NUFC Season Tickets

So, another new era NUFC milestone was reached this week as the club put around 1000 season tickets on sale. It was reported that over 30,000 people were sat in an online queue at one point, all patiently waiting, Willy Wonka-like for the chance to get their hands on a golden ticket.

Given the hysteria around the club for the last year or so, the numbers weren’t that much of a surprise. If you take into account the whole feel good factor created by things that range from being as small as team photos and painting the concourses in the stadium to being as big as signing world class players or indeed any players in what I’m reliably informed is called a ‘transfer window’, then it’s no wonder people want to watch their team again.

However, while it might seem simple that people want to see attractive football again, a lot of people still aren’t particularly happy.

For me, it seemed a simple equation. If you sit in a massive queue – nothing like the numbers that Everton get for Under 23 games or the launch of new mugs at the club shop mind, but massive all the same – trying to get something that’s available in a limited amount, then you might well miss out. And yet, still people seemed outraged.

Some said that they had a greater right than others to getting season tickets, while others bemoaned the size of the stadium. So here’s my take, for what it’s worth.

First of all, I’m not that sure that anyone has a greater right to watch a football team than anyone else. I’ve always been a bit of an advocate for supporting your local team, but even then I realise that people from other parts of the UK and the world have a connection to the club. And that connection makes it perfectly natural to want to go to St. James’ Park and see your team. It might not be perhaps as obvious a connection as being local, but it’s a connection all the same.

I was born and bred in Newcastle, growing up in Blaydon while spending a considerable amount of time with family in both Byker and Walker. I never thought I’d leave, but then a combination of university and Margaret Thatcher deciding the region didn’t deserve investment or jobs happened and I moved away, first to Stoke and then back north to Leeds. So was I only passable as a season ticket holder or even a supporter to some while I lived in Blaydon? It’s a silly argument really, but I guess some people are a little blind to real life at times.

Then we come to the question of what some see as loyalty. Some will tell you that season tickets and indeed any kind of matchday seat should go to those deemed the most loyal. But then, how do you define loyalty? Is it a simple matter of attending every game home or away? It can’t be, surely because again this is an area where life can get in the way. What if you work shifts or occasional weekends? What if work takes you away for periods of time or what if you live too far away to make it practical to get to every game? And what about the fact that there’s only a finite certain amount of people that can fit into the stadium or an away allocation. What if you can’t be ‘loyal’ because of that?

And as for loyalty, what even is it? If you’re going to every game because we’re successful – probably difficult to imagine, I know – then that’s an easy version of loyalty. I’d hope I was loyal during enough of the awful football that I’ve witnessed over the years to be able to be respected for boycotting when I’d had enough of seeing how badly my club was being run and the foresight, perhaps, to see it was going to get worse. So while I’d salute (not literally, that’s be daft) those who stuck with it, I’d argue that the reasons myself and many others had for stepping away were equally admirable.

Lots of people have had a real issue with those of us who boycotted because of Ashley’s ownership. It was an early and reasonably easy choice for me to make. Having held a season ticket for years, I was driving up from Leeds and my first thought on taking my seat was often, ‘What am I doing here?’ I was getting more and more frustrated by the lack of ambition and by what I felt like I could see was going to happen to the club. To paraphrase a now famous banner, I didn’t want a team that won all the time, I wanted a team that tried and from the owner downwards, I couldn’t see that. Everything came to a head for me at the fateful home game versus Hull, just after Keegan had resigned again. Here was my childhood hero being roundly abused by Ashley and his cronies. In fact, we were all having the piss taken out of us. I’d had enough. That was my last game. Even during Rafa’s time, despite the pull of something a bit brighter, Ashley kept me away.

Staying away has genuinely hurt. There’s something missing in my life every time we play. Tears have been shed over all manner of issues – various protests, Rafa leaving, Wor Flags displays, the takeover, Wilson’s goal against Spurs after the takeover was done, sometimes even just the sight of someone like Justin Barnes was enough to bring a tear to the eye! I’ve missed the social side of games, I’ve missed the atmosphere, the expectancy, the hope, the sight of The Angel signalling that I’m nearly home again on the drive up, Local Hero…all sorts of things. But I knew it was important to stick to my guns.

For people to now be telling me (or us, the ones that walked away, heartbroken) that I have no right to a season ticket is a bit of a joke. In walking away, what we did was incredibly difficult, but it had a purpose and I’d argue it had to be done. I couldn’t continue to give my money to Ashley and the thought that if he was denied our money he might sell up seemed reasonably sensible to me. So, I gave up one of the biggest things in my life and something that I’d been utterly in love with from an early age. It wasn’t a simple matter of having had enough and waiting for us to start winning and signing big names again. It felt like it had broken my heart.

As it happens, I’ve not applied for a season ticket. Somehow, I’ve got to the age I’m at and found that I lead a bit of a busy life and the thought of driving up and down the motorway to get to games just felt a little bit too much at the moment. My health hasn’t been fantastic over the past few years and so this was an extra strain that I felt unwilling to put myself through. I suppose I’m finding out that sometimes in life, the time just isn’t right, no matter how much you want to do something. But, I’d defend anyone’s right to try and go back, who’s been in the situation I’ve been in. Ashley’s season ticket giveaway of a few years back suggests that there’s a lot of us too. Like me, a lot of those will have been long term season ticket holders when they decided to boycott. Like me, a lot of them would have done plenty of time following Newcastle home and away over the years. That love, that loyalty and that history can’t just be switched off. Nor can it be ignored or cheapened.

As Newcastle United fans, it seems odd that so many are determined to have us divided. I understand that everyone has a view, but I’d also suggest that people don’t criticise or judge too much when they haven’t walked in the shoes that they’re so eager to denounce. Everyone has a view, but everyone has a story too, whether it be about why we love Newcastle United or why we had to loosen our grip a little bit. When it comes down to it, we all want the same thing; the hope and the pride that comes with supporting a competitive and ambitious Newcastle United.

Grassroots Grumbles: Preparing for the season that might even not happen.

When I last wrote about the junior football team that I coach, we were really struggling. Come to think of it, I’d probably written along the same lines with the time before that as well as it’s a subject that I blog about reasonably regularly! Well, we’re still struggling, which is quite some feat when the season has ended! So, it’s safe to say that last season was nothing short of an absolute nightmare in terms of results.

We eventually finished at the very bottom place in our division; division 6 of 7 divisions in our league. I say eventually, but we were stuck there from around January. Now I don’t know the exact protocol as I don’t think there’s necessarily automatic relegation, but I still suspect that we’ll get relegated to division 7 next season. I believe there’s a bit of a consultation process, but I’ll be honest, I don’t think we have much of a case to see us stay in our present division. We had huge problems with Covid and injuries, but we still managed to play all of our games eventually and the results don’t lie.

During the final couple of months of last season I began to hear rumours of certain players being unsettled. And let’s get this straight, by ‘unsettled’ what I mean in a couple of cases was that they were sick of losing and happy to blame anyone but themselves for the results. I was hearing that at least a couple of players were planning to leave our club and worst of all, that while we toiled and struggled for numbers, these kids were training with other clubs at times. Sure enough, now that the season has ended, they’ve left. But it gets worse, another two have gone and one of them was clearly our best player. Add in the two that just stopped coming from around December time and we’ve now lost 6 players from an 18 man squad that clearly wasn’t big enough in the first place! I also fear that there might be one more considering moving on as well.

So, to put it bluntly, we’re in real trouble! There’s a genuine chance that the team could fold, hence the title of the blog!

At the end of the season I was sorely tempted to quit coaching the team. It was taking up far too much of my time, I wasn’t particularly enjoying it and due to the weekly scramble to get a team together because of injuries and just a lack of reliability in some cases, my mental health felt like it was suffering slightly too. As a football obsessive and a keen competitor, seeing us turn up with no substitutes once again or even not enough for a full team and suffer the almost inevitable defeat was getting me down. There were times when we were competitive, but they only ever seemed to lead to a false dawn before hopes were dashed once more. I’d often spend hours on a Sunday brooding about results and trying to figure out where we were going wrong.

Despite all of this we’re continuing to train over summer. I think we’ll take a break eventually, but at the moment the focus is on attracting new players. I don’t dare take a break in case we get an enquiry and I have to risk losing a potential new player because we’re not training for a couple of weeks! We have actually gained a couple of new players though as two have dropped down from our ‘A’ team, with the promise of another on the way once he’s recovered from a knee injury. That still only leaves us with 15 players in the squad, which is still short of the maximum number allowed on a match day.

We’ve just put a new advert out on social media and hope to attract people from that, but it’s an avenue we’ve explored in the past that’s not always been very successful. Despite repeated adverts, we didn’t have a goalkeeper for the whole of last season and it cost us dearly. We still just have one of the lads filling in as a goalie even now. I mean, am I asking too much for a 6ft 13 year old with hands like shovels to step forward? I’ve had several promises that kids will definitely be coming to training to try out, only for said kid to never show. It can feel like such a let down when you’ve built your hopes up! However, such is our desperation this season that my assistant coach even put last year’s advert out a couple of weeks ago, despite the fact that it was the wrong season and age group! Predictably, we got a response, but we’re still waiting on the player showing up! We’ve got everything crossed in the hope that someone, especially a goalkeeper turns up any day soon though!

I really want to do my best by the team this year. As with every year, I suppose. There are boys in the squad – including my own son – who I’ve now coached since they were 8 years old and I can’t let them down. So, although it was tempting to call it a day and perhaps hand the reigns to someone else, I became more determined to carry on and do my utmost to put together a more successful and competitive squad of players. But even that, with the best will in the world, is problematic.

In the majority of cases our squad are limited in either ability, attitude or both. I hope that doesn’t sound disparaging. Like I mentioned, we finished bottom of our division and some of that was simply down to the ability of the players. (I’ll crash into the thought process of some readers here though and add that, yes, I understand that some of this comes down to me as a coach as well).

We happen to have a lot of small, slightly built players too and were easily the smallest team in the league last year. And when you’re coming up against teams that look like they’re fielding 5 or 6 18-year-olds it must be quite daunting when you’re less than 5ft tall! As a coach I found myself frightened on their behalf at times! It often meant that we were simply bullied out of games last year though.

A lot of our training last season and so far during this pre-season is dedicated to time on the ball and becoming more comfortable with the ball at their feet so that they could take a touch, control the ball and then pass it on or drive forward with it. But even then, training was regularly disrupted by poor behaviour or kids with bad attitudes just wanting to either mess around or simply do what they wanted to do. So when the instruction was to limit yourself to 3 touches before moving the ball on, we’d have the West Yorkshire Mbappe trying to dribble round a whole team and taking 104 touches into the bargain amidst the soundtrack of two coaches shouting “Touches” repeatedly. (Which when working with children could be seen as a dangerous thing to shout if it’s not heard correctly!)

And this permeated its way into games where we’d find that even when training had gone well and when we thought we’d drilled a message into the team about exactly how we wanted to play, they’d defy all logic during a game! So instead of not panicking on the ball and simply passing to an available team mate who had moved into space, we’d be losing the will to live, watching kids just launch the ball as hard as possible down the field to no one or setting off on a mazy dribble that would lead to them losing the ball or just shooting wildly from 40 yards out! And don’t even get me started on taking quick throw-ins, which you’d think would be a simple one to master!

I think confidence dropped and lots of the boys were just frightened of making a mistake, so just got rid of the ball as soon as possible. So the focus now has to be on praising them and building that confidence back up.

It’s time to put last season and past players behind us though. As a coach, I now need to concentrate on fostering good habits with the ball, building everybody’s confidence and getting my squad as fit as they can be by September. The last few weeks of training have been different and enjoyable. The attitude of the squad and the atmosphere on the pitch has been positive. Training has been well received and drills performed with enthusiasm. There definitely seems to be a determination to do better and I’m hopeful that we can build a decent team spirit in the coming weeks too. Best of all, the boys are training with smiles on their faces.

Ultimately, I want my players to enjoy their football and to feel comfortable as part of the squad. Obviously, I want results to start going our way too and we’ll be arranging friendly games in order to work on just that soon.

We have to hope we’ll pick up more new players, otherwise we may not have a team to put out next year. So we have a bit of a battle on our hands, but after a few weeks of reflection and a bit of sulking about it all, I’m determined to face it head on! If we can pick up more players, improve those that we’ve got and have an enjoyable, but hard working pre-season, I’ll be thrilled. If we’re still short on numbers by the start of August though, we could have a real problem.

I’ll be sure to keep you informed!

As ever, feel free to leave a comment as it’s always nice to hear people’s thoughts.

Poetry Blog: ‘The Quiet Class’

A simple one today; a poem about a quiet class. A silent class, in fact, but not in a good way!

Now, if you’re a teacher, you’ll know all of the anxiety that such a class can cause. You’ll know that just as you’ve prayed for your groups to work quietly, when one of them just isn’t giving back it can be the worst feeling that you’ll have in a classroom. And it will invariably happen when someone else walks into the room, leaving you to imagine all manner of things that they’ll think – or worse still – write down about your ability to foster a relationship with your classes!

So, here it is; my poem dedicated to that very strange phenomenon, the quiet class.

The Quiet Class

When faced with the class that's just not giving back, 
the front of even the most familiar room can be the most isolated place in the world.
Silence ensues from the very start, aside from the shuffling of paper, 
the turning of pages and the scratch of a pen on the page that seems to creep furtively around the space.
Even a starting gun would fail to rouse such a group,
and yet, today you are charged with just that.
Questions are met by ever longer silences whose shadows stretch further and further across the dewy morning grass,
as if answering would result in almost certain death.
Eyes are frantically averted, darting around the room,
like those shoals of tiny fish that children chase in the shallows at the beach,
before the resistance of the waves sees them crash face first into the sea.
And this is your fate today, 
where every request is met with a room sized helping of nothing.
Today is a day to jump the waves, corner those fish and fill the room with noise.  

To be blunt, I didn’t want to bang on too much about the subject matter in this poem, so I kept it short. It’s a quiet class after all and a niche market for all but the teacher, really. But a quiet class can make life very difficult. I mean, you’ve heard the saying about getting blood out of a stone, right? Well, when you’re faced with an hour – or sometimes more in post Covid teaching – in front of a class that’s just not giving back, it can be an exhausting process! Obviously there are strategies that we can use, such shining the spotlight of doom and just nominating people to answer or offer an opinion, but I personally don’t always like that type of thing to be rolled out within the first ten minutes! Hence the feelings that led to the poem.

Hopefully, you enjoyed reading this one. However, whatever effect it had on you, feel free to leave a comment as I also enjoy reading them and it’s nice to interact with people about what I’ve written.

Poetry Blog: ‘An Observer at the Theme Park’

This is a poem that I wrote the bones of and then lost in Spring last year. I recently discovered it again when looking through documents on my phone. I was looking for a birthday present list for my wife, which I thought I might have made on my phone. I found it, but I also found some ominous untitled documents. Most were useless, but one of them was almost a poem.

I’d written this while we went around a North Yorkshire theme park on a day out, which for me is an oxymoron if ever I heard one. Unfortunately, I am in no way, shape or form any kind of thrill seeker or adrenaline junkie (what an awful expression that is, by the way). Thus, I found myself standing at the bottom of many rides, rapidly tiring of people watching and running out of the guts I felt I needed in order to tread my book while others queued up for the kind of fun that I didn’t understand. People were beginning to point, children were beginning to laugh…

And so, as far as I can remember, I began to think about how I must look to other people around the park. That is, if they even noticed me. If they did though, I imagined people were nudging each other and whispering stuff like, “There’s that bloke with the book again.” I was also in a perfect position to take note of all of the different kinds of people around the place. Very lonely bored looking bloke here was only one of a ton of different sights and sounds to be had and so my discomfort was eased somewhat by the fact that maybe people had other things to occupy their time. Not wanting to lose any ideas, I started to type them into my phone. Barring a few revisions made when I rediscovered it a year or so later, these notes were what became the poem.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that there can be no lonelier place than a theme park for the man who does not seek to be thrilled.
Wandering aimlessly around in the cold, of this Yorkshire spring will make an outcast out of any man. 
Children's screams far outweigh the fifteen seconds of fear that Andy Warhol might have said we should all experience, 
wasps hang around menacingly, seeking one last victim before buzzing off south for a proper summer, 
and fathers stand stock still, balanced and anchored,
readying themselves for the thump of returning children from rides
with tales of adventures from the moderately high steels.
This is a resting place for cheap summer leisure wear
and incongruously A-list sunglasses,
where gangs of girls from the caravan park roam, arm in arm,
almost identically dressed, looking for the thrill that could be found
either at the top of a rollercoaster or in the arms of a visiting stranger from a far of land in another part of Yorkshire.
A man in camouflaged trousers walks past and I consider 
that with my imaginary special forces training, I may be the only one who sees him.
I wonder if the same applies to me; not camouflaged professionally,
but somehow hidden in plain sight on a bench near a queue,
reading a book like persona non grata in this particular place.

There’s certainly a lot to see when all you have to do is watch! It was a fascinating day in many ways and yet, criminally dull in others. I tried to just be diligent and read my book, as I’d planned. And of course, I did go on some of the rides. I do kind of see the point in them! But eventually my day just descended into watching life go on around the park, hence the poem.

I’d love to read any comments, so feel free to leave them.

Newcastle United: Some reasons to feel the love.

It’s been an incredible season. A season that started out cloaked in a sadly all too familiar pessimism, has somehow (almost) ended in an almighty celebration. No trophies – and you’ve been following the wrong club if that’s what you got into it for – and nothing hugely tangible to show for it, but still every cause for celebration.

But this isn’t an article about the takeover. Nor is it about being ITK and pretending I’ve got the inside track on some stellar summer signings. There will be a bit about our owners and their takeover, but largely this is just inner workings of my mind whenever I think about Newcastle United at the moment and the fact that not so long ago I’d almost fallen out of love with them. It’s about the little things. And the little things are often the best (or so the anti erectile dysfunction advert campaigners say). So here’s a list of 20 little NUFC related things to make you smile.

  1. The owners – meeting and greeting anyone and everyone, smiling, engaging with the fans, going to the games, trolling each other on social media, looking like they’re pleased to be here, enjoying the club and the city and setting about running our football club professionally and like they care. And it’s been that way ever since Amanda Staveley emerged from a hotel in Jesmond smiling and waving to everyone there. God bless the bloody lot of them!
  2. Team spirit – it looks like a joy to play for our football club again and I for one can’t remember a team spirit like this. No bad eggs and no scurrilous stories in the tabloids. The squad and everyone around them have big, beaming smiles on their faces and it’s just utterly refreshing.
  3. Eddie and his staff – for the first time in a few years we have a group of people running the team that take great pride in what they do, see it as a privilege to work at our club and are more than willing to go the extra mile in order to bring us some kind of success. Eddie and his staff obviously appreciate the fans too and I think that to a man, woman and child, we love them right back!
  4. Player Renaissance – under the previous regime it felt at times like we had a squad full of players who were rapidly falling out of love with the game. Many struggled for form. It almost felt like paddling pool recovery technology, wheely bin ice baths and a sulky, face pulling coach just weren’t enough inspiration anymore. However, since the dawning of the Eddie Howe era several players have scaled new heights. Ryan Fraser, Fabian Schar, Sean Longstaff and Emil Krafth are all good examples of players who’ve discovered scintilating levels of form since January. But of course, we can’t forget Joelinton; a man who has found himself receiving nationwide recognition for the upturn in his form. I’d add more, but you can read precisely what I think on the link below.

“He’s Brazilian…” – The Remarkable Rise of Joelinton.

5. The future – I mean. I wouldn’t class myself as any kind of optimist, but it’s bright isn’t it? 6. Bruuuuunoooo – it’s been a while since a player of this quality graced our team. It’s all been said by others, so I won’t write too much, but the boy’s a bit special. Cabaye is probably the closest we’ve seen to someone of Bruno’s class for a long time, but I truly think that those comparisons do him a disservice. A current Brazilian international who scores back-heeled volleys and sings his own terrace song around the house – Bruno is the stuff that dreams are made of. 7. The return of Wor Flags – again, it’s all been said before really. But what a spectacle! What a place St. James’ Park is again! And let’s not forget there’s a ‘BMX4sale 42 kwid o.n.o’. Genius. 8. The Jealousy of other fans – Look, there are certain issues involved in the ownership of our club that people are going to pick up on. Rightly so, too. But in many cases it’s just the green eyed monster. The amount of fans of other clubs who seem to have developed an overnight social conscience is only just dwarfed by the amount that didn’t realise how transfer window worked up until January. And you can bet that these are the same people who said we’d be the richest club in the championship too. Get used to it fellow Newcastle fans; these people are going to be crying river after river after river for years to come! 9. Shearer’s statue – the victim of another petty decision by the previous regime, Shearer’s statue is back inside the boundaries of the stadium, where it always belonged. It was an easy win for our new owners, so they did it. Seems simple really, doesn’t it? What a shame Ashley never understood. 10. Team Photos after a win – the target of hilarious snide comments from fans of other clubs, but the thing that we love to see. Birthplace of our knowledge of the Burn/Fraser bromance, while also humiliating those of us that carry a little bit more timber than we’d like with just the sight of some of the abs on show. I mean, Paul Dummett…who knew? Eddie’s simple idea is another thing that has made us fans fall back in love with the club (those of us who fell or almost fell out of love with it anyway) and I for one have looked forward to them after every fantastic win that we’ve been able to put on the board! 11. Sean Longstaff’s defence of Joelinton – straight after the home draw with Man Utd, after Joelinton had been awarded Man of The Match, the interviewer told Big Joe, “I didn’t realise you were that good.” After Joelinton’s cheery but bemused reply up stepped Sean. HIs defence of Joe was fantastic and showed the spirit in the camp, something that has deserted Newcastle frequently over the years. Longstaff said that the treatment of Joelinton had been disgraceful, revealing that everyone wants to be on his team at training because that means they’ll win! In an age of media trained monotony, this was refreshing and would have had many of us Toon fans shouting at the telly! 12. Big Dan Burn – put simply, I’m not sure there’s much better than a successful Geordie coming home story. 13. The Fraser/Burn bromance – with their immediately noticeable difference in height, I’m sure Ryan and Dan were the first to find those pictures funny. Surely standing together during those team photos was done on purpose? Same with the order in which they come on to the field. It’s a beautiful thing! More than that though, I hope it’s a sign of the spirit in the squad – two players prepared to have a laugh at themselves in order to promote a bit of harmony. Alternatively of course is the fact that they might just really get on and that their height doesn’t affect them being mates whatsoever. Still, it’s put a smile on more than a few faces. 14. Sam Fender offends mackems – a home town gig, Wor Flags and Local Hero. Cue social media meltdown on Wearside. Apparently though, they didn’t like him anyway (presumably they stumbled into a ticketed gig by mistake, having boarded the Metro to Newcastle by mistake), he was far too full of himself, there was no place for flags at a gig (maybe atmosphere’s not a big thing in Sunderland?) and where Sam was from wasn’t allowed to matter to him…just them. Very strange. But remember, we’re the ones that are obsessed. 15. Actual transfer windows – for much of the last 14 years these have been the stuff of legend, the place where other football clubs did business and bought players to improve things. For us, these were pretty desperate, yet predictable times. Lots of futile speculation, little or no action. The birthplace of the phrase, ‘we just couldn’t get it over the line’. January showed us how things could be and this summer promises to be memorable to say the least. 16. Jason Tindall’s tan – often to be found standing near to Eddie in a technical area, Jason is the tall, dark, handsome one whose skin tone resembles lump of teak. A thing of beauty. 17. Bruno referring to Joelinton as “bastard” on social media – it doesn’t seem to happen too much anymore, but for a short while it was funny and showed that Bruno’s English lessons, although a bit left-field, were paying off. It made me think he might have been taking Spender as his English inspiration. 18. Hawaiian Joelinton shirts – a stroke of genius really. Castore could learn a thing or two from those lads. 19. Owners’ kickabouts – it’s almost like they’re enjoying owning the club. But surely that can’t be right? I mean, Mr. Ashley made it sound like really hard work and now these lot are out after the game having a kickabout and filming it for social media. I do worry about their expensive shoes on that pitch though… 20. No more Sports Direct signs, talk of ground expansion and training ground improvements – there’s a lot that could be said about this, but for me it just shows that a top flight football club should be loved and invested in and not just treat as the world’s biggest billboard. Our owners seem to have fallen in love with the club and they are more than keen to improve it. It’s the stuff of dreams!

So there we have it. 20 daft things to love about the Toon. It could have been a ridiculously long list as well. For the first time in well over a decade times are good at Newcastle United. I hope you’re enjoying the ride!

Film Review: ‘Nowhere Special’

I’ll warn you right now that if you are in possession of a heart, this will be a difficult film to watch! If you’re a parent you’ll be in trouble too. And then you find out that it’s based on real events! ‘Nowhere Special’ is easily one of the saddest films that I’ve ever watched, but it is nothing short of a masterpiece too and I would implore you to watch it, safe in the knowledge it’s likely to stay with you for a while.

John and Michael live in Belfast. John is a single parent, bringing up son Michael after his wife just upped sticks and walked out on them shortly after Michael was born. We’re never given a real reason as to why. Michael though, is perhaps the cutest kid you’ll see all year and he clearly loves his daddy, which given the set up of the film, makes it all the more difficult to cope with. The love they have for each other is very clear right from the start, but as we’re drip fed more information, it becomes apparent that all is not well. Prepare yourselves for tears and what is very much an unhappy and uncertain outcome!

James Norton plays John, a single father and a window cleaner, who struggles every day to protect his young son Michael from the harsh realities that the both of them are faced with. As the film moves on we are slowly allowed into John and Michael’s world as the truth about John’s future becomes clear. It’s obvious from fairly early on that something is wrong, but we’re left guessing as to what exactly that is. Whatever it is, Michael is at the heart of John’s thinking in the matter simply because he isn’t going to be able to be there to protect Michael’s future.

‘Nowhere Special’ is a beautifully crafted film. We focus on the love between a father and son while becoming ever more conscious of the distance that will be cruelly put between them. Because of this, as an audience we almost can’t fail to be affected and wholly invested in the characters. It could be argued that you’ll want to protect Michael just as much as his father does, but ultimately it’s something that none of us will be able to successfully achieve, such is the sadness and inevitability of the situation.

The film deals with a truly horrible and emotive subject matter with a particularly light touch, so that while ‘Nowhere Special’ is a tear jerker, there are never the in-you-face moments designed to elicit tears. The camera may linger on a facial expression or the dialogue may hint at what is going to happen to both John and Michael, but there’s never any outlandish attempt to shock or sadden the viewer. The actual identity of John’s problem is never fully revealed and Michael’s fate is drip fed to us by a series of scenes where he, John and a social worker spend time with unfamiliar characters, who it turns out, are all strangers to John and his son.

I’d thoroughly recommend watching ‘Nowhere Special’ but with the proviso that you prepare yourself for the sadness that ensues. A heart-breaking story, but a simply brilliant film. I’d give ‘Nowhere Special’

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A spanner in the works.

It’s been a bit of a strange week in our household. It’s revolved around me, but it’s affected the four of us and probably spoiled everyone’s half term break in some way or another.

Last Sunday I had a bit of an unwelcome visitor. My heart problems resurfaced. Not in a big way, but big enough to completely stop the day and have me worrying for the rest of the week. There was no hospital visit this time so it was a lot less dramatic than four years ago, but it served as a bitter reminder of my age and the fact that, deep down, I’ll always be worried about my heart health.

We’d been visiting family in the morning and everything had been fine. I did feel a little bit grumpy though, but I put that down to hunger as by the time we left it was past dinner time. I felt tired too, but assumed that was just a hangover from the day before when I’d pushed myself far more than I’d intended when out on a 5k run that turned into a 10k one.

I can’t quite remember when I first felt my heart racing., but it was Sunday afternoon and I was conscious of the fact that it wasn’t right. However, I was confident that it wasn’t going that fast; just faster than it should have been. I put it down to the previous day’s running and decided that no one needed to know as it was sure to calm down soon. I then spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on the settee watching TV, afraid to move too far and fully aware that my heart was still racing. After a few hours I was starting to worry.

We were supposed to be going out that night. My wife had booked tickets to see the Alan Partridge tour as part of my 50th birthday celebrations and tonight was the night. As the time approached for us to be getting ready, nothing had changed. My heart rate didn’t seem to be any worse, but it wasn’t any better. And then I went upstairs to get my clothes ready.

At the top of the stairs I suffered a terrible spell of light-headedness and I kind of staggered into our bedroom and grabbed onto the window sill to keep myself upright. I scrunched my eyes closed, seeing stars as my legs turned to jelly. After a few seconds I sat on the edge of our bed and put my head between my knees. My heart was now thumping and had quickened up noticeably. Stupidly, I decided to just sit tight and see if it would stop. That’s stop as in calm down, rather than just stop. I figured that could be a problem with my heart!

After a few minutes, it went back to just racing. I took my heartbeat via my smart watch – 105 bpm, not too frightening. So, I went back downstairs.

Thinking about the stairs in Leeds Arena – venue for our night out – I knew that I probably couldn’t go out, so when my wife headed upstairs to get changed I followed. And at the top of the stairs it happened again. This time, I told her.

She got me to lie down on our bed and said that she could see my whole body shaking through my clothing, that she could see my heart thumping through my t-shirt. I could see this too and I didn’t really want her to have noticed, but it was ever-so-slightly obvious! We decided pretty quickly that we wouldn’t be going out, but then when things didn’t calm down, we packed a bag for hospital. Last time they’d admitted me really quickly as I have previous for heart problems – oh, and they thought I might die at the time as well – so we decided we’d head to A&E a bit more prepared. We told the kids and there were tears.

In the meantime though, my heart rate felt like it had dropped. My watch was measuring it at various speeds now, but none over 100. It was fluctuating, but I’d stopped shaking and sweating. After about half an hour, we headed downstairs, more settled and prepared to wait this one out. Probably ten minutes later, while sitting on the settee again, I had another awful dizzy spell. It made me feel sick and was so violent that it sort of forced me forward in my chair. I saw stars again and I gritted my teeth hoping that it would pass with me still conscious. My main thought was that I was not going to hospital in an ambulance! I didn’t realise that my daughter was sat opposite and witnessed the whole thing.

As it passed, I reassured her that I was OK. I wasn’t, but I didn’t want to worry her. She sat with me as did my wife when she came downstairs. I told them that I just needed to rest and so we just sat. Something was different now though.

After a few minutes I realised that my heart rate was completely back to normal. No racing whatsoever and when measured it was going at 49bpm! And that was that. The end of an episode that had ended up with me terrified by my heart once more, but in actual fact, entirely back to normal. I was absolutely shattered though and secretly frightened at the prospect of being back in hospital again.

Almost a week on and, as I said, it’s been an odd week. The next day was a write off and the two after dominated by visits to the doctor. But by Wednesday I’d had an ECG and blood tests and they’d declared that there was nothing to worry about and provided no explanation of what might have happened. That’s not a criticism either. I mean, how would they know? But I’d gone there hoping for a clear answer and left with nothing but a sore arm from needles and an itchy chest from the fact that they’d made me shave it for my ECG!

I’m back to work next week and I know that I’ll have to be careful. I’m forcing myself to rest and have told myself that there’ll be no running for a while longer. I continue to plan my next run though, while continually considering the fact that I might just get away with it in the next couple of days. I have to keep reminding myself of my daughter’s reaction as I nearly passed out in front of her as well as the fact that up to Thursday I was knackered all day every day.

I’m hopeful that this was just a scare and that it was simply the result of pushing myself far too hard, followed by not recovering properly and not keeping hydrated. I started this blog as a result of being hospitalised four years ago. I have no wish for any more cardiology ward blogs!

Look after yourself, folks!

The Last Day of Term

I’m starting this blog at break time, which is mid morning on the last day of our half term. Some of you will know this already, but I’m an English teacher in a high school. Normally, I wouldn’t do this, but the day starting as it did I felt I had to in the interests of sanity. Some of you – fellow teachers – will read this at the very least with a knowing smile on your face, while others will have their eyes opened at least a little bit about what can happen in a classroom.

It’s been a tough half term. We’ve been busy preparing classes for GCSEs, which is taxing to say the least, but obviously then you’ve got all your other classes and day to day dramas on top of that. For me personally, it’s been a stressful week; three sets of assessments to mark, pre-exam sessions with my Year 11, after school sessions too and the sheer unadulterated fun of a fairly vicious fight happening in my form out of absolutely nowhere!

So today, the last Friday before a week off, should be about tying up loose ends relaxing at least a little bit. So why am I finding myself so wound up? Well, let me tell you a story…

I teach a lovely Year 7 group and they are the start of my worst day of the week, which is Friday. Friday’s timetable is book-ended by my Year 7s and my nice Year 8s. In between I teach my bottom set Year 10s twice and then my bottom set Year 8s. Both provide, shall we say interesting lessons.

However, today it seems even my Year 7s have been sent to try me!

It should be simple. Today we’re improving on a recent assessment; a process we call EPIC time. Basically, using feedback given on their assessments the pupils improve on a new topic, but the same type of writing. So their assessment was a newspaper article on one topic and now they’re doing one on a different topic. Simple, right? No actually. You’re wrong.

I start by getting them to copy down the date, title and learning purpose. I tell them to do it in purple pen, adding more than once that everything we do today should be done in purple. Cue the first question.

PUPIL: “Sir, do we write that in purple” ME: “Yes, like I said, everything” PUPIL: “Oh. I’ve written it in black.”

And so it begins. I must have been asked about purple pens at least 8 times after this. It felt like it would never end, despite the fact that every so often I’d remind them that EVERYTHING should be written in purple.

A similar theme emerges when we have a couple of small worksheets to fill in; one as a recall Do Now task (we stick them into books every lesson), the other a checklist for the task. These small loose sheets need to be stuck into books. I tell them this. I tell them again…oh, you get the idea. Still, they ask if they should stick them in. One even informs me that they’ve stuck one of the sheets next to their assessment, which must be 4 pages further back from what we’re doing today.

I’m beginning to think that today is going to be one of those days…

Having completed their assessment a couple of weeks ago, it means that the class will have to turn back some pages if they need to refer to it. So I tell them the date that we did it. Friday 13th May. Maybe I was asking for trouble, eh? Still some can’t find it, but they eventually do, leaving just one who is adamant that it isn’t in his book. After much to’ing and fro’ing about the date I head across to his desk, where I promptly find said assessment. The assessment is on the page that has the date Friday 13th of May on it. I resolve that these things are sent to test us and move on…very quietly grumbling to myself.

With 35 minutes of the lesson remaining, we’ve covered all of the input into their task and it’s time for them to write.

I am able to relax for approximately 4 minutes before, despite trying to encourage their independence since September, a barrage of questions. I’m asked what emotive language at least 3 times. I’m asked to spell every word in the dictionary, despite the fact that they’d all been given a dictionary as part of their equipment about two weeks ago. I’m even asked what my favourite cheese is? Not really, but it wouldn’t have been a surprise.

My next two English lessons are with the same group – my lower ability Year 10s. They’re what you might refer to as ‘hard work’ and although there are only 12 of them, they’ve kicked hard against Macbeth for the last month or so. Behaviour has not been good and at times I’ve ended their lessons exhausted.

Today, I decide we’re going to do a big timeline of important events in Macbeth with key quotes added. We’ll do it via my whiteboard, which is actually three put together. The students will contribute via questioning and hopefully a bit of their own volunteering of information. It’s quite demanding doing it this way because as the teacher you’re driving everything forward, doing lots of writing, prompting with questions, key words and hints, while hoping that they don’t notice how hard they’re working and how much they’re writing. And you’re doing it with your back to the room for large chunks of the lesson, which with this group is a bit of a risk. Especially if one of them’s brought the darts again. Just kidding.

To my great delight it works. Have a look for yourself.

However, it’s not without its hitches. I have to stop within about 5 minutes as two students have copied what’s on my board exactly. So not only has their A3 sheet got a big timeline horizontally, but they’ve also copied the edges of each board – remember there are 3 put together, so my one big board space has two vertical lines down it. Rather than a timeline they’ve got a grid and when I ask why they tell me it’s what I did. They’re staggered when I tell them it’s the edges of two of the boards. They’d thought that I’d drawn on the vertical lines and despite the fact that they’d always been there, they hadn’t noticed them in almost a whole academic year! As horrified as they are and as amused as I am, it only takes a fresh couple of sheets of A3 and they’re good to go again.

By the end of the two hours though every student has an A3 timeline chock full of Macbeth flavoured goodness. They’ve enjoyed doing it, they’re telling me that they understand the play more now (even if it’s just what happens) and they have a good 15 or so quotes to learn/ignore. Maybe the day is taking a turn for the better?

After some dinner I face up to an hour with the class that is easily my worst behaved. Another low ability group, this time Year 8. They’re finishing off some non-fiction work and will ultimately design a poster persuading people to stop using single use plastics. There are too many ‘events’ to go through here though, but by the end of the lesson they all have a poster which consists of the word PLASTIC (their choice) in bubble writing done by yours truly and some facts about single use plastics scattered around. We’ll file them under the heading ‘Last Day, Not Very Good’.

Four hundred hours later – give or take an hour or so – it’s time for the final lesson of the day. Again, it’s Year 8, but a different group. Again, they’re working on an EPIC of an earlier assessment, so we’ve come full circle, which is nice. Workwise, they’re great. But our rewards system provides a couple of interesting moments.

Good work, behaviour, telling me they like my socks or that I’m just generally great is rewarded with tokens. Tokens can be placed in a box marked with whatever whole school reward they want at the end of the half term. Most tokens wins. Today, every kid is getting an ice lolly during the final period of the day. They’re delivered by a member of SLT called Emily Smellyfartpoo (Her 2nd appearance in one of my blogs and once again I’ve changer her name; she’ll never know it’s her). Her real surname is Shittyarseface. It’s not, I’m just kidding. It’s dafter than that.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with two gems that come out of the mouth of the same student as a result of an ice lolly. Firstly, when he takes a nibble from the lolly he literally screams before declaring ‘It’s cold!’. He’s really not messing around. This is genuine shock. I mean, the clue’s in the name, kid. Then, while everyone else is managing to keep working while they eat their lolly he claims that he can’t eat it with his left hand, so must do so with his right, his writing hand. He ends up spending a little bit of time with me in a short detention at the end of the day!

So there we have it. That last day is never as easy or straightforward as you’d like it to be but I hope you enjoyed the end of term as much as I did!

Poetry Blog: ‘A week to go’

It’s that time of year again. Us teachers are exhausted and conflicted. Year 11 are about to leave and we’ll benefit from the time that leaves us, so yay (!), but there’s also the shadow of ‘did I do enough’ hanging round. That particular weather front will keep popping back until late August and even then it’ll be immediately replaced by Storm ‘Could I Have Done More’ and Hurricane September!

Despite my vintage as a teacher – just over two decades and counting…not that I’m counting – this time of year doesn’t get any easier. I won’t lie and tell you that I’m not glad to see the back of my Year 11s though. We’ve got to that fractious stage together where we’re all pretty much sick of the sight of each other now, but it doesn’t stop the worry. Add to this the fact that my own daughter is also taking her GCSEs and it makes for a very tense and very tiring time. I’ve said this before about several things, but I think I’m just too old for all of this nowadays!

I wrote this poem – as I did another this time last year that can be found on the link below – while patrolling my classroom during a two hour pre-exam session while my class were working.

Poetry Blog: ‘In a Perfect World’

This year’s group are a set 2, so bright and capable, but watching them work all that came across to me was just how vulnerable, tired and disheveled they looked. So, when I got a little bit of time that evening after they’d gone, I began to scribble down the notes that would become this poem. As ever, apologies for the title; crap isn’t it? I wish I had more imagination when it came to naming my poems!

'A week to go.'

The latest in a long line of young adults are about to step out of the building for one last time and see what the weather holds.
The inevitability that you've been warning them about for years has dawned and the story is frighteningly familiar.
Everything is out and ready for their arrival,
yet still it takes two minutes to enter the room - some things never change - 
and even when I think they're in, several of the flock have wandered off.
I guess there's always a willful one or two that will find their way into someone else's field in spite of the fences, just because they can.
They arrive seven minutes late, quietly apologise, then,
having received the same instruction as the rest,
proceed to bleat idly to a fellow latecomer as if everything in this world was just perfectly zen.
Oh, for just a tiny dose of this carefree youthful optimism, this lack of knowledge of the world for just a few more days.

Functional stuff dealt with we attempt to power on, 
there's one week to go,
nothing can be left to chance,
no stone left unturned.
While they work, I wander somewhat aimlessly,
now adopting the roll of the lost sheep,
occasionally taking sharp inward breaths as if to speak,
but always holding back, telling myself to savour the silence,
let them work.
Outside, an ill wind blows ominous Shakespearean clouds across the horizon
and I wonder, is this a sign.
Maybe, maybe not. This is the north after all, where clouds are nothing if not ominous.

Averting my gaze, I take in the sights of the classroom once more,
looking for more positive signs.
One is slumped over the desk, writing, one shoe discarded perhaps for some kind of aerodynamic reason,
one wears tracksuit bottoms - more Sports Science in action, or more likely the result of what was lying on a darkened bedroom floor approximately 6 minutes before his lift arrived.
Several are conducting a tiny rebellion; dyed hair, trainers, no ties, shirts untucked. I smile and hope that this sense of rebellion and experimentation grows and grows until it bears fruit, lightens these lives.
I wonder though, what they're rebelling against, hoping that the answer would be 'Whadya got' but fearing excuses about not being able to breath with a tie on or school shoes breaking, giving up the ghost just at this most convenient hour.

Rebels or not, for now all are working,
minds hopefully being emptied of every quote, every interpretation and perhaps,
if we're lucky a skewed version of some contextual nugget, a view of what life was like in the dark and distant past.
Pens race across pages, wrists are shaken in order to bring new life,
before the pen returns to the page to pour out more in one last effort.
And then, time stops and for a wonderful moment it occurs that I might have done enough...
Still, I think, a week to go.

It seems clear to me that there are a wide selection of attitudes and approaches to the exams and the final few weeks or so of high school among the students we teach. This was something that I was trying to get across in the poem, as well as the worry that we teachers can feel. So the bits about uniform and hairdos (and hairdon’ts in some cases) were supposed to reflect that. Sometimes I think that the exams take second place at this time of year because it feels more important to forget your tie and flaunt your new, casual look. I don’t think I’ll ever figure out why though!

Popular opinion sometimes seems to think that teachers only care about results the students’ results affect our pay – they don’t. What matters to most teachers – I can’t say all because I’ve worked with some that seemed to utterly despise what they were doing – is that we’re able to make even just some small difference to the lives of those that we teach. Certainly, when I look at my Year 11s around now I find I worry about what’s next for them, hope that they get what they want out of life and that they can just put enough work into getting these qualifications, all the while knowing that there’s not a lot left that I can actually do.

Anyway, whether you’re a teacher or not, I hope you enjoyed the poem. Feel free to leave a comment as I always enjoy reading what people have got to say about what I write; especially the nice comments!

Jelly legs is feeling his age!

It’s Monday morning and not only am I afflicted by that Monday feeling, but my body aches almost everywhere from head to toe. Worst of all is that nobody else is to blame; this is all my own fault. And now I have a busy day at work ahead teaching students aged from 11-16, not many of whom will have any sympathy for me!

So yesterday, I completed a 10km race. The same 10k race that I was banging on about a little while back in the blog on the link below, complaining that I was never going to be in the right shape for.

https://middleagefanclub.wordpress.com/2022/04/09/my-first-10k-race-of-the-year-a-month-to-go-and-i-dont-feel-good/(opens in a new tab)

It was my second time at the Pontefract 10k in West Yorkshire and I was determined to do well. But training had been far from perfect and I’d been suffering with a mixture of injury and illness in the weeks leading up to the race. However, come race day I believed that I was fit enough to get round in a time that would beat the one I ran at the same event last year. I felt that I’d managed to pull myself together just about enough in the last few weeks and had trained fairly well, completing a couple of fast – for me – 10k training runs that were only a minute or so outside of the type of time I hoped to run in the race.

It was an early start on race day in our house as myself, my wife and my son all rose before 7am in order to scramble down some breakfast and get ready to head to Pontefract, a 20 minute car journey away. The race was starting at 9am and we would need to be there early in order to get parked up before heading to the start.

I’m functional at best in the morning, so it was tough going! However, I really enjoy an early morning run, so while breakfast and getting ready would be a struggle, running – I hoped – would not!

This year’s start line was not the nervy place to be that last year’s had proved. I felt that I knew my surroundings and it helped that I bumped into a friend from work and we chatted for a few minutes until it was almost time to line up. In short, I didn’t have time for nerves. However, I still felt a strange mixture of concern about my fitness and hope that I could run a sub 50 minute 10k.

I won’t bore you with a detailed commentary of the race, perish the thought. I for one don’t particularly want to relive it anymore!

However, it’s safe to say that it was tough. It started to rain on the first long, uphill stretch and I heard someone near me let out a little cheer about this. I should have tripped them up. Thankfully, it stopped shortly after.

The course is described as undulating, but let me tell you that the undulation feels largely uphill when you’re out there. I managed to forget any race plan I might have had and instead went off quickly (for a man of my vintage and physical state, that is). My competitive side kicked in here and I was more concerned with passing people, than thinking about how far I’d gone and how I was feeling. I’d regret this later. I told myself that I’d be able to power through and just keep the pace going, but it’s safe to say that miles 3 and 4 saw me slow more than I’d have liked.

By the time we turned for home and the last couple of miles or so, my legs were like jelly, a substance which for years I was quietly convinced that they may have actually been made out of. Quite a bit of the last half of this race is uphill though, a fact that my mind had rather inconveniently forgotten, so it was pretty difficult to keep on going at any pace, although I managed. For the first time in a long time though I found myself thinking I should just stop, as a few people had. I had a bit of aa word with myself though and kept going.

The final mile or so of the Pontefract 10k is downhill and I was looking forward to just powering down the hill. However, having used up so much energy already my body wasn’t responding in the way I wanted. I imagined a Mo Farah like kick where I just passed runner after runner. Instead, I was much more akin to Moe from The Simpsons as I grumbled my way down the last stretch.

Pleasingly, I did pick up my pace a bit though and kept a close eye on the time via Strava, so I knew exactly where I was with my personal best in mind. Passing my wife and son just before the last 250 metres, I knew I had to go faster, but was convinced that there was nothing left in the legs…not even jelly. However, as someone passed me within the first few metres, something in me flicked a bit of a switch – my competitive side again – and before I knew it I was sprinting. More like a middle aged man laden down with bags on a train platform than Usain Bolt, but sprinting all the same.

I crossed the line in 51.27, a good 25 seconds better than I’d ran the previous year and inside my personal best. I wasn’t sure I’d stay on my feet or even conscious, but I’d done what I’d set out to do! Never had 250 metres felt so long!

Cramp set in as I met my wife and son, but some stretches and a stroll back to car had me feeling a bit more comfortable. But I’d forgotten how much racing takes out of me. I can run 10k on a training run and feel reasonably good hours later and more or less back to normal the next day. Running a race just wipes me out.

The rest of Sunday was spent keeping busy, while also trying to relax, but I woke up on Monday morning feeling groggy to say the least! It’s now Wednesday and although the muscles are nowhere near as tender as they’d felt for the first couple of days of the week, I’d still quite like to just be at home napping rather than at work!

Training for this race was difficult. It was very ‘stop start’ as I seemed to just keep picking up niggling injuries or colds, meaning that some weeks I’d be running 20k and others I’d do 3k at best! I think a lot of what got me through was just sheer bloody-mindedness and a determination not to let myself down. Having got through it quite successfully I’m now planning my next race, which will probably be in Leeds in July, unless I can find something earlier that appeals. For now though, I’m just feeling my age and hoping to recover by the end of the month!

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started