As anyone who knows me will know, I rarely describe myself as either a screenwriter or an author. Not out of any kind of false modesty, but because I’ve never felt that I’ve earned that right.
Yes, I know I’ve written a few books and a number of movies but I’ve always considered the ’S’ and ‘A’ words to be far too grandiose for the likes of someone like me who basically got lucky. And let’s face it, given the lack of acknowledgment or recognition from either industry over the years, I have a feeling I’m not alone in that thinking although that’s another debate.
However, the other day I had an experience which has actually made me rethink things and consider the fact that I haven’t actually done that bad. It happened, ironically, in a pub where I was having a late afternoon drink with the actor Leo Gregory who starred in both Green Street and Top Dog.
As we were chatting, the door burst open and in came a group of Man City fans on their way to their FA Cup tie at West Ham. Within seconds, they’d recognised Leo and as the cries of ‘fuck me, it’s Bovver’ went up they came across and surrounded us. As gracious as ever, Leo took the time to shake hands and pose for selfies and fairly soon, the pub settled back into normality.
Now this is a fairly routine occurrence when you’re with Leo and god only knows what it must be like to have the shadow of Bovver follow you around all the time as it surely must. But as I reflected on it later, it struck me that whilst that’s my fault for creating that role, I have every right to feel pretty pleased with myself.
After all, Green Street was released in 2005 and whilst huge credit must go to Leo for what he did with him, to have created a character that people still recognise in the street 12 years later is an achievement to be proud of.
And d’you know what, I bloody am.
Talking of movies, thanks for all the messages about my next project, Three Greens. As is the way with these things, there’s not much I can say at the moment but I’ll release more details as soon as I can.
I’m not generally a fan of mascots, at least not British ones. Not because I find them pointless, but because unlike those in the US where it is pretty much an art form, our versions tend to be either scruffy or embarrassing (often both).
But more importantly, it’s usually obvious that the people who inhabit these costumes are not actually performers. Indeed, having seen mascots at all kinds of events over the years, I often get the impression that the only reason they have donned the outfit at all is because they drew the short straw that day.
There is however, one exception and he happens to be the mascot at my club. His name is Harry the Hornet, and entertainer doesn’t do him justice. I would even go so far as to say that there have been plenty of times over the last few season when he’s been the most entertaining thing on show at Vicarage Road.
Central to this is the fact that the guy who inhabits that strange yellow outfit has a fantastic sense of humour and is not afraid to use it. Be it with home fans, visiting fans, officials or even players. Which brings us nicely to the events of last Saturday and the mocking of Wilfred Zaha for diving. An offence for which he was rightly booked.
To his credit, Wilf eventually saw the funny side and the two exchanged a series of tweets (yes, Harry has his own Twitter account) but sadly, the same cannot be said of the former England and now Crystal Palace manager, Sam Allardyce who seemingly took grave exception to one of his players being ‘abused’ in this manner. He even suggested that the FA intervene which, given the subsequent social media piss take, has to go down as one of the great managerial PR own goals of our time. Given what happened with England, you’d have thought that he’d have been wary of anything even closely resembling a sting.
But whilst there is a huge amount of humour to be found in all this, there is also a very serious point. For the truth is that Harry was only mirroring the feeling of the home support and that was a frustration at the antics of certain players in the Palace team. Diving is cheating and a number of Palace players were guilty of that and more on Saturday.
As a former England manager who is now back at the helm of a Premier League side, maybe Mr. Allardyce should be focussed not on the antics of a man wearing a large yellow head, but on those of his team.
This will be my last blog of 2016 so I would like to say a huge thank you to all of those who have continued to support me in any way shape or form.
Whilst I haven’t been exactly prolific on the book front these last 12 months, a lot has been happening behind the scenes, primarily on the movie front and that will hopefully start to deliver in 2017. Indeed, as some of you may have seen, my next movie, Three Greens, has recently been announced.
So can I take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy and productive New Year.
As you must be aware by now, FIFA, in their infinite wisdom (sic) have decided to punish the FA’s of the four home nations for offences relating to the display of the Poppy on Armistice Day.
Now you don’t need me to go into the grubby details because they are no longer of any importance. What is important however, is what happens next. For it surely goes without saying that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must refuse to accept this punishment on the basis that the poppy is not, nor ever has been, a political symbol.
The various FA’s of course, have a record of ballsing things up and we are already hearing noises about fines being paid, albeit reluctantly, in an effort to avoid any potential sanctions. But in this instance, all those sitting behind their polished desks at Wembley, Hamden Park, Vanguard Way and Donegal Avenue have to understand the depth of feeling involved and accept that this is an issue which is bigger than football. Much bigger in fact.
It is about the integrity of the poppy, the memory of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice and the fact that our tradition of remembrance on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month is enshrined in the British DNA. Not because it’s political as FIFA allege, but because it is honourable and respectful.
As a consequence, those who administer our national game have to do the right thing and make a stand against this ludicrous decision. Anything else would be a dereliction of the duty they owe not just to those who follow the game, but to the history of their respective nations.
A couple of weeks ago, whist sitting at my computer as I do most days, I had one of those gut-wrenching writing related moments when I begrudgingly accepted that what I was working on wasn’t working.
These, as you can imagine, are painful times for a writer because not only do they signify wasted creative effort, but wasted time. Worse than that, they inevitably kick off feelings of frustration and anger and can even signal the start of what some people refer to as writers block (and my feelings on that are well documented).
Anyway, when such a moments occur in Brimson Towers, any one of a number of things will happen:
1. I will make tea before simply dumping everything I’ve written and starting again.
2. I will make tea and settle into a few hours of quiet reflection (sulking) before going back and finding a way to make it work.
3. I will make tea, curse my life and lack of talent and settle into a few days of quiet reflection (sulking) before going back and finding a way to make it work.
4. i will switch on the internet and waste hours of time arguing with someone in the name of research and/or spend loads of money on eBay before going back and finding a way to make it work.
5. I will go out on a motorbike for a few hours and return with not only a way to make it work, but a way to make it better.
Sadly, due to the ravages of time on my knackered back, number 5 is no longer an option which left me with only four choices, or so I thought. Because as I switched on the obligatory kettle, it suddenly struck me that I wasn’t actually enjoying writing. Not just the project I was actually working on, but at all. This light-bulb moment instantly presented me with a fifth option and it was one which, as someone who lists ‘laziness’ as a personal attribute, had an obvious appeal. So much so that right then and there, I grabbed it with both hands. It was retirement.
Yes, that’s right. I didn’t tell anyone about it but early on in November I made the conscious decision to retire from writing altogether. It was bliss, and it lasted approximately two days.
But what dragged me back to my keyboard wasn’t boredom, it was a series of phone calls informing me that two scripts I’d written had taken major steps forward along the development path whilst another idea I’d thrown into the mix had begun to generate some serious excitement.
As motivational tools go, mentions of A-List actors and doubled budgets sit pretty high on the list and so I am happy to announce that my short-lived retirement is now at an end. In fact my writing life is more hectic than it has been in ages.
So it appears, as threatened, that FIFA are going to investigate both the FA and the SFA for a variety of incidents relating to the displaying of a political symbol during their World Cup qualifier on 11th November. Or Armistice Day as some of us refer to it.
The symbol they refer to is, of course, the poppy and whilst a large portion of the British sporting public are rightly up in arms about this affront to the war dead, it might shock you to read that I hold the opposite opinion. Yes, that’s right, this particular veteran actually welcomes this investigation, and for a variety of reasons.
The first is that it will show English and Scottish football fans just how strong the backbones the staff at our respective FA’s actually possess. For given the public reaction, not to mention our inbred dislike and distrust of both FIFA and UEFA, even the acceptance of a token fine would be seen as an admission of guilt and given the significance of both the poppy and the date to the British people, that would be totally unacceptable. Hence, they dare not back down.
Second, it will show once and for all exactly how FIFA regard the English game and the people who follow it. Indeed, given the nature of the allegations, one has to wonder why the Welsh FA aren’t also being investigated given that they put on a show of remembrance in Cardiff the following day.
So angry are fans at this affront that many are already calling for the home nations to step away from the existing governing bodies and whilst I can’t ever see that happening, if FIFA fail to show any flexibility with regard to this matter, the damage to our relationship could be immense.
Finally, and most importantly, it will establish once and for all that the poppy is NOT nor ever has been a political symbol. For the stark reality is that if FIFA decide it is, and the FA accept that decision, it will set a legal precedent which would open the floodgates to all kinds of groups who attack the very idea of remembrance.
That simply cannot be allowed to happen which is why we have to have this investigation and why we have to come out of it with the dignity of the dead intact.
So the dust has settled and the results are in. Guess what? Trump won. Guess what else, it was never in doubt.
Why? Because just as they did with Brexit and the last general election (and one could even include the Scottish referendum) the liberal left and their politically correct idealism blew it. They were always going to. It’s what they do.
They simply cannot grasp the simple truth that shouting people down and bullying them with accusations of idiocy, racism, Islamophobia, Xenophobia and/or homophobia doesn’t make them change their mind, it pisses them off. And whilst they might be right in thinking that wearing a mask and throwing stuff at the Old Bill is going to send a message to the masses, it certainly isn’t going to be the message they want to send.
Yet time after time we see, read and hear this bizarre approach to the democratic process and it’s this refusal to learn from their mistakes coupled with their ingrained inability to accept that in a free society reasoned debate should be encouraged rather than suppressed that explains why the taste of defeat has become so familiar to them. But then again, as someone who voted for Brexit and who wanted Trump to win, what do I care? After all, if they lose, I win. Or rather, we win.
Carry on lefties. You’re doing a fine job. Albeit not the one you’re hoping for.
Like many people, I’ve been somewhat irritated today by the news that FIFA, that most honourable of institutions, has refused permission for the teams to display Poppies on their shirts during the World Cup Qualifier at Wembley on Armistice Day.
Inevitably, a sizeable chunk of the nation went ballistic at this news whilst the British press, another honourable institution, have been almost rabid in their condemnation of football’s governing body. And to be fair, I had my say as well.
However, as the day has gone on I have mellowed somewhat on the subject of Poppygate and to be fair to FIFA, I have actually been able to see their point. After all, we are brought up with the poppy and understand exactly what it represents but not everyone overseas is familiar with it as anyone who has ever spent Nov 11th in either America or Russia (for example) will know only too well.
Therefore it is not unreasonable to assume that whoever received the request from the FA simply responded as they would to the potential use of any symbol (OK, I’m being generous but let’s be honest, someone screwed up somewhere). It’s also not unreasonable to assume that inevitably, some kind of compromise will be reached and that this most special and poignant of days will be suitably marked. As of course, it must be.
The result of course, is that Poppygate will simply fade into the background and become yet another non-story of the kind which the British press are prone to create these days in a desperate effort to deflect attention away from something else.
But, there was one comment today which really got my goat and as the day has gone on, I have become more and more angry about it. It was made by Theresa May during Prime Ministers Questions today and was this:
Now I am a big fan of our PM but in this instance she is out of order. Bang out of order in fact. Because to use a phrase from the good book, ‘let those without sin cast the first stone.’
If we didn’t have veterans living on the streets, if we didn’t have veterans committing suicide because their mental health issues aren’t being addressed, if we didn’t have veterans scrabbling around for help from the NHS and if we didn’t have a Marine languishing in prison after being unjustly convicted of murder, then she would have a right to say what she did. But we do, so she doesn’t.
So here’s a message for Ms May from one veteran speaking on behalf of many veterans: If you’re going to tell someone to get their own house in order, especially when it’s made in the context of the military and veteran community, make sure that yours is squeaky clean first. Because I’ve got news for you, you have some serious tidying up to do before the UK is going to pass that particular inspection.
I’ve received a number of mails recently from people who are keen to write books and need advice on how to go about it.
Invariably, these mails ask about finding an agent and/or a publisher as well as any one of twenty questions relating to the actual process of getting a book from brain to bookshelf. However, whilst I’m always keen to encourage new writers, it’s fair to say that most of the people who contact me need (and receive) a reality check.
The truth is that when you’re starting out on the rocky road of penmanship, you don’t need an agent and unless you are incredibly famous or staggeringly lucky, the chances of you securing a publishing deal are pretty much zero. What you do need however, are words on pages. Lots of them.
So if you want to write a book, the best way to start is to simply sit down and get writing. And once you have a few thousand words on your hard drive, you’ll soon realise any number of things. Not least if you have the imagination and drive to actually see it through. Most don’t, but if you actually reach the point where you can say ‘yes’ to both of those questions, that’s when you need to start thinking about the next stage in the process.
Until then, it’s all about actually doing the graft. And you do know it’s hard graft right?
This morning, suited and booted, I will be joining the ranks of the masses commuting into London.
This in itself, is hardly a big deal. After all, there are millions of people who do the same thing every single day but for me, it’s a very rare occasion. Normally, I avoid the rush hour like the proverbial plague.
Today however, isn’t a normal day. It’s actually a very special day. For at 11.30, a large group of military veterans led by a sizeable contingent of former Royal Marines, will gather in Parliament Square in a silent show of support for Sergeant Al Blackman who is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of a Taliban insurgent. And I will be one of them.
Don’t get me wrong, Sgt Blackman served in a very different military from the one I did. His career as a member of one of the worlds elite military fighting units involved front line combat in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan amongst other places. Mine, as a ground engineer in the Royal Air Force, generally involved avoiding work where possible and trying to squeeze as much money as possible from the RAF Motorsports Association.
However, we have one thing in common: we wore a British military uniform and whilst the colour of our beret’s was, and is, vastly different, it gives us a common bond. Which is why, like all the veterans in attendance tomorrow as well as the many thousands who cannot make it, I will be doing my utmost to show my disgust at the fact that a brave man languishes in prison simply because he was hung out to dry by the very people who were, and are, supposed to protect him.
So if you’re in London todayand you see anyone wearing anything which marks them out as ex-military, you know where they’re either going or have been.
*I first posted the following blog in the spring of 2012, ironically, the same year that footballer Andre Gray posted the homophobic tweets which recently saw him spread across the sports pages.
You would hope that things would have changed in recent years but as we have seen with the Greg Clarke article that’s splashed across the media morning, that is far from the case.
Tragic doesn’t come close. Shameful does.
As you may or may not know, Downing Street will today play host to a summit which will discuss, amongst other things, the issues of racism and homophobia.
Leaving aside the simple truth that I actually think our PM has more important things to be doing at the moment, the reason this summit is taking place is apparently to take a fresh look at both ‘problems’ in the face of recent events and, in the case of homophobia, in the wake of the BBC documentary which looked at the lack of any openly gay players in the professional game.
Now my views on racism at football are in black and white for all to see, be that on this very blog or in my book Kicking Off. Homophobia however, is something I have never really discussed before and there is a reason for that.
You see speaking as a football fan, it is my assertion that there isn’t actually a problem to address at the moment and nor will there be until such time as we have a player with the bottle to actually come out and admit to his sexuality. At that point things will change immediately because then the anti-homophobia campaign will have an actual focal point or to be blunt, a potential victim. As a result, then, and only then, will we know if we actually have a problem at all. Because at the moment, it is all supposition.
That is I know, a very simplistic way of looking at things but let’s face it, once inside the confines of a ground, football fans become fairly simplistic beings. All too often the concept of right and wrong is neutralised by raw emotion but as we saw with racism, when people eventually began to realise how futile and pathetic it was, it soon became so ingrained in their psyche that to even utter a racist term stopped occurring to all but the most rabid of morons. Indeed, far from knocking football for being racist we should be applauding it for driving the anti-racism message deep into the heart of British society.
I believe that exactly the same thing will happen with homophobia and I would argue, it will happen in a fairly short space of time if not immediately. After all, one only has to look at the TV to see how much has changed with regard to British societies acceptance of homosexuality in recent years.
Yet as the noises being made ahead of this summit clearly seem to prove, both the game and the authorities would like the great British public to believe that the second an openly gay player steps onto a field, the terraces will resound with cries of ‘they don’t like it up ‘em’ or ‘I’m free’ and the sight of fans mincing up and down behind the goals. Indeed the reason I sat down and wrote this very blog is because I have been so offended by some of the things I have been hearing this morning. How dare they accuse us, as citizens never mind supporters, of thinking like that!
The question of course, is why they are inferring such things and the answer, like most things to do with the great game, is fairly obvious. It’s a basic diversion tactic. Because if you point the finger of blame toward the fans, you don’t actually have to apportion any blame to yourselves.
Like it or not, if you are a pro-footballer be it at Old Trafford or Roots Hall, the nature of the beast is such that getting abuse from the terrace is going to be part and parcel of your career. Brutal though this might be, it is a fact and if you don’t like it or don’t think you will be able to take it, don’t do it. It really is as simple as that.
The key to dealing with that abuse is to understand why it happens and what it actually means because for the most part, it will only be coming at you from opposing fans who you are pissing off by doing a good job. And as long as you’re doing a good job, as recent history has proven only too well, your own supporters will not only forgive you anything but they will continue to heap adulation on you. Since they are the ones who ultimately pay your wages, they’re the only ones you really have to worry about.
However, if that grief comes not from the terraces but from your peers, especially your own team mates, it is something else entirely because it goes beyond banter from the crowd, it becomes personal. Anyone who has even been in a changing room knows that many of them are like a scene from Animal Farm (the George Orwell book, not the porn movie!) and anyone who shows even the remotest sign of being in any way different becomes fair game. Remember the stick Graham Le Saux used to get simply because he has a brain in his head? Much of that focussed on his supposed sexuality and let’s face it, if you were gay and saw that as a potential warning of things to come, why on earth would you want to put yourself at risk?
Of course not all players are like that and I’m sure that there are certain changing rooms which are delightful places to be post-training. But there are plenty which aren’t, especially if you’re not one of the towel-snapping, prank playing, tart shagging brigade and it is that ‘closed shop’ lad mentality which David Cameron and the various cronies and cling-ons should be discussing not the old chestnut of fears of abuse from the terraces.
But that will only happen when the game actually admits it has a problem in-house and we all know how reluctant it is to do that.
Thanks to all those people who continue to keep both The Crew and Top Dog at the top of the various download charts. It really is humbling. Could I please ask that if you have read either book you leave a review of some kind as they are a great help both to me and to potential readers. And don’t forget, my latest comedy ebook Wings of a Sparrow is also available both in print and to download.