Some heroes loom large, full sized posters on the bedroom walls of your life; others exist more subtly, to be uncovered during infrequent fumblings through half forgotten drawers, and attic boxes.
Pete Seeger, who died today, exists, for me, in the latter area. He was always there, a voice in the background, the reason for so much.
It’s a Saturday morning in the early sixties. I’m lying comfortably in bed, sun shining through the window, a whiff of breakfast from downstairs, and a whole, long, ten year old’s weekend ahead of me. Reaching out to my Dansette radio, I click the switch and hear the reassuring sound of “Uncle Mac” on “Children’s Favourites”.
Before the Pirate ships, there was only “The Light Programme” on the BBC. It was my sole intake of recorded music for the week, and its playlists remain clear a lifetime later.
Although some ‘Top Ten Hits” were played, largely the requests we heard were familiar favourites: “The Railway runs through the middle of the house” by Alma Cogan, “Sparky’s magic piano”, Danny Kaye and “The Ugly Duckling”, Michael Holliday’s “The Story of my life”, Stan Freeberg’s “Bannana Boat Song” and Pinky and Perky’s take on just about anything.
However, amongst this light entertainment confectionery, were some songs which were, clearly, too subtle for the BBC’s still Reithian censorship department.
The first was Pete Seeger singing “Little Boxes”. It’s a song which seems like it’s always been in my head. I remember asking my mother – what’s that about? And she explained it was about people living in houses which were all the same and could make their lives seem all the same.
It was an early understanding that songs could make a point about people and life as well as sounding good. It shaped how I thought about music. “Boxes” was written by Seeger’s friend, Malvina Reynolds, but, for me, as it is for millions, it’s Pete’s voice singing it which echoes down through the years.
There were other Saturday morning regulars: Trini Lopez singing “If I had a hammer”, “Where have all the flowers gone?” from The Kingston Trio. Both from Seeger. Songs to make you think about the world, to express anger, and hope, and solidarity. Seeger’s influence was there even when I didn’t realize it – and it would continue:
The Byrds singing “Turn Turn Turn”, “Guantanamera” for the Cuban people, numerous demonstrations singing “We shall Overcome”, appreciating and loving Woody Guthrie and Tom Paxton, my own guitar, my own songs, Springsteen, the understanding or belief that if music was not part of your life it was nothing, and vice versa.
All started with those “Little Boxes on the hillside, all made out of ticky tack”.
I never got to see Pete live – though decades later I had the privilege of seeing his half sister Peggy, with another songwriting political hero, Ewan MacColl, in the unlikely setting of Portobello Town Hall. When I listen to “Free World”, by another much loved singer, Ewan’s daughter, Kirsty, I hear the echoes of Seeger and what he started, popularized, and brought to greatness – the idea of the people’s music to change the world.
“I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God.”
Rest easy, Pete, one day, we shall overcome.
Hearing of the death of Ronnie Biggs sent me into a reflective mood: not just about the Train Robbery, but also about news journalism in those far off days of the early 60s.
When the cleverly planned heist was imperfectly executed at Sears Crossing near Bridego Bridge at Mentmore in Buckinghamshire, I was just 11 years old. Already I was fascinated by newspapers and news, and it strikes me, as I write this, that many of my memories of contemporary news are actually templated by the front page of the Daily Express – the paper of choice in mine and maybe the majority of households at the time.
“Kennedy assassinated”, “Marilyn found dead” and many others, in huge headline print on a full sized, black, white and grey broadsheet page are like icons for the relevant bits of my memory folders, and, though old buffers such as myself, are never slow to rant about the iniquities of rolling news, sound bite broadcasting, and shallow writing, it’s actually quite an effort to recall how different news coverage was in those days.
This was only a generation after the BBC Radio News had solemnly intoned one morning: “There is no news – as the world has been asleep for the last 12 hours”; television newsreaders had only appeared on screen in 1955 – before that the news had been read by a disembodied voice over a series of still pictures and graphics.
When I first flew into Ha Noi a decade ago, I realized that, despite nightly news coverage throughout the 60s, my only true image of the city was its name printed in black on a grey map of north Viet Nam.
It sounds like a strange claim but there was less news in those days. That applies obviously to the number of bulletins available on radio or television, but also to the accessibility of information and sources. Much that was reported came from government sources and was often intoned by elderly men in sensible suits. If they were outside they would be wearing hats or possibly getting in and out of cars with a wave. To report a major news event, a film crew needed to be dispatched, the film returned, processed, edited and included in the news coverage. For anywhere outside of the greater London area this all might take so long that the local Evening paper – or sometimes the following day’s Daily, would have ‘got the scoop’.
Well into the 60s, the best way of seeing good quality, colour footage of major events was probably the cinema’s newsreels. The news was up to two weeks ‘old’, but at least you could see what had happened.
The rapid development over the next few years of landline and then satellite communications technology changed all that, of course, and soon ‘live from the scene’ became a commonplace on the television news, albeit requiring the use of heavy and bulky equipment. My first clear memory of extended live coverage of a news event was of the Aberfan disaster in October 1966, and, tragically, that was only made possible by the length of time it took to clear the sludge and slurry and uncover the school building. It was another first in that I think it was the first time news had been broadcast specially during day time rather than in the evening.
So news access was limited in the early 60s and you had the feeling that state of affairs was very satisfactory to the Establishment (See Lucan ). It was an attitude which perhaps explains the government’s almost total failure to deal with the Profumo affair once the press had started to report it in depth.
If you take a news agenda which was heavily political, limited in live coverage, controlled by the establishment, and with little connection with local people, it’s not surprising that an event like the Train Robbery – with an equivalent of £40 million stolen – got big treatment from the media. The fact that it happened on August 8th – prime silly season territory – only added to its allure, for the newspapers especially.
In a sense, it was the story that kept on giving for newshounds, and conveniently placed for Fleet Street. There was the robbery, the search for the robbers, their capture, their trials, their sentencing, their escapes, the worldwide searches, the recaptures, their ‘afterlives’ and now their demise. Throw in the mixture of “The Mail Train”, nicknames for both cops and robbers, and a cheeky chappy like Ronald Biggs, and it was an editor’s dream of an event.
This explains partly why it has remained so visible in the public’s eye. The media promoted it, many of the Robbers eventually caught on to the possibility of legitimate gains from their ‘stories’, which they told with varying amounts of honesty or accuracy, and, for the public, it became one of those events symbolic of the pre-Beatles Sixties, all black and white, strange cars, and men in hats and raincoats.
There’s another reason as well, of course. In a society as repressed and repressive as the fifties and sixties were in Britain, there was always the temptation to celebrate the cocking of a snook at authority, especially if it could be done vicariously. The response: “Good on yer, lads” reflects this, as well as a bizarre sentimentality about crime, which perisists when folk talk about that particular era, as being peopled by those who were ‘good to their mums’ and wouldn’t hurt a fly if they could help it. It doesn’t sit well with the brutal activities of the Krays and their colleagues in ‘the Smoke’, but the Train Robbers were low enough in the food chain to be dissociated with that brand of violence; even the coshing of driver Mills seems to have been a result of panic rather than intent – when the gang discovered ‘Biggsy’ had provided an engine driver unfamiliar with the model being used on the Mail Train.
Perhaps Bruce Reynolds and co merely benefited from that strange British choice of underworld heroes ranging from Robin Hood through Dick Turpin to Rob Roy – all seemingly portrayed at one time or other by David Niven!
And what of the Train Robbers? Do they deserve their position in 20th Century folklore? I suppose they do, albeit tongue in cheek. It was an audacious raid which took advantage of almost incredible laxness of security on behalf of the GPO; it was relatively well planned by the standards of the time, despite some glaring errors and mistakes, and the various escapes and manhunts entertained the public in some grey times. As one of the policemen commented on Ronnie Biggs: “At least he brought some comedy to the grim world of crime.”
I think it’s possible to let the Robbers raise a wry smile without necessarily glorifying what they did. It’s not even clear whether their story supports the tenet that crime doesn’t pay, or not. Certainly those of my political persuasion would suggest far more money was robbed from the Post Office more recently.
A lot of families found their lives ruined by what happened at Sears Crossing and later on – from the partners and children of the Robbers themselves, to the obsessed amongst the police investigators, to the two who were on the footplate of the engine. Driver Mills, despite persistent myth, died from leukaemia around 7 years later, not the effects of his injuries during the robbery, though he never worked again, and his fireman that day, David Whitby, died in 1972 at the young age of 34, from a heart attack. This is not to defend the use of violence, but it does reflect the level of misinformation grown up around the whole event.
Were the Robbers the clever masterminds they were made out to be in some parts of the media? Not really – their crime was ingenious in part but, had they been as clever as they thought, they would have been earning an honest living – and they wouldn’t have been caught. It’s tempting to suggest that these days they would have been working in the City – for far higher takings.
From a news point of view, it was the right crime in the right place at the right time; it was about the last time in their lives that the Robbers’ timing was that fortunate.
It’s a long way from the parish of Kilbeacanty, near Gort in Co Galway, to Rondebosch in the suburbs of Cape Town, but they are linked, sadly, as the homeplaces of Galway county Hurler, Niall Donoghue, and England Test Cricketer, Jonathan Trott.
Donoghue took his own life in October, just days before his 23rd birthday, to the shock and pain of the whole GAA Community in Ireland; Trott, like a number of cricketers before him, admitted to stress issues before pulling out of cricket and flying home from England’s current English Ashes Tour.
Such events inevitably give rise to comment and reaction, but, equally predictably, the news agenda moves on, until the next time.
At first sight, there is little to connect inter-county hurling and Test Match cricket. One is proudly amateur and linked to the community right down to parish and townland level, the other is part of the multi-billion pound business that international sport and television coverage has become; one player lived in constant contact with his home community, the other in the bubble of top level sporting achievement. Yet both felt personal pressure and isolation; in both cases their mental health suffered.
The connection, of course, is that you cannot generalize about mental health; by definition it is personal to each of us and can be affected in ways which vary from pressure to succeed, traumatic family events, to chemical imbalance. One’s private, hidden, reaction to incidents which may be of no account at all to those around us – even our closest family and friends, is often the crucial element in depression. In isolating the sufferer in this way, it is at its most pernicious.
Young men, in particular, often face challenging mental health issues – and at a time in their life where they may feel pressure to forge a career, shine amongst friends, establish successful relationships and, in general, live up to the template provided for the young by marketing and media around the world.
Wherever he went in his homeplace, Niall was recognized and known: he was the star in the local club who had made it to county level, he had played in an all Ireland
Final at Croke Park: youngsters wanted to be him, parents wanted him as a son, everyone told him how proud they were. This in itself is pressure, of course, but when such admiration is contrasted with an inner feeling of unworthiness or inability to live up to expectations – or even a fear of not being able to maintain current levels of success – it can become, for some young men, unbearable. The feeling is: I can’t be what they think I am, or what they want me to be, I can’t bear to let them down. It feels like a loss of control over your own development, your own abilities, maybe even your own private aspirations. You start off wanting to be successful at your sport, your job, your studies and you end up carrying the hopes and expectations of everyone you meet in your day to day life,
Like all high level international sports stars, Jonathan Trott is at the other extreme of this pressure. To an extent, he is cocooned from the fans and supporters and their expectations, he lives in an expensive bubble, a repetition of training, travel, playing and analyzing. He is surrounded not by admiring friends and neighbours, but by team mates on the same treadmill – all of whom appear to him to be coping, and by an inquisitive and often overbearing press, who want quotable quotes and controversial predictions. They expect him to have inspiration when it’s all going right and explanations when the wheels fall off. The joys of sporting success – mastery of your craft, the highs of victory – can be lost in the need to move on, maintain the levels, seek improvement, and meet the requirements of team, media and sponsors. Those closest to you in family and friends can be physically distant for much of the time, and you may find yourself unhappily emotionally distant when they are physically present.
Of course, many sports stars flourish in such an atmosphere, they relish constant pressure and challenge – it’s part of what has brought them to their position of excellence. For others, it’s an unwelcome and unexpected part of success or talent, an uninvited guest at what was supposed to be a celebratory party.
When depression hits, it can be impossible to share the feelings. You may feel ungrateful – you are successful and popular, how can you tell people you’re unhappy? Friends have bigger and more obvious troubles than you, it would be selfish to share your feelings. And then, of course, there is the seemingly unbreakable link between being a sports star and exhibiting machismo.
As a teacher for nearly 40 years, I became aware of mental health issues in young people – particularly males; on more than one occasion my career was touched by tragic suicides.
What did I learn? Did I become an expert?
Of course not.
I discovered that expecting to be able to detect depression was a mistake. No matter how vigilant, you can’t always expect to detect ‘the signs’; there is not a ‘type’ who may succumb to depression, nor are the trigger points necessarily obvious. For all these reasons ‘treatment’ of mental illness is not an obvious solution; it may be managed or assuaged but not necessarily ‘cured’.
What I did see in many, though not all, of those with mental health issues, (and they were mainly, but not exclusively male), was anger. Like the illness, the anger could be directed inwardly or towards others, it could be specific or generalized. Often it led to challenging behaviour, frequently it scared the perpetrator as much, if not more, than the victim. It was anger born from a thousand different frustrations, incomprehension, a feeling of ignorance or powerlessness, the suspicion that everyone else had it sorted, or an inability to understand where this blackness came from.
Family, peers, activities, lifestyle or personal history could be responsible. Sometimes it was a physical, chemical imbalance, sometimes it seemed to be, at least to inexpert observers, almost completely unattributable. There are many reasons for anger amongst young males in Scotland and Ireland – social and economic, all linking with the psychological impulse to self hate, to struggle in confusion, or to choose isolation, often disguised by apparent social easiness. In the absence of any other release, self harm – emotional and physical, violence, nihilism and substance misuse all play their part in promoting this unhappiness, and impacting on those around the victim.
You would expect trouble when all of these impulses are combined with the competitive masculinity of sporting contest – whether it’s team based or individual. When performed in good mental health, sport can be an ideal release for emotions and ambition; when it mixes with personal challenges, it can be an awful mixture.
It should be noted, though, that academic competitiveness, dedication to the arts, peer popularity and many other spheres which are important in young people’s lives can be as much of a trigger as sport.
The danger is that forceful aggression is being seen somehow as a means of demonstrating strength and confidence, when, in reality it is a sign of weakness. The language and messages to be seen on teenagers’ social media sites often display a horrifying lack of awarenesss of impact.
Sportsmen, being in the public eye, tend to attract high level attention when their mental health problems are known, but really they are only the visible tip of a lethal iceberg. All of us can be affected by mental health issues, one in three or four of us will be. Sport, however, occupies a prominence in our psyche which sometimes borders on the unhealthy but could therefore be used, perhaps, as a means of promoting better mental health. Certainly regular exercise is helpful, but, the manner in which the media leads us in our reactions to sportsmen’s troubles could be crucial. And the media have played their part in the situation we have today.
Sport sells, and sponsors underwrite sporting success. In a sense, sports stars have become the moving advertising hoardings for a variety of products; the pressure is on the broadcasters, in particular, to provide thrilling and controversial ‘do not miss’ coverage. It’s in the nature of sport that it cannot always be riveting, so other ways need to be found to attract the viewer, even when the game is lacking in incident or atmosphere. Increasingly, fouls, altercations, sledging, and rule breaking receive as much playback, if not more, as moments of skill or individual ability.
Any young person watching coverage of “The Battle for the Ashes” could be forgiven for believing that the ability to stand up to foul mouthed abuse and physical threats was at least as important as technical ability with bat or ball. And it takes two to tango. Those who sledge will only do so if they gain a response. At times we see professional sportsmen acting like primary school children, facing up to each other, offering threats, calling names. The effect of this can be seen at any children’s sports event as kids mimic their heroes.
If this was merely grown men acting embarrassingly, it could be tholed, albeit with some regret. However, it promotes a faux macho sheen to sport which adds to the pressure on those who take part, and on those who emulate them. Furthermore, by highlighting such scenes, the media fuels the belief that you have to be ‘tough’ to succeed. What a stupid comment is the almost universal “It’s a man’s sport!” – seldom accurate and frequently unhelpful. We need to escape from using sport as a substitute for our emotions and see it as a release for them.
Nobody is denying the strength of purpose and commitment needed to attain success at the highest sporting level, but it should be remembered that sport has been played for centuries without the need for personal abuse or denigration being an accepted part of the approach. Not so long ago, accepting victory or defeat with good grace, and respecting one’s opponents was an integral part of most sports. It was seen as a mark of maturity. But, of course, there was far less money at stake then.
Cricket has a reputation for being linked with depression. David Frith has written on suicides in the game and there have been several high profile casualties in recent years. It may be that the game attracts a certain type of personality; it may be to do with its particular combination of team and individual, social and reflective involvement. Thankfully, various organizations seem to be taking this on board.
Ultimately, however, whether depression is sports related or not, it is an increasing danger, particularly to our young people, and the question is what can be done to minimize its effects.
As I said, there is no sure ‘cure’ but there is much that can be done to encourage an end to the isolation of those who are affected in this way. They must be encouraged to share their feelings, and examples of sharing and talking are crucial. In the aftermath of Niall Donoghue’s death, a number of Irish sports stars talked of their struggles with stress and depression as part of general concern and shock at what had happened. The cricket world has also spoken up in the wake of Trott’s revelations.
Making discussion of mental wellbeing a ‘normal’ part of young people’s dialogue is crucial. Schools have their part to play and so do sporting organizations – so do the sports stars who are role models and so do the media who choose how to promote their ‘product’.
What a huge boost the nation’s mental health consciousness would receive if sport stations, instead of highlighting unpleasantness and macho posturing between players, pulled their cameras away and promoted organizations like SAMH or made points about mental health and the need to talk.
The sledging received by Jonathan Trott in the current Ashes series was not responsible for his current problems which pre-dated it by months of not years; it did, however, promote an unhealthy atmosphere of threat and aggression above and beyond the cricketing competition. Sportsmen will always seek a competitive edge but the promotion of non-sport related aggression as part of our games is surely not the way to go.
We need to get the message to our young people, whether involved in sport or not, that the real bravery lies in sharing not sledging.
I have a theory that, when people ask of my generation: “Can you remember what you were doing when Kennedy was shot?”, the inquiry is about far more than it appears on the surface. (And, by the way, you won’t find mention of ‘theory’ or, indeed, ‘conspiracy’ again in this piece.)
I think that, inevitably, for anyone who lived through the twentieth century, their times were split between ‘before’ and ‘after’ Dallas. However, it’s entirely fanciful to talk of ‘the loss of innocence’ in respect of Kennedy’s assassination, and quite an insult to our elders who had already lived through the carnage of first and second world wars. Evil wasn’t invented on November 22nd 1963, but it did pay a fairly forceful visit to the minds of those of us who were pre-teen at the time. For my generation it was the first time we had even heard the word ‘assassination’. Those who ask if we can remember where we were when we heard of his death are really seeking to understand his impact and why his memory still resonates.
Two elements come to mind.
First, for post war babies, we were blessed to avoid war and even national service. If you were lucky, violence was associated with Teddy Boys wrecking cinemas, occasional front page murder headlines or the westerns and police procedurals we saw on television or in the cinema. In short, it happened somewhere else and to other people. And it didn’t seem quite real, even when it was. The idea of a political leader being killed, though it was happening around the world, was not one which we associated with the USA or the ‘familiar’ western world, at that point.
Secondly, we need to consider the impact of John F Kennedy on the world of the early 60s. Nearly everywhere, political leaders were men born in the 19th Century. They seemed ideally suited to the black and white television newsreels of the time – grey, drab and indistinguishable. They wore hats and overcoats, mumbled when they talked, and were, generally, boosted by wartime exploits which took place long before we were born and meant little to us in our childhood.
Enter John Kennedy: young, hatless, usually without a coat, with a glamorous wife and two young photogenic children. And in my household: Catholic – check, Irish – check. When he gave speeches, he inspired, when he told jokes they were funny, when he produced an aside it seemed to come from natural wit rather than a speechwriter’s pen. He valued the arts and sought advice from the brightest brains – be they political or not.
He captured the world’s attention because he was different, and because he brought vitality to a near moribund political scene. He entered a world which still had to glorify youth as opposed to age and experience; perhaps trailblazing in advance of the beat music explosion. He was often described as the first world leader to be born in the twentieth century. He was certainly the first to maximize the effects of new possibilities in communication.
In short, it was near impossible to imagine anything happening to him. Although Jackie Kennedy coined the idea of ‘Camelot’ after his death, the image he presented was one of hope and enthusiasm; it was certainly potent enough to suggest to folk of my age, just starting secondary school, that politics might be a possible agent for change, that it might be a good thing to aspire to a career of service.
Those who, retrospectively, point to his unfulfilled promise, his hidden failings, his manipulation of the media, are missing the point. Kennedy’s impact was to fuel an interest in politics, set a generation towards a new way of considering public service, aspiring to find words that would inspire. The future, especially after the Cuban crisis, became something to welcome, to grab, to shape. That was the feeling at the time, a feeling which directed many of our lives politically speaking.
It matters not if today’s generation, cynical in their political attitudes, ridicule the effect the young New Englander had on the world of his contemporaries. Those who lived through those times never again had political leadership and inspiration like that which was provided by JFK, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King. The times which followed their deaths, and the politicians who replaced them, militated against such hope and idealism. His death, sudden, awful, and totally unexpected, seemed to be a warning that reaching too high could only end in failure. The trauma of his death was exacerbated hugely by its shock, its unexpectedness, and the strength and influence of his presence in our world.
That is why, when I came downstairs on Friday November 22nd 1963, having completed my geography homework, the news of John Kennedy’s death felt like the start of my growing up.
Like many of my generation, I had been left with the hope and the idealism, but had lost the energy and charm of the man who seemed to make it all possible.
Tomorrow will be the 50th Annniversary of the day I started attending live football – and every other weekend since – and frequently more often, attendance at a football ground has been my norm.
I must have seen thousands of players and games, and, inevitably, a lot of the action merges into a blur. However, there are individuals and teams who stand out – perhaps for a particular goal, a save, a passage of play, or even a bit of madness.
One of the teams who stand out are the Hibs’ side who were the legendary Turnbull’s Tornadoes. Across the football world they are recognized as one of Scotland’s greatest sides. Each of the players was distinctive, and in Pat Stanton, the team was led by a man who could only be referred to as “Mr Hibs”.
However, one player in that side, not the most talented, but certainly the most committed, has a story which is truly unique.
Consider that team’s left back: Erich Schaedler. Born in the Scottish Borders to a father who had been a German PoW, he went on to win his only cap for Scotland against West Germany. In an age when most players’ post training routine was a steak pie supper and a couple of pints, he was fanatical about fitness, fascinated by physiotherapy, and highly aware of the physiological elements of sport. His tackling was fierce but his approach was fair. He was a joker who could be intense, a loner who was loved by all who knew him, a near teetotaller who ran two pubs, and a much admired hero who died alone, at Christmas, apparently by his own hand, and at the painfully young age of 36, whilst still a professional footballer
Football biographies are not easy to write: they can easily stray into the land of self justifying anecdotes and tedious lists of games and results. Erich Schaedler deserved better than that, and, thankfully he has received it in Colin Leslie’s fine tribute to him: Shades: The Short Life and Tragic Death of Erich Schaedler from Black and White Publishing.
The details of his early career in the Borders, his short spell with Stirling Albion, his long love affair with Hibs, his success with Dundee and his final stop at Dumbarton are all well covered, but always in a manner which tells us more about the man himself and his complex relationship with the game he loved.
As Colin suggests, there were more than enough rumours flying about Edinburgh after his demise, to engender a sensationalist potboiler of the worst kind. However, while stating his wish that he wanted to find out, at least for Erich’s family, more facts about his death and the reasons behind it, the author is principled enough to avoid tabloid speculation, and honest enough to admit that the mystery still remains.
“Shades” is a good read – but it’s more than that. It’s a reminder to sports fans that their heroes are human and composed of more than their public image. In times when depression in sportmen is beginning to gain more consideration, Colin’s approach to whatever demons Erich may have had, and the wise words of his former team mate and SPFA leader, Tony Higgins, on the support that is needed for professionals, particularly at the end of their careers, lend this biography a gravity which extends far beyond the story of this one player and one life.
Inevitably, there is a melancholy hanging over Schaedler’s story – but there is much to raise a smile: his weakness for fast cars, his pranks with fellow players, his kindness to fans at every club, the respect of his fellow pros, the dive from the tour hotel balcony into the swimming pool, his determination to be first up Arthur’s Seat on training runs and, I suppose, his defining moment, his crunching tackle on Dave Clunie in the lead up to Hibs 7th goal in “The Greatest Game ever played” in January 1973.
Everyone who knew him was shocked at the manner of his death, and clearly – among all of his family, team mates, and supporters, there is a sharp appreciation of what might have been, and a collective guilt that they might have done more to change his life. However, if the honesty in this book helps others to be more alert to a loved one’s despair, or encourages even more awareness of the issues sportsmen can face, then Erich Schadler, nearly three decades after his death, will still be doing what he did in life – helping others and inspiring them.
Colin Leslie may have been apprehensive that he might not do Erich Schaedler justice. He needn’t have worried. Erich was no run of the mill footballer, and this is no run of the mill biography.
It is respectful without being hagiography, brings insight without intrusion, and, like the much mourned Erich himself, is effective, sensitive and to the point.
So, as Pat Fenlon leaves and Terry Butcher is welcomed to Easter Rd, where stand the Hibs now?
Well, first to assess Pat’s reign at Hibernian FC. Success or failure?
Always a tricky question that but there are many who would claim quite simply that he failed and it was time for him to go. I might agree with the second part of that assessment, but not the first.
It’s clear that Fenlon inherited a situation which was almost terminal for the club. Squad morale and discipline was as poor as it could be, there was no direction and little structure at the club. There was a squad of players with no concern for Hibernian, of limited talent, and with even less application to their career. The infrastructure to correct all these failings had also been allowed to atrophy.
Fenlon’s job was to address all of that, whilst, firstly preventing the financially disastrous slide into relegation, and then moving the club on to top 4 or 5 respectability. It was a big ask and it was also a task which was 80% or more to be accomplished out of sight of the fans.
His next task then was to translate a new solidity in the club to results in the league.
Arguably he achieved all of this except for the results bit. It’s fair enough to say that the results are what really count for a football club, but, as always, it’s much more complex than that. I don’t think anyone claims that you judge a school, for instance, solely by its exam results. Any sensible assessment would look at ethos, organization and concern for the individual – all elements which are difficult to explain or identify, especially when compared to the bare statistics of results. That’s not to say a school’s aim is not to achieve good results to its pupils, of course it is, but the way in which it achieves those results is just as important.
For many fans, only the points total counts. A common thread on the message boards is: “I don’t care what he does off the pitch as long as he scores goals” – as if a sportsman’s lifestyle has no connection with his on field prowess. There is a culture in Scotland which prizes maverick, if fleeting and unrealized, talent above the rigours of hard work and dedication. Jim Baxter will always be more admired than Lionel Messi by some people. It explains much of the malaise in our sports achievements over the past decades since the rest of the world wised up to the need for a professional approach.
Pat Fenlon’s problem was that his best work was done out of sight. He made the club ‘respectable’, if you like, brought it players whose attitude was professional, ensured that the organization behind the scenes was as it should be for a club of Hibs’ magnitude
Even the media, who, for whatever reason, often seem to glory in Hibs’ lack of achievement, admit that the talent and approach of the squad he has assembled is far superior to that which he inherited. However, consistency was missing on the pitch and the big games never seemed to go the right way. As the comic Tony Hancock wrote before his own departure from the scene: “It all seemed to go wrong too many times.”
Fenlon’s style of play has come in for criticism, and you would have to admit that at times it was eye bleedingly slow and cautious. I think he wanted Hibs to be hard to beat and I think he also felt he played a system suited to the players at his disposal. The multitude of similarly defensive central midfielders didn’t help his case but then, unlike some fans, I don’t claim to know why a pacey winger or a creative midfielder couldn’t be signed. Everyone, including Pat, knew that was what was needed, but it’s not Football Manager, the players you want or need can’t always be signed. Had Alex Harris not been injured, had Wolves not appointed a new manager who fancied trying Leigh Griffiths, had Tim Clancy’s injury not proved so obdurate, things may have been different. But as Franck Sauzee used to say, zat’s football.
True to his word, Pat left when he felt he wasn’t being successful with the next part of his plan – whatever the reasons for that. The word in Dublin is also that he had had enough of the bad mouthing and negativity. He’d achieved most of what he set out to do with Hibs, and with a business and family in Dublin, and a good chance of a top job in the League of Ireland before too long, he didn’t need the hassle.
Did that make him soft?
I don’t think so. Most folk in Ireland who have known him through his career as player and manager would tell you that Nutsy was always a hard wee man. I’m not sure though that Inchicore intensity translated too well to the peculiar world of Scottish football. Certainly, and oddly, given Hibs’ origins, he was faced with an unusually high level of disdain because of where he had come from, despite his accomplishments in the League of Ireland, and in Europe.
He was honest, hard working, and open, but I’m not sure a lot of the support had appreciation for those traits. He happened to be in a position that, when the negativity of the fans became overwhelming, he could walk away. Certainly it must have been frustrating to hear manager after manager telling his players: “Stifle Hibs for the first fifteen minutes and we’ll win, because the fans will get on their backs.” As I listen to the abuse from the fans week after week, it always amazes me that they think that somehow that will improve the situation. I liked Fenlon as a guy and I loved Hibs having a manager who didn’t make me cringe whenever he opened his mouth. I think he achieved all he could and left at the right time.
I suppose it depends why you go to the games. This Saturday will mark 50 years to the day since I started attending football every other weekend or even more regularly. That doesn’t make me an expert, but it gives me a frighteningly long perspective.
I have learned that no team can win all the time, that performances will frequently disappoint, and that players and managers will often make decisions which are completely baffling to the support. The press are fickle and not to be trusted a lot of the time, and television money has made the game a bit of a joke. I’ve also learned that walking into a football stadium is one of the best feelings you can experience, and I’ve loved being a live football supporter all my life. When the result is right and the performance dazzling, it’s brilliant – but when it’s defeat and gloom and rainy and cold – it’s still memories and mates and the thrill of the live experience and routine.
And as for Hibs?
Well – as a third generation supporter, they are quite simply my team. Not going to watch and support Hibs never enters my head. I’m lucky to be able to afford the time and money to follow them week in, week out, but I acknowledge if you have to make sacrifices to afford to go to the game, poor results and unsatisfying style must be very annoying. All I can say is that I want Hibs to be successful – but winning and playing with style – though desirable, are not conditions for my support, because I am a Hibee. What else would I do, where would I go?
I perceive them as a big club – partly because of their position relative to others in Scotland, mostly because of their history, heritage and tradition. The ‘first British club in Europe does not lose that position, no matter what follows. But in terms of sustained success?
Football tells us that no teams have any right to be constantly in the sun. Notts County, Wolves, Sheffield Wednesday, Dundee and Dunfermline all had periods when they dazzled, but have spent longer in the doldrums. Chelsea went 50 years or so without winning anything; Tottenham are a pale shadow of the famous Double winning side. Success ebbs and flows. Few teams win anything, even fewer can expect consistent success. In England, currently, outside of three or four teams, all the other Premiership sides are playing to get into Europe or avoid relegation, a league championship isn’t going to happen for them.
If we are honest, Hibs have been ‘underachievers’ always. Even the Famous Five side failed to reach all the heights it might have done, and all agree Turnbull’s Tornadoes should have achieved more. The second half of Mowbray’s tenure was poor and Collins was gone before he had started. Teams with a reputation for flair – often do just that – they flare up and then subside – and there is more darkness than light.
The stats tell us that Hibs historically are a middling side – with occasional flashes of success. That’s not to say it always has to be so, but it is the story so far.
Can Terry Butcher change that?
Well – change leading to success is often incremental and I think it’s worth looking at Fenlon and Butcher in that respect. Fenlon has laid the groundwork, Tel may well be the man who can build on that. He has said that he believes he has the ‘blocks in place’ upon which he can build. It’s also interesting that no matter how many players and managers praise Hibs excellent training centre, there are still fans who perceive it as ‘wasted money’. There is a big gap between fans’ perceptions and the realities of running a football club, just like there is a big gap between having everything in place and attaining success on the pitch. It is surely the unknown, the unpredictable and the element of luck which makes sport so endlessly fascinating?
So, there are no guarantees with any managerial appointment, just as there is no equation necessarily between the amount of money spent and the fulfillment of ambitions. All a club can do is to act sensibly, within its means, and with a view to ambition. When the chemistry is right – and that often happens by accident, success will follow
Terry Butcher seems to me to be a shrewd guy, who has learned from mistakes and carries a certain aura with him. Maybe that aura, added to the tactical nowse of Maurice Malpas and the talent spotting of Steve Marsella, will be what finally enables Hibs’ boat to come in. It will be fun finding out!
When the Hibs were founded in 1875, the major entertainment for the players’ countrymen back home in Ireland would have been dancing at the crossroads.
It seems to me that Hibernian have been dancing at the crossroads for far too long. It’s time to hit the road running and head in a positive direction.
Go on yersel, Tel!