The sad news recently of the death of the great Tom Finney gave media outlets another opportunity to show the wonderful photograph of him battling through what looks like the kind of badly waterlogged pitch, we rarely see today.
Tom Finney rides a tackle on a wet Stamford Bridge pitch in 1956.
There was a certain poignancy to the photo, given the recent wet weather. It was also a pertinent reminder, whilst so many of us understandably bemoan the present state of affairs at St James’ Park, that the ‘golden age of football’ often saw the game played on virtually unplayable pitches. Does anybody else remember Football Focus on the BBC in the 1970s with Sam Leitch and regular film of men in long coats prodding the pitch at Derby County’s Baseball Ground with large forks whilst others spread so much sand that parts of it began to resemble the beach at Bamburgh? We still get problems with pitches, but compared to 40 years ago…
To return to the weather, it has been a strange winter. There has been only one day of snow, with the slightest of dustings, whilst a seemingly never-ending procession of Atlantic depressions have deposited record amounts of rain on this country and especially in the South and Southwest.
Of course, there has always been freak weather one way or other. I was once filling in time in a library, which for some reason had a whole collection of books detailing football clubs’ complete records. On a whim I looked at the 1962-3 season and found the same story, with almost all clubs; many of them didn’t play a single game between Boxing Day 1962 until the beginning of March 1963, due to the snow and frost. How teams would have coped with the Europa League back then is anybody’s guess…
So bad weather has always been a feature of British life as has its variability, which I always think is the reason why we apparently talk about the weather more often than other people. I mean, if you lived in Qatar, you wouldn’t greet somebody in the street with “turned out nice again hasnn’t it”, would you?
That said, there does seem to be more extreme weather these days and more records are being broken, which does suggest that climate change is not some future threat, which will really only affect polar bears beyond the Arctic Circle or people in the Tropics, but can affect us too. Many of the poorest in the world have been suffering from the consequences of Climate Change for years now as once regular rains have dried up and crops no longer grow where they once did. Perhaps our recent weather will encourage people living comfortable lives in this country to think more about the threat climate change poses.
On another level, the recent wet weather and the government’s response, does raise some other interesting questions. It is generally agreed that the government’s response to the flooding was initially slow, but once they fully realised what was happening, then Cameron was noted to be saying that, “money was no object”. Really? But what about the austerity programme and the need to cut spending?
Now of course the cynical amongst you might be thinking, “yeah, well, there are lots of Tory seats along the Thames Valley and in other parts of the South and the next election is only just over a year away and so of course money is no object…” I have read it suggested on an internet message board that Cameron would never have said that money was no object, if the floods had taken place in Newcastle. We have no way of knowing if this is true (Ed: we have, he ignored the people at Newburn, whose houses have fallen into the Tyne), but given that it was reported in 2011, that government spending on another vital area of infrastructure, transport, was £2 700 per head in London compared to £5 per head in the Northeast, it does make you wonder….
That said, nobody should belittle or underestimate the suffering of those in the South who have had their homes ruined and lives so badly affected. To have your home, your sanctuary from the world, the little part of the world which is yours, flooded with filthy, water must be an awful experience. I know there are those who point out that you shouldn’t buy a house on a floodplain, but how many people actually know where a floodplain begins or ends? What if you have to make a quick decision on a property for financial reasons or for schooling for children? What if you have been assured that flood defences are adequate – but turn out not to be?
The floods have caused real hardship. The most important lessons to draw from the flooding and the government’s response are I think two-fold. Firstly, their initial response was inadequate given the extent of the problem and this inadequacy was a direct response to the cuts made in the budget of the Environment Agency led by climate change sceptic Owen Paterson. There is an old saying that, “a stitch in time saves nine” and I think this is relevant here. As a country we may well end uphaving to pay more, either through government spending or household insurance premiums going up, because of the initial cuts.
Secondly, as has been noted elsewhere, Cameron’s comment that, “money is no object”, completely undermines the Coalition’s claims that austerity is the only way forward. Just as money was found to bomb Libya in 2011, so it miraculously becomes available again. Clearly the cuts imposed by Osborne have more to do with political values than economic efiiciency.
The floods have shown again that the austerity policies of the Coalition are counter-productive and politically motivated. We have lost three years of potential economic recovery and many thousands of British people, including some of the most vulnerable, have suffered terribly for a policy which Cameron has now overturned as a matter of course.