This week has been dominated by the F.A. Cup for me. I've had the pleasure of watching two victories at our new Cardiff City Stadium and I'm eagerly awaiting the draw for the next round.
The crowds were well below average for both ties. For the Brizzle game we were down to a pathetic 6,000 odd and for Leicester yesterday ( a side close to us in the Championship) it only rose to a sparse 10,000. It looked like Wales football team at the Millennium Stadium. On Tuesday, you could even hear our keeper berating defenders.
I know four regular season ticket holders who didn't go to both matches. This follows a pattern throughout the country and, with a few exceptions, almost every club saw a considerable drop in attendances for the Cup. When I phoned the club for tickets, the woman claimed it was down to 'the Recession' and who can blame people for choosing to opt out occasionally?
In the case of my friends, I suspect it was more likely to be our striker Jay Bothroyd in collusion with their spouses. Bothroyd - despite being voted man of the match v. Leicester - told reporters prior to the Bristol City game that the Cup was a distraction from our main aim : promotion from the Championship. Logically he was right, though his timing was questionable.
I ought to agree, but can't. Memories of our epic journeys to Wembley two years ago are still fresh, as are the thrilling victories against Leeds and Man. City when both were high-flying Premier teams. When my son and I travelled to Middlesbrough ( then a top-flight team ) for the Quarter Final he cheered me up no end by predicting - 'We're going to get stuffed!' All the more joyous then, when we won 2-0 and my lucky scarf still bears the scuff marks of being trailed outside his car on our journey home.
Then there were great days at Wembley itself. Before the Final, we drank outside a pub in Baker St. and everyone urged tourists in open-topped buses to 'Do the Ayatollah!' Comically, fans were clutching beer glasses in their hands, so slapping heads with one hand only. Tourists replied in similar fashion, possibly believing we were members of some obscure Welsh religious cult!
We came so close to winning the FA Cup it seems incredible. Even after our defeat against Pompey ( one friend is still nicknamed 'Up Pompeii' because of his mispronunciation ), we were chanting more loudly than their supporters - WE NEARLY WON THE CUP!
In 1925, we lost in the Final only to return two years later to defeat Arsenal 1-0, courtesy of a gaff by their Welsh keeper. I dream of Arsenal signing Wayne Hennessey and of him lining up against us in this year's final. Let's hope my lucky scarf survives another car journey.
Passing Ninian Park is surreal : the Bob Bank, where I sat for so many seasons , still stands and faces one house ( presumably a show house) which is nearly completed on the site. We debated names for streets, like Leo Fortune-West Boulevard, but this house seems to be on Turnstile Row. If only I could actually buy one on the Bob Bank, where my stairs would be terrace steps and I could sit in my own,old seat and gaze out ...........
P.S. Stoke have just beaten Arsenal. Are Chelsea after Boaz Myhill?
The closure of the huge Bosch automotive parts factory at Miskin is yet another kick in the goolies to the Welsh economy and both the Senedd and Westminster seem powerless to prevent such tragedies or to alleviate suffering afterwards. Re-training schemes are all very well, but people have few alternatives in times of recession bordering on Depression.
When it was set up in 1991, the multi-national company Bosch was given a massive grant of £21 million by the Welsh Development Agency towards that plant. Like many private industries it was lured by public finance ( our money, in other words) to locate in an area of then cheap labour. Will Bosch now pay back every penny of that grant to the Welsh people or, at least, use all of it to compensate workers who've lost their livelihood? Like Hoover in Merthyr, Bosch will move elsewhere ( in their case, Hungary) where labour costs are 65% cheaper.
This is the harsh reality of capitalism and until we actually replace it with a completely different society based on equality, justice and full democracy, this scenario of boom and bust will continue. Already, it echoes the 1980's and the dark days of Thatcher when unemployment was used as a weapon to keep wages down and virtually destroy the Unions. After the election ,whichever party is elected , we will see an onslaught on public services which will make even Thatcher seem liberal-minded.
Merthyr Tudful has barely enjoyed the boomtime at all and here, as elsewhere, unemployment is inextricably connected to drug-taking, crime and prostitution. People of all ages are being seriously affected and Merthyr has one of the highest rates in the whole of the DK ( Disunited Kingdom ), especially with the 'hidden unemployment' of incapacity benefits taken into account.
Long-term solutions must be on many different levels. We need to create a society based on producing sustainable goods, not serving the greed of property ownership. Above all, we need a banking and industrial system based on co-operatives and nationalised utilities and transport links ( i.e. both rail and bus). The mistake in the past was to run nationalised industries like private enterprises : decisions should be made from below upwards, with managers elected from the shop floor in a true democracy.
The Senedd must devise a plan to alter the whole nature of our economy in the coming years, instead of tinkering with a system which is bound to fail. Credit Unions should be linked to a plethora of local co-ops ( industries, shops and pubs ), with the knowledge that all investments would go to help these, while any profits from them would be ploughed back into the Credit Unions to help those in financial difficulties. At the very least, the Senedd ( when it has power to do so) must declare a policy of nationalising water, energy and rail companies and running them to benefit the Welsh people . Only then, can we reap the rewards of water pumped to English cities, take control of alternative energy sources and ban opencast and plan a railway network which joins all parts of the country in a feasible and economic way.
Unemployment must be the number one priority of Senedd and Westminster . From Holyhead to Newport, Wales has suffered more than anywhere else in the DK. So many young people are leaving school with no hope of a job ; so many graduates are finding their qualifications do not guarantee employment and so many skilled workers are being flung onto the tip of redundancy and left to smoulder there.
A revolution is essential . A revolution of consciousness and awareness that capitalism cannot deliver and there are alternatives. It is not a matter of 'socialism in one country', but I do feel that Wales must find its own way, based on sharing and co-operation. We do not need models from the past, but we do need to draw on our history and the people of the 1831 Rising in Merthyr ,the Chartists and protesters of Rebecca , for inspiration for a future where ideals are the tracks and most people will get on as passengers.
Let it be known : January has been cancelled! To many, the snow has outstayed its welcome, like an eccentric uncle who stays for Christmas and whose flatulence and jokiness was , at least, different ; now, he's not only tedious but a downright nuisance. The economy is in even more dire straits, shops are stripped of soup and bread, teachers are all bunking off and worried parents are forced to resort to playing with their offspring.
Even left-wing Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood - one of the few politicians I have any time for - has joined in with the teacher-bashing, claiming they had a week off last year ( must've been part of RC T only) and that pupils should congregate in Community Centres where teachers can perform minor miracles of education with the equipment there : mostly, in my experience, consisting of tables , chairs and a few pool tables.
Teachers do not make the decision to close schools, so her attacks are misdirected. Decisions are made by Heads in consultation with local authorities. I would imagine that Health and Safety played a major role, as well as the fact that school buses weren't running and still aren't in RCT. Parents are only too willing to use litigation nowadays, so think of a situation where pupils are allowed to go to schools whose yards resemble ice rinks. The same parents who are complaining about schools shutting , would probably be first to sue if little Stephanie or Benjamin broke a leg or two on school grounds.
Herding pupils into Community Centres is ludicrously impractical, given the lack of space and resources there. Likewise, reviving the former practice of teachers reporting to local schools would be merely an exercise in child-minding ; though perhaps that's what Ms. Wood had in mind.
With the help of cat litter scattered over our Close, damp start and a mouse-eaten blanket over our car overnight, I was taken to the train station for the Cardiff City game last Saturday. After my wife suggested it, cat litter seems to have caught on and one chapel in Canton had spread it all over steps and path. Local mogies had yet to make their offerings.
In Cardiff, I bought a pair of hiking boots and when the assistant asked what they were for I should've replied - ' Everyday use round town.' I wished I'd worn them on my trek to Chapter for a pint pre-game ; the streets were lethal and , for once, Cardiff has had it worse than Merthyr, for ice if not for snow.
Despite the problems (especially for older people) the Big Snow does bring us out of ourselves. People chat more readily at my local Post Office, some with clear memories of 1947 and drifts to get lost in. There is always 'More on the way' , even when it's snowing outside and I'm privileged to get priority when it comes to a loaf : passed under the counter like some illicit food during post-war rationing.
This one's from my book 'Poems for Underage Thinkers', published by Pont -
THE BIG SNOW
Three feet and the whole village discovers its legs, dead spiders are spilled out of green wellies, people smile at each other, remembering teeth and dentures are meant for more than chewing, amazed that a whole world exists without roofs, unseated they stroll down the main street daring hellos to everyone they meet, paying courtesy visits to their abandoned cars, hardly anyone working and no-one on the phone chasing them up. Another few feet and they'd be hugging complete strangers, kissing cheeks French-style and melting piles with laughter, taking gran's shopping uphill by sleigh-power, snowballing the earnests who trek wearily home.