Sport is a micro chasm of our society, our school and our communities. Therefore, when my beloved Worcester Warriors rugby football team continues to ‘thrive’ in the premiership, based on rugged, imported South African nous and affluent local public school boy verve, and the tranquil charm of Worcestershire Cricket Club continues to excel with stars from the affluent Malvern College and Bromsgrove schools, I am thrilled. I should be thrilled at my city’s sporting success. I can lose myself in childhood dreams of being John Hampshire of Yorkshire CC or Peter Winterbottom, Yorkshire/England ‘hard man’.
However, it is the plight of Worcester City Football Club that should be a warning to us all. They are homeless as St George’s Lane has long since been erased for St George’s housing estate. They are penniless and now relegated three leagues to play in the Vanarama National League North. Next stop, park football! The working class football team as an opportunity for the state educated child is being erased, with the premiership being the domain of affluent London clubs and the Arab/American sponsored North West.
Growing up in Doncaster in the 1980s, sport brought the community together with football clubs excelling, the end of the Leeds United era was replaced by hope for Sheffield and Bradford clubs. Yorkshire was a sporting hotbed, with pride in the local cricket team, where internationals played and were paid the same, and rugby league towns full of miners were successful and hopeful. These were proud communities who came together on a Saturday to rejoice in competition. This was a time when Alan Little bestrode Doncaster’s pitch, launching opposing midfielders over the barriers into the welcoming crowd. All teams had an enforcer, an anti-hero, uncompromising in attitude, appearance and ability. To me, Little epitomised Doncaster, rough, honest, hard and I followed him throughout his time with the Rovers. Now, there are no premiership teams in Yorkshire. Many of the rugby league teams struggle to survive and no northern team has excelled in the premiership, Leeds continuing to be in the Championship. Football in the north mirrors education, struggling hopefully on, underfunded and kept going by the effort of the faithful few.
The divide between the affluent south and the rest is, I believe, in danger of extending. The London clubs will continue to excel and Manchester apart the divide is getting bigger and will continue to do so with one tenth of the world’s billionaires residing in the capital. It is now too expensive to regularly visit the Worcester Warriors with tickets for myself and my son in excess of £70. The last game saw no Worcester resident play for the team. In my last match for the first XV in 1994, I was considered to be an outsider; I lived eight miles away in Malvern. The rugby club was part of the city and there was pride in the school boys who made it to the first team, whatever school they had attended.
What does it matter that there are no Midlands teams in a premiership, with football only available to those who can afford Sky? Why does it concern me that the conservative city of Worcester has lost its football team of 100 years and the team currently playing out of Bromsgrove is clearly nearly at an end? For the sporty state school child, football is a dream to aspire to, however false. A city team gives them pride and hope.
Should we care that rugby union and cricket are becoming the preserve of the public school? Experiences and opportunities that the state educated child cannot hope to receive or understand as they are now played to a minimal standard with even the local leagues pricing aspiring talent out of playing!
I think it matters hugely. Sport gives hope, mirrors life. For the child from the council estate, pride in their community and hope is what is required. For our PE department, providing invaluable opportunities and experiences matters more than ever. Sport for all should be much, much more than a concept. Like education, sport should be affordable and available to all with an equality of competition that does not allow the few to prevail but is ‘for the many, not the few’ – very Corbynesque!