A CONTRACEPTION BY THE POWER OF THE CHURCH

Bogolyubovo is a small Russian town of just four thousand five hundred people one hundred and twenty miles north east of Moscow.

The town is notable for a huge monastery which was established on the current site by Prince Andrei in the twelfth century.

The monastery sits on a hill overlooking seven thousand square metres of a soviet-block brick factory which has been in disuse for decades now.

There is no work for those who seek it in this town, not even in Vladimir, the larger town and regional capital twelve miles away.

So those who want to work and are prepared to seek it out have long moved away.

Vladimir is a man who was born and bred in Bogolyubovo.

There is not anyone in this remote town or in the town of Vladimir or across the Russian state who does not know who Vladimir is.

Vladimir has lived every young boy’s dream and become a professional football player.

He is forty four years old and long retired but this is the local and national hero who has returned home with a business plan to put his wealth into something beneficial and make a difference to the town of Bogolyubovo.

His plan is to establish the business at the site of the former brick factory and to employ at least two hundred people as workforce from the local community.

The folk of Bogolyubovo should be rejoicing at the prospects but they are not.

The problem is quite simply ‘contraception’ and the power of the church.  The Orthodox church but it could be a catholic or islamic protestation in any other part of the world.

The church considers the condom as male abortion and an unwarranted contraception to the procreation of new life.

Put more simply, only married couples can have sexual relations and therefore use a condom to practice birth control whereas anyone who is indulging in sexual relations outside of marriage cannot.

An overideaological view perhaps.

This then implies  that God, mankind, society, define it how you like, will punish the offender of sexual relations outside of marriage for their sinful commitment.

Notional at best.

For those who think and believe that religion in the world has no power or voice, then this is a story which must be told, read and understood.

As children, a sense of faith is ingrained into all of us  to follow a religion and adhere to Gods calling.

The Russian Orthodox Church is powerful and influential.

It even has the support and backing of the country’s president.

Bogolyubovo is a microcosm of a world in which we live today.  So is Vladimir.

It is a fact that HIV Aids is an out of control epidemic across the Russian State.

It is a fact that the Russian population is decreasing.

It is a fact that Russian nationals appreciate being able to practice their faith today with total freedom and openness, unlike in the past.

It is a fact that ‘contraception’ is a term referring to the prevention of something happening if we ever took time to study a few words of latin.

It is a fact that HIV Aids can be reduced in its spread if those having sex use contraception.

It is a fact that a  condom is another word for contraception.

It is a reality that people are choosing to have less children or no children at all inside a relationship across the whole world.

It is a reality that you cannot stop human beings making choices.

The Orthodox Church seeks to act for the public good when things to be done are outside law enforcement but Vladimir is surely not wrong in a world of free enterprise to commercialise a product for the public good as well.

This is where we are starting to get to the core of the problem in the small town of Bogolyubovu and in the society of the world at large.

Hence presenting several risks if a condom is not used in a sexual encounter.

A potential pregnancy neither partner wants.

A cultural solicitation of an ongoing relationship into a bond  neither party wants nor needs.

A  transmission of a sexual disease.

Vladimir knows all about this.

He was a handsome man and a playboy during his time.  Women flocked to him and sex was as available to him as kicking a football.

Vladimir met with the consequences of his promiscuity in later life and was lucky to be in a position where he felt he could make a difference.

Somewhere.  Somehow.  For someone.

Unusually perhaps for a stereotyped Russian and someone who has lived the kind of life he has, he does not smoke or drink alcohol and believes in health and fitness for longevity in life.

The local populus still remember the local boy who made good twenty five or so years ago and many still keep the memories in their homes of his achievements.

But these same people and many more are the voice of opposition to his plan to turn the former brick factory into one for the manufacture and distribution of condoms.

Prayers, icons, wooden crosses, banners and slogans represent the protest against the hero of the hour turned villain of the peace.

Conservative ideaology and traditional values fuel the religious view that the deliberate refusal to have children because of selfish urges devalues marriage and can only be a sin.

Vladimir endeavours to reach a compromise with the opponents of his business plan.

He knows them well to a man, woman and child.

He must convince them that his strategy is for the common good of mankind and the future of Bogolyubovo.

Despite his many sexual encounters, Vladimir remains unmarried and there is no evidence that will change anytime soon.

There was once a local young woman who had his attention in his later teenage years but then he was spotted by a talent scout and his life was changed forever.

That young woman, Katya, a year younger than Vladimir, subsequently married and then widowed, is with assymetrical irony one of the protesters to his business plan.

The people of this small town are no different from any other town in any other part of the world.

They want a community.

They want children to grow up in an environment which is spiritually good.

There needs to be work for the people who live in the community.

There needs to be a practice of faith.

The locals want Vladimir to turn the factory into manufacture of baby nappies and first aid products.

He is reluctant to do this because medical research has concluded that baby nappies can lead to impotence.He can, of course, decide to start his condom business in another town and in another country.

But this is Vladimir wishing to make a statement and he will not be swayed from making it in his home town.

Vladimir has to make a choice.  What choice?

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HILLSBOROUGH REVISITED

The Hillsborough stadium is home to Sheffield Wednesday Football Club in the South Yorkshire County of northern England.

The football club itself is nicknamed The Owls derived from the district of Owlerton in which the stadium is geographically situated.

It was built in 1899 on a ten acre site of rural land acquired from a prosperous Silversmiths family about three miles north west of the centre of the city of Sheffield.

The Dixon family lived at Hillsborough House which would then give its name to the stadium.

There are, in fact, two teams from Sheffield who play in the English football league.  The other is Sheffield United who are nickamed ‘the Blades’ to represent the steel industry of the city.

Hillsborough is one of the finest football stadiums in England.

When it has not hosted home games of the Owls, it has hosted matches of the 1966 World Cup, 1996 Euro Championships and domestic FA Cup semi finals since 1912 when West Bromwich Albion played there against Blackburn Rovers.

The capacity of the stadium has increased and decreased over the years as a result of gradual expansion and legislative measures intended to address public safety.

There was a plan to substantially increase the capacity of the stadium to support a bid by England to host the 2018 World Cup.

England were not successful in that bid and the plans to expand the stadium have consequently been shelved.

Sheffield Wednesday currently play in the Championship, the second tier of the English football league, and are challenging for promotion to the prestigious Premier League.

As a Coventry City supporter, I myself stood on the terraces of the Leppings Lane End in March 1987 to cheer the Sly Blues onto a momentous 3-1 victory over the home team in a FA Cup quarter final.

On the 12th April, I returned again to the Hillsborough stadium and this time stood with Coventry City supporters on the terraces of the Spion Kop to cheer the Sky Blues onto an even more momentous 3-2 victory in the FA Cup Semi Final against Leeds United.

Incidentally,the first semi final ever been played on a Sunday.

As I recall, the scheduled kick off time was twelve o’clock but it was delayed by thirty minutes for safety reasons to allow late arriving and delayed supporters to pack into the stadium and not miss the spectacle.

There was not the advantage then of a footbridge across the river Don to enable easier access to the stadium.  That was only erected for the Euros in 1996.

Two years later, on 15th April 1989, Hillsborough hosted the FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

The twenty five thousand Liverpool supporters were at the Leppings Lane end of the ground while it was the red of Nottingham Forest who held their own at the opposite end in the Spion Kop.

Hooliganism, fighting between rival supporters, and pitch invasions had become a distinct problem during the 1970s and 1980s and key stadiums such as Hillsborough were forced by law to introduce perimeter fencing.

It was not hooliganism or a pitch invasion which would kill ninety six good people on that tragic Saturday afternoon but a gross mismanagement of crowd control by the very people – police, stewards and medical care workers – who were supposed to control and manage it.

The Coventry City v Leeds United semi final was the first one to be played at the Hillsborough stadium since 1981 when only by the grace of God were there no fatalities in the semi final between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur.

The very fact that there were injuries, some of them serious, would have put the ‘writing on the wall’ to the football authorities and to the sponsors of Sheffield Wednesday football club.

But the legal safety certificate and ground capacity were not reviewed and a man was appointed to supervise overall charge of the policing of the semi final on 22nd March with no previous experience for such an all ticket sold-out event.

It may be unfair to say that the events leading to the tragedy were unforseeable but it is not unfair to say that those events were avoidable.

There is no need to name and shame the man who was the Police Commander in Chief that day because he must live each day and address his conscience for grave professional misgivings until the day he dies.

In an uncanny way, there is a parallel with the ninety six people who were unlawfully killed (officially it was no accident) at the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough stadium at around three o’clock on Saturday 15th April.

And with the three hundred soldiers of the Lancashire Fusiliers who were senselessly led to their deaths by a tactically inept Commander on the 1400 foot mountain known as Spion Kop in January 1900 in Natal South Africa.

If there is an irony, then it is, for me anyway, that the three teams in the English football league who have a part of their stadium as Spion Kop, are Liverpool, Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City.

Alas, to the present day, there are only two Spion Kop remaining because Coventry City moved from their former home the Highfield Road stadium, to the Ricoh Arena in 2001.

Hillsborough is the greatest sporting tragedy in British history.

All seater stadiums became the norm over nearly all the tiers of the English football team as a difrect result.

Terracing was a condemned to yesteryear.

Football had learnt a lesson.

It took twenty seven years but the families of the ninety six people who died have successfully got justice for their loved ones.

Be home by Christmas Boys was the royalist battlecry of the Lancashire Fusilier before they then faced their Boer enemy in South Africa

Be home by Tea Time Boys could well have been the maternal battlecry on that particular April day.

But ninety six boys, girls, adults did not come home.

Hillsborough remembers.  Hillsborough does remember.  It does not forget.

HE’S NOT COMING HOME

You’ll never walk alone’ is the message expressed on the red scarf which hangs on the wall above Christian’s bed.

The dawn breaks on a grey Saturday morning in mid-April and a fifteen year old boy awakens from his sleep in high expectation to the sudden shriek of an alarm.

The ticket for the football match he will go to today nestles propped up against a table lamp on a bedside cabinet next to his bed.

His mother knocks the door, enters the bedroom to draw back the curtains and bring a hot cup of tea which he is slow to drink.

Cheddar cheese and pickle sandwiches dressed with water cress are prepared and wrapped in silver foil on the kitchen table.

It’s time to take a shower and hurry up a little because he must meet his friends and catch the coach at ten o’clock  for the two hour journey from Liverpool to Sheffield.

The drizzle when they left Sefton had turned to bright sunshine by the time the coach had reached the outskirts of Sheffield city.

Christian was going to watch his first ever live football match and what a match to pick!  The FA Cup Semi Final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

He adorned the red shirt of Liverpool with the number nine on his back and the name of ‘Rush’.

His four friends dressed similarly.  7 for Beardsley. 8 for Aldridge.  10 for Barnes.  11 for Macmahon.

For all intents and purposes these five young Liverpudlians were the Liverpool forward line for the match that day.

It was a one mile walk from the coach park to the Hillsborough stadium which would normally take twenty minutes but for some reason on this particular day took much longer.

All Christian could take in was a sea of red and vociferous voices along the road and it was more of a march than a walk or a stroll.

Christian had finished his sandwiches on the coach journey and did as his friends did and stop to buy a hot dog along the way before getting within the proximity of the stadium.

The presence of police on horses was everywhere.  To Christian, it was a little overwhelming and intimidating.

He, however, went with the flow and presented his ticket at the turnstiles at about ten to two.

It was still a little over an hour to the kick-off.  The crowd was gathering and the atmosphere was building but the signs were beginning to manifest that all was not well.

Christian stood in one of the two central pens at the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough stadium and joined in the singing of the traditional football songs.  ‘You’ll never walk alone’ was followed by ‘We hate Nottingham Forest’ and ‘Two Cathredals’.

‘In our Liverpool homes, if you want a cathredal, we’ve got one to spare.  In our Liverpool homes’.

In the sudden chaos that then followed a few minutes before kick-off, Christian became separated from his friends.

The two teams came out of the tunnel and the match began as scheduled at three o’clock.

It is unknown whether Christian saw any of the five minutes thirty seconds which were played before the match was abandoned by the referee once it was realized something was not right at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium where the twenty five thousand Liverpool supporters were gathered.

The match was not broadcast live on English television but was being recorded for viewing on ‘Match of the Day’ later that evening.

Christian’s Mother had gone shopping to the Arndale Shopping Centre in Liverpool city centre that afternoon and was drawn to the shop window of an electronics store at around four o’clock as a small crowd had gathered to watch the breaking news of what was happening at the Hillsboorugh stadium.

Nobody then knew the implications of what they were viewing.

There was no way to immediately reach her son at that stadium in an age a generation before social media, internet and the mobile phone had become commonplace.

Several hours later, a mother trying to stay calm took a landline phone call from the distressed friend of Christian who simply said ‘He’s Not Coming Home’.

The world now knows that he was unlawfully killed that day.  It was no accident.

The red scarf still hangs above Christian’s bed. ‘You’ll never Walk Alone’

The ticket stub has been retrieved and preserved.

An autographed framed picture of Ian Rush is stationed  on the bedside table.

The bedroom is not a shrine.  His Mother would not allow that.

It is a living soul to remember a son who left his bedroom that morning in such high expectation and never came home.

STORY OF A NEWSPAPER DELIVERY BOY

This is the simple but evocative story of a newspaper boy.

Delivering newspapers was the first job i ever had.

It was a part-time job delivering newspapers after school.

In England, there remains a demand in spite of a modern trend to access news from the internet, for a provincial evening newspaper.

Mine was the Coventry Evening Telegraph.

I was thirteen years old and I did the newspaper round for nearly two years until I left school and got a full-time job.

When I got home from school at half-past four each day, it was my responsibility to organize the newspapers and prepare for my ‘round’.

I delivered to about sixty houses and in all weathers on my second-hand improvised bicycle.

The provincial evening newspaper was a different from the national daily with the type of news it published.

Since I was a kid, I had always had an interest in journalism and in newspapers generally.

My hobby was keeping a scrapbook of eye-catching news stories in all the newspapers and football magazines such as ‘Shoot’ and ‘Goal’.

I imitated the likes of Kenneth Wolstenholme and David Coleman as a football commentator and I used to write up my own football reports of matches that I watched.

As a fifteen year old, I interviewed with a cassette tape recorder famous sporting personalities such as Jimmy Hill, Ernie Hunt and Willie Carr who lived not far from my home

‘Match of the Day’ on a Saturday evening was the lifeblood of every football fan in England.

Coventry City, alias the Sky Blues, were the football team in the city of Coventry and it was the football team which I supported.

The late Jimmy Hill was an important personality for both Coventry City Football Club and TV Sports broadcasting.

Being a newspaper boy was a job like no other.  I got to know the inside stories and be inspired to become a writer.  I met the customers who bought the newspapers.  I visited the offices of Coventry Evening Telegraph to see how the newspapers themselves were printed and published.

Newspaper delivery boys like me were genuinely appreciated by the company who employed us.

This was only a part-time job of course and the income was not much for the six days (monday to Saturday) when it was my job to deliver the papers.

But it was enough to finance buying new trousers and shirt for my first date with a girl and going to watch Coventry City play at their home Highfield Road stadium on Saturday afternoons.

The whole experience of being a newspaper delivery boy taught me about financial responsibility and would inspire me to be a writer and a vocalist of news topic, especially today through social media and the itnernet generally, if not as a professional journalist.

The would-be journalist became a lawyer and later on in life a teacher but the newspaper delivery boy remains very much within his heart and soul and the memories of that first job can never ever be forgotten.

DESCRIBE A FOOTBALL MATCH

I have been asked to describe a football match.

I am a football fan and I regularly go to the stadium of my home team to watch them play and cheer them along.

My football team play in the English Premier League.  I have a season ticket for the home games and I sit in the stands with my father and brother.

In the old days, fans used to congregate and stand on the terraces but since the tragedies of Hillsborough, Bradford and Heysel, football stadiums are all-seater.

A capacity crowd is expected for the local ‘Derby’ between my team and their local rivals.  The rivalry is friendly but fierce and bragging rights are at stake.

I usually arrive to the stadium about an hour before the match.  I enter the stadium through a turnstile and there is time to have a cup of hot bovril and a meat pie before taking to my seat about twenty minutes before kick-off.

The atmosphere is electrifying and tense.  The away supporters are segregated in one corner of the ground.  Both sets of supporters are vociferous in their vocal support of their respective team and joyously sing football anthems which are universally known.

The supporters wear the colours of the strip of the their team.  Scarves, hats and banners are aplenty as the two teams come out of the tunnel together and handshakes are the norm with opposing players, the officials and the mascots before the final warm-up.

The time is now three o’clock on a cold, windy Saturday afternoon and it is time for the match to begin.

There will be two halves of forty-five minutes of football.  There will be a few minutes of added time at the end of each half for injuries or goals scored.

It is bound to be fast and furious, action-packed with drama and tension.  There will be near-misses, penalty shouts and undeserved  abuse hurled at the referee.

The game is being broadcast live on cable television around the world.  Highlights will be shown on ‘Match of the Day’ on English BBC later in the evening.

By five o’clock, the result will be known.  Either we will go home full of joy or disappointment.  There will be goals.  There will be a story to tell.

The stadium empties quickly and the supporters return to their modes of transport to be home for Saturday evening ‘tea’.

This is the story of a football match through the eyes of someone who lives and breathes football.

 

FOOTBALL ANTHEM

Football anthems have been around ever since ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ was sung by a certain Dolly Bird for West Ham United at the 1923 F.A. Cup final, the very first cup final in fact played at the Wembley Stadium arena in London.

Today, almost major every football club has a song or an anthem attached to it.

Perhaps the most famous football anthem of all is the Liverpool one entitled ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ which is almost choir-like in its delivery.

The song was a pop hit for the Liverpool group ‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’ in 1963 but it was first written by Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1945 for the musical ‘Carousel’.

One of the more unlikely football anthems is Coventry City’s ‘Play Up Sky Blues, While We Sing Together’ which was dreamed up by their then entrepreneurial manager Jimmy Hill in the 1960s.

The only time the song was heard to a worldwide audience was in 1987 when Coventry City played in and won the F.A. Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur.

‘When the Saints Go marching In’ has been chorused at many football stadiums across the globe and far from its American root home of New Orleans.

It is passionately adopted by the supporters of Southampton Football Club and perhaps oddly by Tottenham Hotspur who opt to subtly change reference of ‘Saints’ to ‘Spurs’, the clubs nickname.

‘Glory Glory Man United’ has, of course, become the adopted anthem of the Red Devils and rings around the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ at each and every home game.

The chorus of ‘Que Sera Sera is regularly sung by supporters of all teams as a note of optimism or confirmation that their team is on the way to a cup final.

Perhaps one of the most nostalgic football anthems is ‘We’re on the March, We’re ………Army’ which became the anthem of the Scottish national football team for their campaign in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

The song has been sung ever since by supporters ina similar way to ‘Que Sera Sera’.

The traditional British song ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ became a rendition especially in the 1970s and 1980s for ‘We hate Nottingham Forest, We hate Everton too’ but as a football supporter, I never understood why those two football clubs were the chosen ones for the first two lines in the football version of the song.

There are many other football anthems, notably ‘Keep right on to the end of the road’ for Birmingham City, ‘Blue is the Colour’ for Chelsea and ‘Blue Moon’ for Manchester City.

Football anthems are certainly a source of great vocality on a matchday and that will never ever change.

BLOWING BUBBLES

This is one football story I absolutely must tell.

I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I am enjoying to write and tell it.

It is my take and interpretation on the story of the song ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ and its inseparable connection with West Ham United Football Club.

The song was originally written in 1919 by two Americans Jaan Kenbrovin and John William Kellette.

The song became an instant hit both in America and ‘across the pond’ in Great Britain.

It was particularly popularized in the musical halls of the time by a charismatic ageing London singer called Dorothy Bird.

The early 1920s was the era of Billy ‘Bubbles’ Murray who was an uncompromising defender for West Ham and who wore the maroon and claret colours with great pride.

Billy Murray got the infamous nickname because of his distinctive mop of curly hair.

When Dorothy Bird was invited to sing ‘I’m Blowing Bubbles’ at a West Ham home match against Swansea, the scene was set for the song to become the anthem of the east London football team in a nostalgic and romantic, almost unexpected and accidental way.

It was also the ignition for a discreet love affair which lasted for several years between Dorothy Bird and ‘Bubbles Murray’.

West Ham United reached the 1923 F.A. Cup Final and ‘Bubbles’ Murray was a team player on the day.

It was the first-ever F.A. Cup Final played at Wembley Stadium, the national English arena still to this day.

The opposition Bolton Wanderers won the match 2-0 but Dorothy Bird sang the song before 120,000 spectators to take herself, ‘Bubbles’ Murray and the song into football folklore.

‘Dolly Bird’ became London slang for a charming young lady and ‘I’m forever Blowing Bubbles’ became in many ways the first song ever converted into a football anthem before a huge audience.

It may, however, be wise to say at this stage that I wish to pass on the double meaning of the title of this story for want of its sexual overtone.  No further comment needed!

In 1966, three West Ham players – Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters – all played for England in their thrilling 4-2 World Cup final victory over West Germany at the same Wembley Stadium arena as West Ham took stage in 1923.

The sound of ‘I’m forever Blowing Bubbles’ was broadcast to a worldwide audience.

The song has a lot to do with the ethos of West Ham United Football Club and the rough-tough community environment in which the current Boleyn Ground-Upton Park has been home for more than a hundred years.

Current lyrics of the song reflect their rivalry with both Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea.

In truth, that lyrical reference within the song can be adapted to whatever tone you choose and the song can, of course, be sung in a non-football congext.

West Ham are shortly to move home to the Olympic Stadium ‘a stone’s throw away’ at the beginning of the 2016-2017 season.

Nothing will detract from the significance of the song and the pride with which ‘I’m forever Blowing Bubbles’ is song by every West Ham United fan who professes to be a ‘Hammer’ and ‘an Iron’ on his heart and on his sleeve.

For anyone who is not familiar with the song, here are the most well-known lyrics:

I’m forever blowing bubbles,

Blowing pretty bubbles in the air.

They fly so high,

They reach the sky.

They’re like my dreams,

They fade and die,

Tottenham always running   OR   (People always smiling)

Chelsea running too  OR (Children smiling too)

I’m forever blowing bubbles,

Blowing pretty bubbles everywhere.

.