Sunday, 17 May 2015
This is the text of the speech I gave to the gathering of people from our three twinned towns on Saturday 16th May 2015. It speaks of the precious thing that is friendship across borders.
"Mr Mayor of Ancenis, Madam Mayor of Bad Brückenau, ladies and gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure and pride that I speak for the first time as President of the Kirkham Twinning Association at a visit to one of our twin towns. I also have the pleasure of bringing greetings from the Mayor of Kirkham and the Town Council: you will be aware that we in Britain are in the midst of our electoral process at both local and national level, and so our council representatives are unable to be present here in Ancenis on this occasion. We are delighted to have with us Mrs Sheila Hardy, whose husband Councillor Peter Hardy has just been elected as Mayor of Fylde Borough, our municipality. It is a great honour for Kirkham that one of our Councillors has been elected to this role, and Peter will be formally installed as Mayor at a civic ceremony on this coming Wednesday. It is particularly pleasing for those gathered here today to know that Peter is a loyal and enthusiastic member of the Kirkham Twinning Association. May I ask the people of our three twin towns to join me in wishing Peter a successful year as Mayor of Fylde Borough Council.
We meet here in Ancenis at a time of poignant anniversaries: a hundred years since the First World War and 70 years since the end of the Second World War. All of us gathered here now are too young to remember those two conflicts between European neighbours, but the legacy and memories of those dark times for our continent are still very much with us, not least as we mark these anniversaries.
Let us therefore rejoice in the fact that we meet every year in one of our towns as friends and partners. I have recently been editing my grandfather’s autobiography, and reading with sadness how almost exactly a hundred years ago, he travelled to France as a young man to fight in that futile conflict. He survived, where thousands of English, French and German young men did not, but he, like so many of his generation, was saddened to find Europe at war again just twenty years later.
How lucky we are, and how precious it is, that in our generation, the peoples of our three towns meet not to fight, but to share fellowship, food, drink and culture. How sad it is that there are those in our three countries who seek to undermine the European project, but we must not let those voices prevail.
So it is with great pride, passion and enthusiasm that I say “Long Live Twinning!”
Tuesday, 12 May 2015
Saturday, 2 May 2015
|Bolton v Everton, May 15th 2005|
|Bolton v Birmingham City, May2nd 2015|
The contrast between these two days was stark, and glaringly illustrates the roller-coaster fortunes of any football club outside the Premier League's true élite. That 2005 match was played in a packed and raucous stadium, with the game featured that night on "Match of the Day", its result and significance prominent in the next day's newspapers. The pre-match buzz in those days saw crowds of fans gathered around the Stadium's front entrance, invariably catching a glimpse of famous faces - former players, pundits, celebrity fans and the like. Today, the pre-match atmosphere around the ground was good natured enough, but bleak and subdued. The Birmingham fans, present in good numbers and excellent voice, provided a touch of noise, fun and humour with their traditional end-of-season fancy dress (I saw, amongst others, a duck, four Teletubbies, a carrot, a surgeon in a blood-stained operating gown and Jesus), but the feeling among Wanderers fans was one of "let's get this over with", after such a poor season.
It is clear to even a casual observer that our popular and respected new manager Neil Lennon has a huge job on his hands over the summer, rebuilding a team with some sense of pattern and stability on a very tight budget. There is much promise, both in the spirit and manner of play that we have seen at times under Lennon, and in the performances of some players: It is blindingly obvious that Adam Bogdan in goal and Mark Davies in midfield are the sole survivors of our Premier League days, so keeping them would be a good start. American Tim Ream, player of the year for the second year in succession, is also a class act. Striker Adam LeFondre also looks worth making efforts to sign permanently. Almost every other player in the squad has some sort of question mark over them, yet youngsters like Max Clayton, Josh Vela, Zach Clough and Tom Walker look to have a future. There are also injured absentees to remember, notably Darren Pratley, who was playing his best football since joining us when he got injured.
Perhaps above all, today reminds me and other Wanderers loyalists that football is a metaphor without parallel for life itself, especially if you support a team outside the Premier League's permanent élite. I hope that fans of the likes of Burnley, Southampton, Stoke City, West Brom, Swansea, QPR, Leicester, Hull, and now Bournemouth, Watford and whoever else goes up remember to drink it all in, because for many of them, their moments in the sun, like Bolton's in 2005, will be fleeting.
Having said that, I also genuinely believe in the psychologically therapeutic value of following a football team, especially a less successful one. Football provides an ultimately harmless mirror of life's ups and downs, and as such can serve as a useful and safe outlet for our emotions, be they good or bad. Having followed Bolton Wanderers through thick and thin for around fifty years, I can honestly say that they have given me a chance harmlessly to rehearse every emotion life can throw at me. And in so doing, I feel that maybe, just maybe, I can cope better with life's real ups and downs.
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