Peering into the future

Have you ever heard of Edmilson Fernandes? Probably not. He’s a footballer. Not the most famous footballer, but a decent squad player for a Premier league side. He actually plays for West Ham. If you follow West Ham, like me, you would know that he is 22 yrs old, that he is from Switzerland, has been with the club since 2016 and, although he’s not an automatic first team choice, when he comes on he often does a good job. Whether he becomes a first team regular only time will tell.

If you look at the salaries of the West Ham players, he ranks as the joint 16th best paid. I guess we can also say that he is therefore regarded as the 16th best player in the squad. He earns £30,000 (a week, that is) and his annual salary is over £1.5 million. As far as I can tell he is a grounded and decent young man, but in the four years of his West Ham contract (which takes him to the age of 24) he will earn roughly £6 million.

We all know the Premier League is awash with money. More and more people are watching the Premier League on the TV in this country and around the world. However some people tell me it has put them off going to PL games and taken the game away from the fans. Recently, after watching England U17s play Switzerland U17s at the New York Stadium in Rotherham, I got chatting to a bloke in the railway bar in Sheffield. He told me that he lived in South London, but was staying in Burton for the duration of the tournament, so that he could go to all the games. He also said that he used to be a Chelsea season ticket holder but now watches non-league games and tournaments like this. Joking aside (about his original allegiance) I understood where he was coming from. Sometimes the Premier League, can feel corporate and impersonal and increasingly concerned with the TV viewer and not the fans at the game (why else would they agree to Friday night matches?). I am not yet as disillusioned as my new friend, but a similar love of football and a desire to seek the authentic experience had led us both to not only that game but also others in the tournament.

It probably passed you by, but the UEFA U17s tournament was held in England in May with games in the Midlands and South Yorkshire. The England team were eliminated in the semi finals, on penalties, by the eventual winners, the Netherlands. Up to that point they had played five games in the tournament winning against Israel, Italy and Norway and losing to Switzerland and then, finally, the Netherlands. Had you asked the manager, I’m sure he would have been disappointed they didn’t win the tournament, but would also have pointed to how it was really only preparation for the future; that experiencing such a tournament at 16 gives them great experience for coping with others in the future. Even the marketing for event had emphasised the future rather than the present, with phrases like “see the players of tomorrow” and by using images of famous England players, when they were teenagers in the tournament, as well as the likes of Christiano Ronaldo and indeed I was looking forward to seeing some players before they were famous. I was going to see them first and through that, perhaps, elevate my status of a football fan, by being “In the know” (there’s a breed of fan, known as an ITK, who are supporters that claim to be ‘In The Know’ about the comings and goings of players at a club and, as such, are followed avidly by other fans on social media).

Most of the players in the England squad had been spotted for their potential long before this tournament and were already attached to top Premier League sides. I went to all the England games and so had a chance to see a few of these players of tomorrow at close quarters. They were all 16 or 17, but were already tall, quick and muscular. Some of them were from footballing families (like Bobby Duncan, the nephew of Steven Gerrard) and a few of them had such confidence in their future path that they already had sponsored Instagram pages (thanks to my daughter for that one!). Watching from the stands, I was struck by the level of skill on display. I saw two games at the Proact stadium in Chesterfield where I had also seen some League Two games during the season and, whereas the youngsters were able to play possession football, it would be a surprise if the League Two side could string more than four passes together in any sequence. It was easy to see these young players, from the stands, as the finished article; as men not boys. However, when they warmed up at the side of the pitch, and you could see them at closer quarters, then you could also see the boy in them. It seemed to me they were all on the cusp – between young person and adult / between a boy kicking a ball in the park and a professional footballer.

Many of us, watching the games, had cast ourselves into the role of talent scout. Who would be the next Rooney or Ronaldo? Who would I sign? Would it be obvious? Would they stand out from the crowd? And not just for the England team, but some of the other teams too? I saw roughly 80 different players in the tournament and some did indeed stand out. Amongst England’s opponents I noticed Gyabuaa, an Italian midfielder with a tackle and a pass and saw a fabulous goal in the final from their number 10, Riccardi. I enjoyed the feisty and determined Burger (yes, that was his name) for the Netherlands as well as the powerful Brobbey and skillful Redan. There was also a Swiss player called Mambimbi who had scored three goals in the qualifying rounds and wept on the pitch when they were eliminated, at that early stage of the tournament. The England team’s most potent attacking options were two pacey wingers (Amaechi from Arsenal and Appiah from Nottingham Forest), there was a player in the middle of the park who seemed to touch the ball more than anyone else (Doyle from Man City) and when he was injured in the third game, the fluency of the team was certainly effected. Then there was a tall and gangly centre half, who seemed like a natural leader, organising those around him and often seeming to appear in the right place. His name was Ajibola-Joshua Alese and he plays for West Ham. What!? West Ham?

Yes. One of the players I thought had great potential for the future was part of the West Ham academy. He didn’t play in the first two matches when England conceded two goals, but was a commanding presence in the final three games when they only conceded one. That means something, doesn’t it!? Okay, I think that, I probably watched him more intently than any of the other players and so no wonder he stood out. I was aware of where he was at all times and, if he did something well, would nudge my kids and say “he’s at West Ham”. In the back of my mind was that song “he’s one of our own! he’s one of our own! Ajibola Alese, he’s one of our own!”, but so were the names of other commanding centre halves that have worn the famous claret and blue (Moore, Ferdinand and now Rice). The only England captain to lift the world cup was, of course, a West Ham centre half! Will Alese go on the play for the West Ham first team or the England adult side?

The truth is, of course, it is impossible to tell. Ronaldo might have played for the Portugal U17s side before going on to have a glittering career, but there would have been plenty of his teammates from that side that didn’t “make it”. In reality only a small number of the players I saw will “make it”. Many will leave the game, after injury or having not continued their development into adulthood. Some perhaps will be seen again in ten years time playing at Chesterfield or Burton, as lower level professionals. Some will, perhaps, decide there is more to life than football or will fall in love and have their heads “turned”. We have seen it all before. At West Ham we have another fantastic youth team player that everyone said would go on to play for England, but has found the transition into the adult game hard (Reece Oxford). Perhaps he will still come good and perhaps he and Alese will play for West Ham together in the Premier League or both go on to lift the world cup for England. It is possible. Who knows?

However, I also wonder if this way of thinking about the tournament is all wrong; if viewing it simply as talent spotting for the future, diminishes something about the essence of the game. Isn’t one of the pleasures of watching football the shear enjoyment of the moment? The unpredictability of what is going to happen? Match of the Day is always better when you don’t already know the result. The most enjoyable match I saw this season was Chesterfield and Man City U23s in the Carabao cup with four goals and a sending off in the last 20 minutes. You never quite knew what was going to happen next (admittedly the first 70 mins were pretty poor).

Also, am I not falling into the mistake of judging boys on the qualities of men? The only TV programme that has annoyed me to the extent that I wrote to the regulator was Junior Apprentice. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the regular, adult version of the Apprentice, but the junior version in which young people were judged on their ability to be a project leader, without having had any of that experience in their life, made be angry. Let us celebrate the qualities of being 16 rather than projecting these young people too early into the adult world, I argued. Shouldn’t I be watching these players in the same way? Perhaps this was their moment. This was the time that were most fulfilled in their lives. This was a time when they were part of something… whether they are successful in the future or not.

There’s a strange dichotomy in football. On the one hand it is about the here and now. It is about the adrenaline rush of a goal and euphoria of the final whistle when you are ahead. But it is also immediately about tomorrow. Once the final whistle blows you look forward to the next game and imagine how many points you will manage to pick up in the rest of the season. The season ends and immediately you start thinking about the next one. The last game of the domestic season was the League Two play-offs. The winning Coventry manager told reporters that he would have a week off and then start planning for next year. Even if your team is successful, that joy lasts for a fleeting amount of time before we seek further successes. Perhaps that’s why I, as a West Ham fan, still dream of future success, whereas the former Chelsea fan I met has nothing else to hope for (to win the PL again!? To win the Champions League again!?). If we have a poor season, like we did last year, then we quickly put that to one side and imagine what will happen next year, nce we have made some stellar new signings and with a new, more attack minded, manager. Perhaps the U17s tournament is consciously acknowledging this in styling itself as an opportunity to peer into the future. For 90 mins (or in the case of the U17s, 80 mins) we are there and the game is the most important thing, but once over we are already looking into the future. Often the ‘now’ is a let down, whereas the future holds the potential of great times. The future has in it that precious commodity – hope!

Some of the players at this tournament will go on to be millionaire footballers. In five years time, like Edmilson Fernandes, they will earning in one week as much as most people earn in a year. Their playing careers will be relatively short, but when they retire in their late 30’s they will be made for life (whilst also unsure what to do with themselves). I hope that Ajibola Alese does go on to have a fantastic career and captains West Ham and his country (which could be Nigeria, through his parents, if England are not careful). But, I want that not because I know him as a person, but for my own purely selfish reasons. I am a West Ham fan and above all want West Ham to be successful and the secret to that is having the best players. I am projecting forward, in my imagination, to a point when with Alese in the side we are able to compete with the best. I am viewing him more as a commodity than as a person.

I have to acknowledge that, even though for some the Premier League is tainted, for me it still has promises and dreams of euphoric future success. I am looking forward to the point when I can smugly say to fellow fans, as if I were an ITK “You should keep an eye on Alese” or, further in the future, when I say “I saw him in the U17s UEFA tournament when he was just 16 and I knew then that he was going to make it!”

Ashley 3.6.18

P.S. There’s one thing that I haven’t mentioned, about my ability to see into the future. When watching the first England game of the tournament there was one thing that struck me about the future pathways of the players. Many of the Israeli team, who to a man/boy looked more diminutive than their English opponents, but nonetheless showed skill and competitiveness will, at 18 be conscripted into military service for their country. They had other things to concern themselves with, other than Instagram. One hundred years ago it would have been our 17 year olds. It makes you think!

Second cousins

This is a Facebook post from 9th Feb 2016 and is about an interest I have in family history.

I’ve always been interested in exploring notions of identity and to what extent experiences or genes shape us. When at Dead Earnest I wrote a number of plays that were essentially about this kind of inheritance (probably influenced by also doing Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’ for the Company, early on). This interest has also drawn me to exploring my family tree and recently to having my DNA tested to tell me more about where my genes originated from.

This test told me something about the origins of my genes, going back thousands of years, but also indicated if I was related to others who’d also taken the test. Amazingly there were quite a lot of people I was related to. Admittedly most of these were my 5th-8th cousins, but some were 4th cousins. A 4th cousin means we share a great-great-great-grandparent and so hardly a close relative, but nonetheless interesting. However, at the end of January there was a surge of new names appearing on the site fuelled, no doubt, by tests being given as Christmas presents and this time there was someone who appeared that was closer; a second cousin.

So second cousins share great grandparents. I never knew my great grandparents, but I have pictures of them and know a fair amount about their lives. This seemed much closer and it was intriguing that we were related and yet knew nothing about each other. However, what really peaked my interest was when she sent me a message. She said she was delighted to have found a relative and this was because, as she put it, “my twin brother and I were adopted at birth and so I do not know my birth parents.” She went on to say that she came from Detroit and wondered if I had any links to that part of the States.

Wow. I knew a lot about my family tree and so was it possible that I could help her discover who her real parents were? Did I know anyone in Detroit? I don’t think so. But then I did know that my Dad had two uncles that went to Canada. If only I could remember their names. How could I find out? I had a look at my records. There was some information there, but I didn’t know much about what happened to them after they emigrated. How might I find out? I know, I’ll ask Mum

Mum was as intrigued as I. She thought that my Dad’s uncles were unlikely to lead to the answer and that I might be better looking into her cousin’s story. He emigrated to Canada just after the war, when we was 15, and had a bit of a reputation as a ‘charmer’. A bit of searching and I found that, sure enough, he had been in Detroit in the 1950s. That was encouraging. However, it also appeared that at the time he was married with a family and none of the children were twins. I must have got it wrong, unless…. what if the twins had been born without the ‘legitimate’ family knowing and perhaps without their father knowing either. Was it appropriate for me to tell her this theory? It was very likely to be the answer, but what if I was wrong?

Amazingly, it was true and that my new second cousin had been given the same information from another source. It turned out she had also been in touch with someone else that had shown up as a relative through her DNA test. I hadnt really noticed this person because they were one of the more distant relatives on my list, but to her’s he showed up as being very close.

A series of emails followed between the three of us and we soon all came to the conclusion that the story was true. The new third person in the story said that his Mum was one of the the legitimate children born in Detroit in the 1950s and that he was now quite sure that she was the the half sister of this lady. It was a big shock for both sides. The truth had been hidden for 60 years, but they were determined to meet and welcome each other into their families.

So, the lady that contacted me (my 2nd cousin) had found who her father was. Previously she had drawn a blank in her 35 yr search because the birth certificate didn’t indicate a father. Suddenly, thanks to a DNA test, she found a family she didnt know she had and, as an added twist, a half sister who had been brought up in the same city but in a different faith than her adopted Jewish parents.

I couldnt help thinking that it sounded like one of those plays I had written. If I had written it, though, I also suspect that no one would have believed it.

Treasures from the wreck of the unbelievable

This is a review of the Damien Hirst exhibition called “Treasures from the wreck of the unbelivable” at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice that I posted on Trip Advisor on 19th June 2017

‘Treasures from the wreck of the unbelievable’ is an amazing, irreverent and gauche exhibition. It is by turns both beautiful and ugly, meaningful and vaccuous. The perfect place for it is Venice. By placing this work there, Hirst is sticking two fingers up to the art establishment that revere Venice as the home of great art.

The premise of the exhibition is that an ancient ship has sunk with treasures from across the world. These treasures have now been excavated from the seabed by divers and are displayed with the customary descriptions from experts. On the way in you watch a ‘documentary’ about the raising of the artefacts in which a voice-over says things along the lines of “I’m not saying it is the truth, but there could be some truth in it”. The exhibits seem at first to be plausible but later you see encrusted statues of Mickey Mouse and Hirst himself. I enjoyed wondering what would come next and confess to occasionally laughing out loud.

However, despite enjoying the irony, the size of the imagination and the craft, I also felt frustrated by the nihilism. The exhibition seemed to me to say “Don’t believe anything” / “there is no truth” / “there are no experts”. These are mantras that we have heard in Trump’s USA or UK’s Brexit and personally they make me despair. If we don’t find meaning in things, if we cant see the difference between the price of something and its value, if we cant come to appreciation of our past, then how can we feel passionate about anything. If you see a Titian painting in a Venice church you can see passion and belief. It jumps out at you. For this reason it has been captivating people for hundreds of years. Art can be amusing, irreverent, challenging, but it can also be passionate.

So if you get a chance to go, do. It is certainly an exhibition that makes you think and laugh, but… maybe… also leaves you feeling a little empty.

Leaving before the end

Posted onto Facebook on 28th March 2018


I’ve had a bit of a football obsession this season. I’ve seen lots of games over the years (at least one game every season for the last forty years), but have been to more this season than in any before. I also now go to more games as a neutral supporter and, as such, spend time observing the rituals and behaviours of the spectators (I am, of course, a Performance lecturer!). Added to that I have found myself documenting each of the games and trying to work out which matches I have seen in the past (asking my poor family – can you remember if we saw West Ham v Derby in Oct 1981?)

Something that happens at football matches that wouldn’t happen in, say, the theatre is that, with five minutes to go, you see a steady trickle of people making their way to the exits. I understand this to be, to avoid the traffic after the game. I make a point of not doing this. I feel I have paid for the whole game, which is expensive enough as it is, and often the drama is at the end.

To back this up, this season, I have so far seen seventeen professional football matches (all leagues and all domestic cup competitions) and, in those games, there have been 43 goals. However, 12 of those goals were scored in the last 5 mins or in injury time. That’s well over a quarter of the goals in those matches that, had I left early, I would have missed.

If you think about it, it makes sense, too. At the end of the game the players are more fatigued, probably concentrating less and might need to push forward to salvage a draw or victory. There are bound to be more goals.

I confess, there’s one further reason I don’t leave early. Once, on 10th January 1999 (Yes, I know the date – I have the programme!), I was watching West Ham being trounced by Man Utd at Old Trafford. People around me had had enough and started leaving. I decided to follow them and as I reached the exit there was a cheer behind me. Frank Lampard had scored a consolation goal for us. If you know your football, you would know that he went on to set records for the number of goals he scored from midfield (something like 175 in the domestic game). I saw him score other goals for West Ham and so, in some ways this was no big deal, but I have always regretted missing that one. And… I didn’t miss the crowds and almost certainly arrived home no earlier.

So, if you dont like crowds and want to avoid the traffic, then, don’t go to a football match! And if you do, stay to the very end. You never know what might happen… what little bit of Performance might take place.

Update… In the end I saw 19 games (not including the U17s UEFA championships, which were 80 minute games) with 48 goals. 13 were after 85 mins (24%)


P.S. or post script is something that you put at the end of something, not the start. It is an after thought. It is something that wasn’t important enough to be included in the main body of what you are writing, but you think at the end that you still ought to mention it, just in case. It is even relegated to a place beyond your signature; as if you are unsure about even putting your name to it.

This is how I start this blog, by considering it as a post script. I have often written my views about ‘things’ on facebook that are perhaps too long for social media and friends have said to me ‘set up a blog’ instead. I feel for them. I think they probably read what I say out of loyalty rather than interest, but some of these postings have also developed into interesting interactions which I have found useful and stimulating.

Social Media likes to be ‘of the now’; to be the script and not the post-script. It encourages me to map ‘where I am now’, both geographically or in terms of mood. However, I tend to be more reflective and write about yesterday or ‘earlier’ and I’m not sure that’s the way to use it. You see, I am a bit of a ponderer. I like to ruminate, cogitate, and contemplate. Things don’t necessarily make sense to me immediately, but, after a bit of thinking about it, they do. Or, at least, they do ‘a bit more’. I want to record something after it has happened rather than when I’m there.

A couple of years ago I did a teaching course (the HE version of a PG teaching qualification) and I was introduced to the Kolb learning cycle. Kolb suggests that knowledge is created through “the transformation of experience”. His learning cycle suggests that people have an experience, reflect on it, come up with new thoughts or ideas, which they then try out. The trying out of a new idea is in itself a new experience and so the cycle starts again. This made sense to me, as did his thoughts about learning styles. Although I feel that people can exhibit a range of learning styles, rather than being defined by one, I was interested to assess myself as an observer (/ feeler). I think I am.

Therefore, I find myself watching things, thinking about them and trying to make sense of them. A blog is a way of putting a voice to all this… a way of shaping and testing my musings and a way of seeing if anyone thinks the same way.

Therefore this blog will be my musings on things I have experienced or perhaps observed, but I should also confess to the nature of the lens through which I view the world. I see the world through my eyes, of course, and make sense of them inside my head and I am different from anyone else. We all are! However I am happy for people to understand something of where my world view has come from, so they can forgive for what they might perceive of as ignorance.

Therefore, I openly acknowledge that I am a white male, born in the late 1960s to parents who both went on to study for Psychology degrees at the Open University. My family are liberally-minded and spent many years supporting people they considered as “less fortunate” than themselves. I also went on to study Theatre at University, ran a theatre company for almost twenty years and became an academic teaching and researching in the fields of Applied Theatre and Performance. I was also brought up in Essex and spent countless hours and far too much money following West Ham United. I am interested in many things, but in particular the arts, politics, sport and especially football, but if I write about any of these things I will do so as a Performance academic. I see ‘performance’ all around us. It is how I see the world.

Finally, my hopes… I hope I feel the muse (at least once a month), I hope I make some sense and I hope you enjoy reading it.

Ashley (Sheffield, feeling apprehensive)

P.S. there’s some stuff I have written in the past, which I am going to post on here too.

P.P.S. I’ve also written quite a few ‘scripts’ and so can think of the period post-script to be the time just before the production. It’s the moment before the next of Kolb’s “concrete experiences”