind perspex in the middle of the room, it was apparently built of hollowed-out trunks strapped together. At intervals along the length of the base are what look strangely like the wheel-arches of a small car. At either end there are obviously bits missing, but most of it is astonishingly complete. Around the sides of the gallery, related exhibits and explanations complement the vessel perfectly.

From there, it is no great distance to Dover Castle. But Castle Street, encouragingly flat for the first hundred yards or so, soon takes a turn for the worse. Experienced travellers will think nostalgically of European cities like Ljubljana and Salzburg, where castles are served by funiculars. Press on. It’s worth it, even at £20.90 a pop.

Dover, Dover Castle, spiral staircase, stonework, fortifications, keep
‘You could probably spend most of a day at Dover Castle. It covers an enormous area and has several set-piece attractions from various eras’

You could probably spend most of a day at Dover Castle. It covers an enormous area and has several set-piece attractions from various eras. The castle itself includes a keep with rooms presented as period halls, kitchens, bedrooms and so forth, and with access to the roof with wonderful views. Around the keep’s courtyard is a museum devoted to the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment and The Queen’s Regiment and these help to maintain a sense of chronology. And that’s not easy, partly because the eras rub shoulders with each other on a large scale – a Roman lighthouse alongside a Saxon church – and in the general feel of the place, with WW2 artillery pieces in one direction, a trebuchet and cannon in another. Some of the more prosaic buildings are equally intriguing, from barracks to holiday accommodation.

The Naafi Restaurant attached to the castle was closed for refurbishment. English Heritage broke that lamentable news in a peculiarly jolly-hockeysticks fashion. “We’re excited to announce that major work has begun to improve our catering facilities.” So I looked for lunch down the hill and wandered at random into the White Horse on St James St. It was an inspired choice.

When a pub is busy and you have a deadline – 3pm in my case – it helps for the staff to warn you that you might wait 40mins for food. But when they realised I was a party of one (no-one Ilse on this visit) they accommodated me and fed me promptly and well.

White Horse, St James Street, Dover, Channel swimmers, mementoes
‘The White Horse on St James St: an inspired choice. All over the walls, ceiling and doors are notes left as in a Visitor’s Book but in this case by Channel swimmers’

The pub itself is extraordinary. All over the walls, ceiling and doors are notes left as in a Visitor’s Book but in this case by Channel swimmers. A typically matter-of-fact entry, on the back of the main door, reads: “Cedric Bird, Jersey, E-F 13/9/08 11hrs 46mins For Charlie & Hannah”. Some include an inspirational message: “Life dream is now a reality. Chase your dream!” Many immortalise the support crew. One or two are illustrated, especially with flags. And there is humour: “For Lil and George, It Was Only One Length! Rebecca Simmons, First Guern! 19-9-09 11-4.3”

London Road is down-at-heel, enlivened by some notable architecture. The shabbiness increases with distance from the centre. Or, to be more generous, the grandeur fades. The Royal Victoria Hospital and its annex are still pretty grand. But Kings Hall, described by the estate agent trying hard to drum up interest as “an impressive and attractive theatre hall”, is startling. Certainly, very few English towns are too grand for a bit of Romanesque frontage and a pair of Doric columns, but painted yellow, white and sage green? A little further along is Jasper House, built I believe in 1954 as a Working Men’s Club. Is this very late Art Deco or early retro?

I realised too late that I had been walking parallel to the River Dour, and that it might have been possible to walk alongside it rather than beside a busy road. On the other hand its name doesn’t inspire visions of sylvan tranquillity. In the long run, it supplies the adjective that my memory will attach to the fixture at Crabble that afternoon.

Dover, Dover Athletic, Crabble, Yeovil Town
‘Even the football ground, at Crabble, is up a slope that would be regarded in most towns as challenging’

‘Confident’ is the word for a football club that prints the its name in type no bigger than 8½pt on the front of its match-day programme, relying instead on the initials COYW as a masthead. Come on you whites… and with cliffs that colour, what else would Dover Athletic play in?

Dover Athletic 0 Yeovil Town 1
Crabble Stadium, 7 March 2020

A Farewell to Sleeves

YouTube preserves many wonderful treasures from the past, rarely more golden than when Eric Cantona bestrode the earth. And in almost all the epic goals that decorate this five-minute compilation, Eric is wearing a long-sleeved shirt.

At some point in the intervening quarter-century long sleeves, along with the Anglo-Italian League and black football boots, have disappeared from the game (though not racism, homophobia and intolerance of all kinds). And yet football is a winter sport, surely ill-suited to what is in effect a T-shirt (albeit with miraculous wicking properties). Have footballers become more hardy and virile?

sir stanley matthews, stoke city, britannia stadium, stoke, statue, footballer, knight
Sir Stanley Matthews: sleeves and the man

‘No’ is the short answer. On the contrary, it can only be a matter of time before players take the field in overcoats. Sir Stanley Matthews would not have rolled his socks over his knees. He would not have worn cycling shorts except perhaps on a bicycle. If he ever played in gloves it would surely only have been as an emergency goalkeeper in the days before substitutes. As for tights, in Sir Stan’s day running around kept you adequately warm.

‘No’ is also the longer answer. Short-sleeved shirts enable players to get away with a bit of layering. Beneath the maillot du jour, the colour, design and detail of which will vary according to venue, occasion and time of year, players wear long-sleeved undergarments. This untidy habit is only slightly mitigated by the regulatory insistence that the visible long sleeves should match the colour of the outer short sleeves. Such under-sleeves do not, of course, bear any stripes or other patterning. They do not have a noticeable cuff. They aren’t always a particularly good colour match. They can, however, bear a logo or message to be revealed when a goal is scored. No doubt footballers think they are ‘edgy’.

Can clubs not afford two sets of shirts, then? Again, ‘No’ is the obvious answer. Clubs produce new strips at the drop of a hat and customise them to commemorate special events. In former times a player would have been offered a choice of short or long-sleeved shirt. His selection would then have been drawn from a hamper containing 20 freshly-laundered shirts: one short, one long-sleeved for each of the 10 outfield players. (According to legend Arsenal was an exception: there, the captain decided what sleeves the whole team would wear.)

Does any of this matter? Once again, no. But you can’t help feeling that it’s all part of football’s determination to milk as much revenue as it can from fans, perhaps in this case by getting them to buy twice as many shirts as they need.

Dial M for Mystery

justice, southampton, scales, street furniture

Suppose you were on trial for murder, in a country where the death penalty was still applied. With the trial more than two-thirds complete – just a few more defence witnesses and the summings-up to go – suppose a virus put a halt to court proceedings, as jurors fell ill and social distancing made further hearings impossible.

How would you want the thread to be picked up when the court system could begin functioning again?

Three possibilities come to mind:
The judge reaches a verdict based on the evidence heard so far
The trial is resumed from the point at which it was interrupted as soon as it is possible to do so
The trial is abandoned. A new jury is sworn in and the process begins all over again.

Surely the first option can be dismissed out of hand. Without all the evidence having been heard and, in cross-examination, tested, no final verdict is possible. Unfortunately, then, Liverpool cannot be awarded the Premier League title. Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich cannot be relegated with 27-30 points each yet to be contested.

The third option also presents problems of consistency and fairness. Starting again does not move all the pieces back to where they were. In the courtroom analogy, a new jury might have other sympathies; witnesses might no longer be available; new information might have come to light. The trial could be quite different.

Regardless of your view of the concept of natural justice, or of Liverpool FC, for Liverpool to be denied the title arbitrarily would be grotesquely unfair. As the table stands with the league programme suspended, Liverpool need just two wins from nine games to be sure of the title; they have 27 wins from 29 at this point.

Elland Road, Leeds United, Leeds, promotion, Championship
Elland Road: must surely have Premier League football again next season

And so on down the leagues. In the Championship, Leeds and West Bromwich have pulled away in the automatic promotion places, as have Coventry in League 1. They and their fans would justifiably feel hard-done to if their efforts to March were expunged. At the darker end of the tunnel, poor Bolton are almost certain to be relegated from League One and Stevenage from League Two. Reprieves for them might condemn two other clubs next year.

But there is a quarter of the season outstanding and few issues are clear-cut. The problem with the second option is time. Nobody knows when football might resume. As things stand the Premier League has proposed fixtures from 2 May, but that seems optimistic. Beyond that point, the 2020/21 season will become a factor in calculations.

One idea offered as a potential solution is quite ingenious. The Premier League is apparently looking at the possibility of an accelerated finish to the season in conditions resembling an international tournament: all the clubs gathered in a small number of neutral locations, playing out the remains of the season behind closed doors.

They would hope to be able to do this through June and July. The close season, officially defined in FA rules as June, would thus be sacrificed. But everybody would arrive at the 2020/21 season in the same state of exhaustion. And the investments of time, effort, money, emotion etc in the 2019/20 season would not have been wasted.

It may not happen. First, the infection curve may not be sufficiently flat for anyone to embark on such a project with confidence. Second, complications may arise not only from the fitness and health of players but also from their registrations and contracts. The expectations of broadcasters and sponsors will also be a factor.

Even so, a continuation of the present season must be the fairest course. Even if it runs well into 2020/21. Clubs should be allowed to complete this season’s competitions on the terms under which they entered them; if those terms need to be adjusted for next season, so be it. No League Cup, perhaps, to free up mid-week nights; only one league fixture between clubs, to halve the length of the season; no winter break. If the terms are understood and accepted before the 2020/21 season begins, there should be no problem.

But the example of the play-offs gives grounds for doubt that the current season will be allowed to finish. The play-offs suggest that the people who run football have little regard for the time, effort, money, emotion etc invested in a season by a club and its supporters. Ask anyone whose team has ever finished in third place, streets ahead of fourth but obliged nonetheless to play three more games at the end of the season to gain a promotion it has already earned.

In the Dark

The idea of football tourism as a leisure pursuit depends rather obviously on two things. With football no longer a possibility, is tourism alone a legitimate substitute?

Venice, FC Venezia, replica strip, football tourism
‘People flock to Venice in their millions without the city having had a decent football club for decades.’

Of course it is under normal circumstances, although even then it might seem perverse in some cases. At one end of the scale, people flock to Venice in their millions without the city having had a half-way decent football club for decades. But at the other, the questionable lure of the sights is now compounded by the closure of many attractions and facilities.

Towns of Two Halves has always maintained that any town can be regarded as a tourist attraction if you approach it with the right attitude. That becomes a difficult position to maintain when towns are shutting down. You’ll have seen a lot of newspaper columnists lately pretending to have read La Peste by Albert Camus; Nevil Shute’s On the Beach also comes to mind, with the old boys in the Melbourne club wondering whether they have time to drink their way through the port collection in the cellar before the fallout cloud arrives.

FC Halifax Town, Ebbsfleet United, The Shay, National League, free-kick, last match before the shutdown
Jack Redshaw’s free-kick grazes the Ebbsfleet bar; as close as Halifax came to an equaliser in English football’s last match until further notice.

It was possible on the 14 March to watch Halifax play Ebbsfleet in the National League and to visit the Calderdale Industrial Museum, Halifax Minster and the Square Chapel Arts Centre. A handful of days later, all were closed until further notice. Now public transport is beginning to wind down – by this time next week travel in general might be discouraged, which would finally knock any idea of tourism on the head.

When the crisis has passed – and China appears to have got on top of the coronavirus in about four months – both elements of football tourism will probably take much longer to recover. Many football clubs seem ill-equipped to cope with the routine demands of the season; a prolonged shutdown will sorely test their viability. The EFL has made a fund of £50m available for clubs in difficulties. It’s a tidy sum, but if all 72 clubs applied, it could pay their players’ wages… for a month. Some of the local museums, galleries, country houses and other establishments so beloved of Towns of Two Halves also exist only where tolerances are so fine that a feeler gauge is necessary.

They will need all the help they can get. It’s hard to imagine that lower league football clubs or local cultural enterprises will be high in the Government’s list of priorities. When football returns, revel in the chance to be a tourist again. Any day can be a festival, just as any town can be a tourist resort.

Momentito!

subutteo stopwatch headline pun

Football is having a moment. As in so many other regrettable cases, foreign imports are to blame.

‘Moment’ is the word on almost every manager’s lips, and of one or two players. When they are not using it incorrectly they’re using it too often, and the habit is spreading into journalism.

First it was the managers. Perhaps because time is such an elusive quality, their otherwise exceptional English lets them down when it comes to expressions of time. Even the best succumb. “Right now is maybe the best moment in their season,” said Pep Guardiola about Manchester United before the derby on 8 March. “We had a few good moments,” Ralph Hasenhuttl reflected after Southampton’s home defeat by Newcastle. Mikel Arteta produced a masterclass after Arsenal’s FA Cup win at Portsmouth on 2 March. Of his young players he said: “I knew that they were going to have difficult moments during the game, they have to learn from those moments, they have to manage their moments better than we did in the first half in some moments.” The first mention is justified and accurate, the rest are increasingly redundant flourishes and the effect is of an arpeggio. Magnifique, Mikel!

English managers are not immune. Frank Lampard, speaking after Chelsea’s 2-0 cup win over Liverpool, said: “We’ve got to celebrate these moments.” It’s not exactly wrong, but there are better words. ‘Wins’ springs to mind, or ‘days’, or even perhaps ‘anomalies’. It’s important that such alternatives don’t disappear altogether; it could happen, especially as the habit is spreading beyond the game into the media.

The commentator at the same Southampton match called the winning goal “a brilliant moment for Allan St-Maximin, a horrible moment for Yan Valery”. The BBC’s Laura Scott commented on 3 March that the coronavirus “was mentioned at several moments” during a FIFA meeting. We can expect rapid contagion. BBC personnel already show signs of trimming their vocabulary down to a single adjective, ‘iconic’, a single future time expression, ‘anytime soon’, and the general-purpose ‘epicentre’ when the location of almost anything is at issue.

What is a moment? In cosmology, there’s an adjunct to the Big Bang theory known as Cosmic Inflation. According to science, Cosmic Inflation lasted from 10-36 to 10-33 seconds after the ‘singularity’ that is regarded as the start of the universe. That’s a very short period of time. Even for a moment, it’s quite brief. But it makes the point. Moments do not last long. They turn into something else – seconds, periods, intervals etc – when they are extended.

All is not yet lost. “It’s been a difficult period for us,” said Deli Alli in early March. The young man’s choice of the word ‘period’ to cover the months since Harry Kane’s injury offers grounds for hope.

VAR: An exercise in Artificial Intelligence?

VAR, Video Assistant Referee, Robocop, montage

When The Guardian (26 Feb) announced Jonathan Liew’s silver award – congratulations, by the way – in the British Sports Journalist Awards, it published a column by him that opened: “I don’t really have a position on VAR.”

That’s an odd attitude to take when your stock-in-trade is to hold an opinion. Very few people, surely, “don’t really have a position on VAR”: those with negligible interest in football, mainly. Until the turn of the year it may have been legitimate to suspend judgement, arguing limply that it was ‘too early to tell’. But the season is now two-thirds over (nine-tenths, from a Liverpool point of view). It’s high time opinion-formers in football decided where they stood on VAR.

The difficulty they face is that VAR is not consistently atrocious. Yes, its decisions are occasionally baffling. But occasionally it comes up with what appears to be if not the right answer then at least a reasonable stab at it. And therein lies a plausible explanation.

Many times this season it has been almost impossible to imagine that the Video Assistant Referee is watching the same incident as the rest of us. Is it possible that in imagining this we’ve stumbled on the truth: that nobody in the famous Stockley Park Incident Room is watching it? But an experimental Artificial Intelligence (AI) system is?

VAR has all the hallmarks of AI:
Mystical faith in technology on the part of the authorities (see also NHS records, smart motorways and, looking nervously right, left and right again, autonomous cars)
Nit-picking Assuming its lines are accurate, as VAR has to, the width of an armpit or an instep is as good as a mile
No understanding of the soul of the game Some goals (eg Teemu Pukki for Norwich (2:10) against Spurs in December 2019) are works of art and should not be ruled out for anything less than the personal involvement of Vladimir Putin in the build-up
Incredibly slow.

In addition, three hitherto puzzling factors can now tentatively be explained:
The reluctance of referees to consult pitch-side monitors. The interface must still be in beta testing. The referee would have no control over the process and would be obliged to wait for VAR to shuffle its replays, lines and angles, pausing occasionally to flash up an eternally gyrating icon
The inability to distinguish between clear and marginal errors by the referee. Computers are much better at black and white than grey, even when the grey might be mistaken for Farrow & Ball strong white
The abandonment of any attempt to police penalty-area grappling at corners. VAR is clearly programmed to regard arms as a legitimate part of the game except when the ball strikes a Bournemouth defender’s shoulder.

If VAR is an AI application, should we expect it to improve? Typically, AI systems use vast quantities of incoming data to build on the original algorithms their creators supply and to fine-tune their own performance. Unfortunately, that can mean their mistakes become more ingrained and alarming, depending on the mentality of those creators. In this case we should assume teams of programmers and referees. It doesn’t augur well, does it?

Barrow

Barrow, Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness, windfarm, wind turbine, sunset, BarrowAFC, Bromley
“Along Central Drive, the Irish Sea soon fills the skyline. The horizon looks as if it is ring-fenced by turbines”

Barrow people must be heartily sick of seeing their town stereotyped. A couple of days before my visit Barrow happened to appear on the ITV News. The reporter was flogging a ‘Death of the High Street’ horse. Boarded-up premises and proprietors with stiff upper lips were prominent. If ITV found anything attractive to point their cameras at, the editors chose not to show it.

Barrow, Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Lake District, sea
“On the natural skyline, brooding promontories slope down to the sea”
Barrow, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Barrow Town Hall, sunrise
Barrow Town Hall: “Above the town’s streets, dramatic Victorian towers and spires soar”

Where might they have looked? The snowy uplands of the Lake District, perhaps. Or the Walney Island seashore, barely 20mins walk from the town centre. To get there you’d pass the Dock Museum and cross a bridge with views Constable might have painted, in either direction. On the natural skyline, brooding promontories slope down to the sea; above the town’s streets, dramatic Victorian towers and spires soar.

Barrow, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Devonshire Dock Hall, Abbey Road, boulevard, Baron Haussmann
“A number of the thoroughfares are so wide you’d wonder whether Baron Haussmann did some moonlighting here.” In the background, Devonshire Dock Hall: “the six-pack on steroids that butts into the town’s southern horizon like a theatre flat”

Barrow is a town of sweeping vistas and unexpected panoramas. In part this is a result of Victorian town-planning. The town centre’s grid system carries the eye down otherwise ordinary streets to horizons improbable distances away. A number of the principle thoroughfares are so wide you’d wonder whether Baron Haussmann did some moonlighting here. They tend to flow into each other at elaborately decorative roundabouts.

One such boulevard is Holker Street, which older readers will recognise as identifying Barrow AFC’s ground in days of yore. Holker Street runs from the railway station to the Progression Solicitors Stadium and has pavements that must be 10 or 12ft wide. If these are not the widest pavements expediting the movement of large numbers of people to or from an English football ground, I’d be very surprised. (As if to compensate, the Wilkie Road pavement running along the north side of the ground is so narrow you’re more or less obliged to jaywalk.)

Barrow is also a town of unexpected squares, many of them given over to car-parks. During the last war the German bomb-aimers were notoriously inaccurate, hitting the town as often as the docks; if these squares are the result at least some good came of it. Even where there are cars there are generally also encircling trees. In the absence of cars, you’ll find grass and an occasional memorial, often complemented by statuary, plaques or other features. Barrow is a town of oddly shaped benches: some commemorative, some sponsored, some just expressive of a bench-maker’s joie de vivre.

The statues also vary. In the middle of roundabouts and outside the magnificent town hall there are conventional frock-coated Victorians. Elsewhere monuments of different characters recall Barrow’s industrial, nautical and sporting past. Emlyn Hughes is one of the first you’ll encounter if you arrive by train.

Barrow, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Spirit of Barrow, public art, sculpture
The Spirit of Barrow: “From some angles the four shipyard workers have a Soviet-era look…”

In the centre of the shopping district a bronze grouping called The Spirit of Barrow is particularly wonderful. From some angles the four large shipyard workers have a Soviet-era look, and the words ‘Courage’, ‘Labour, ‘Skill’ and ‘Progress’ around the base reinforce that. But the quartet suggests Pride in and Affection for the town and it lifts the spirits.

There’s more Barrovian baroque at the Dock Museum. This occupies an old dry dock close to the Walney Island bridge. On the day I visited, the Significant Form exhibition of the South Lakes Art Collective opened in the atmospheric space at the lower level of the dock. Above, there are displays celebrating Barrow’s history – natural and industrial. Not surprisingly, the models of vessels built in Barrow are sensational (and in the case of one submarine in particular, quite chilling). Equally sensational and not at all chilling was the flapjack in the museum café.

Barrow, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Sir James Ramsden, facial hair, mutton-chops, benefactor
Sir James Ramsden: credited with bringing industry and prosperity to Barrow. “He also brought the most remarkable pair of mutton-chops.”

Notable buildings (aside from the Town Hall) include the one now occupied by the Citizens Advice Bureau. This was formerly the bath-house presented to the town in 1872 by Sir James Ramsden, the town’s first mayor and the man most regularly credited with bringing industry and prosperity to it. He also brought the most remarkable pair of mutton-chops.

Next door on Abbey Road is the Nan Tait Centre, now an arts centre but originally in 1900 Barrow’s Technical School. Redbrick, terracotta and vast panels representing Ars Longa Vita Brevis and Labor Omnia Vincit – what more could you want?

Devonshire Dock Hall sounds as if it could be another Victorian palais, perhaps where Music Hall breathed its last in 1914. It is, certainly, one of the most prominent buildings in the town: it’s the six-pack on steroids that butts into the town’s southern horizon like a theatre flat. Occupied by BAE Systems, it is an indoor shipbuilding complex.

The sea-front is well worth a detour. Apart from anything else it’s a pleasant walk (or a short bus ride). It takes you through Vickerstown, a UK example of a phenomenon more common – and notorious – in the USA: the company town. The provision of housing for employees sounds enlightened but it could equally represent self-interest as companies sought to discourage unionisation, offset wage rises by rent increases etc.

Along Central Drive, the Irish Sea soon fills the skyline. The horizon looks as if it is ring-fenced by turbines: what you’re looking at is the Walney Wind Farm, the largest offshore wind farm in the world according to the BBC. Opinion will vary about whether it’s unsightly: I’d say No, and I’d offer in support the decision of ITV not to show it. The turbines are far enough away to be matchstick figures on the horizon and you could make a case for them providing points of interest in the view.

Barrow, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Morecambe Bay, Lake District, Furness Line, railway
To the east is Morecambe Bay: go by train along the scenic Furness Line

The beach here is of pebbles. I’m told you’ll find sand further along the front in both directions; behind Walney there are mud-flats and to the east is Morecambe Bay. In other words, the variety of marine environments is wide. And in the background is the Lake District. It’s quite a place.

* While I was taking a photograph of The Spirit of Barrow, a couple of buskers offered a spirited version of Wish You Were Here. They were worth a contribution but I was less sure about the sentiment. Did I wish You were here? If I’d invited You to Barrow, in January, You might think the magic had gone. But I was guilty of the stereotyping decried at the top of this piece. I withdraw the remark and apologise. Don’t let anything discourage you from going to see Barrow, at any time of year – and go by train.

Barrow 2 Bromley 0
Progression Solicitors Stadium, 18 January 2020

The Emperor’s Green Clothes

floodlight, tokenism, BBC Sport, Sport Positive Summit

The BBC is making a big deal today of initiatives by Premier League clubs to do their bit for the environment. Research by BBC Sport and the ‘United Nations-backed’ Sport Positive Summit puts Arsenal and Manchester City at the top of its ‘sustainability rankings’.

Arsenal and Manchester City, you can’t help but notice, are both sponsored by airlines.

But long-haul pre-season tours did not feature in the research. Nor did the multiple strips the clubs change every season to sell anew to supporters. And yet the producer of the research claims it focuses “on categories that clubs control”.

If you accept the science of the climate crisis, as the BBC affects to, this all looks suspiciously like a form of tokenism known as ‘green-washing’.

* Towns of Two Halves concentrates mainly on Shank’s Pony and public transport in guiding you round the attractions of towns with football clubs, green or otherwise.

Oktoberfest

Leeds Oktoberfest, Leeds United, Birmingham City
Leeds Oktoberfest: coming up on 18 and 19 October

The international break seems to have consumed half of October, leaving very little time for the month’s two big (if confected) festivals: Oktoberfest and Halloween.
In fact much of the UK celebrates Oktoberfest in September, being in a different time zone to Munich. But a handful of big cities (and one smaller town) stick to the calendar. If you have an away game coming up in those places, take your lederhosen:

Saturday 19 October
Birmingham Oktoberfest Brunch
Visiting teams in the vicinity are Brighton at Villa and Cheltenham at Walsall.
Leeds
By a happy coincidence, Birmingham City fans missing their own Oktoberfest can enjoy Leeds’.
Wolverhampton
Southampton are at Wolves that day.

Manchester Oktoberfest, Manchester United, Liverpool, beer, steins, dirndl, lederhosen
Manchester Oktoberfest: at Mayfield, by Piccadilly, 16-20 October

Sunday 20
Manchester
Liverpool play at United.

Saturday 26
Colchester
It’s quite a trek for Newport County fans but a stein or two might help.
London has an Oktoberfest at Olympia on this Saturday. None of the West London clubs is at home, but London Overground means Olympia isn’t the backwoods destination it used to be from the rest of the capital.

Weekend Break

Lost Weekend, Ray Milland, International break, Support the Lower Leagues

England’s game being on Friday night leaves Saturday afternoon free for you to watch live football.
Have you looked at League One or League Two recently? True, there’s some very poor football played at that level, but you’ll see an occasional flash of promise and a good young player in the making. It can also be strangely calming to watch a match in which you don’t have anything invested in the outcome.
And if the worst comes to the worst, you can leave 10 minutes before the end with an easy conscience, and beat the traffic.
If the football itself isn’t enough, here are some of the other attractions to be found in places with league football this Saturday:

Blackpool Illuminations, Ghost Walk and Rotherham United.
Bristol At the theatre, a dramatisation of One Hundred Years of Solitude; at galleries, an Aardman exhibition, the Royal West of England Academy Open and films by Yoko Ono; at Rovers, MK Dons.
Ipswich v Wycombe: Schumann, a craft fair, quirky automata and an Ed Sheeran exhibition.
Oxford United v Doncaster: Bill Bryson has sold out and the Lieder Festival (Tales of Beyond) may be tricky to dip in an out of, but there’s something intriguing round every corner in Oxford.
Peterborough v Lincoln: a craft market, a Glow event, and exhibitions on hoards and fabrics.

Portsmouth, Naval Dockyards, HMS Warrior, Gillingham, Medway towns

Portsmouth v Gillingham: take the kids to Horrible Histories: The Exhibition. Or call in at the Oktoberfest; for gentler pleasures follow the Open Studios trail.
Rochdale v Accrington: Music before the match in the town and after it with an Amy Winehouse tribute act at Spotland. Also a chance to see the Protest & Peterloo exhibition.
Southend v Wimbledon: Foreworks on the front; and a last chance to see Day Tripper, a show featuring the work of Liz Arnold and contemporary artists.
Sunderland v Fleetwood: Vaguely seasonal diversions – a Christmas craft fair and, for the kids, a Halloween Trail and Elmer.

Carlisle v Crewe: Tech Fest, singing in the Cathedral, and a Cumbrian perspective on Japanese art.
Cheltenham v Newport: literature in Cheltenham, plus John Ruskin and Tatty Devine.
Crawley v Colchester: a bomber special at the Wings Museum: hear an RR Merlin engine from a 1943 Halifax.
Exeter v Forest Green: music in the Two Moors Festival and The Sixteen’s Choral Pilgrimage, plus song and storytelling in Gothic Dartmoor.

Leyton Orient, Walsall, Olympic Park

Leyton Orient v Walsall: take a stroll through the many environments of the Olympic Park.
Macclesfield v Port Vale: Nature Walk in West Park.
Mansfield v Oldham: Mind, Body & Spirit Show, and a charity soul & Motown night at the football club – for guide dogs.
Morecambe v Bradford: Lancaster Music Festival, a Gin event, jazz for children and the Morecambe Camera Club exhibition.
Salford v Cambridge: Ordsall Hall Ghost Hunt, plus all the resources of Manchester and Salford.
Scunthorpe v Northampton: Northern Soul, plus Lego.
Stevenage v Grimsby: British Inclusive Dance Festival and Design Icons.
Swindon v Plymouth: Anniversary events at Lydiard Park, plus a vintage sale at the Steam Museum. Argyle’s second visit to Swindon in four days.