Norwich is blessed with a wealth of hostelries to quench the thirst and chew the cud, but few are as famous as the Gardener’s Arms on Timberhill, one of the last family-owned pubs in the city. Partly dating back to the Seventeenth Century, the traditional ale house is stuffed with oldee worldee nooks and crannies, knotty oak beams and exposed brickwork. Its fame derives from an infamous past. The Gardener’s Arms might be the pub’s licensed name but, for years, it’s been known locally as the Murderers. Why? Because after closing time one late night in 1895, Frank Miles battered his estranged wife with a hammer and left poor Mildred for dead. Handy Frankie should have swung for his dastardly deed but the case attracted huge public sympathy and his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. What had the luckless Millie done to deserve such a sticky end? Apparently, she was seen with another man. Oh, that’s alright then.
If you’re passing Timberhill, be sure to pop in for a pint of real ale and admire the murder theme posted on every wall (Dr Crippin, Lizzie Borden, Bonnie and Clyde, Ruth Ellis to name but a few). I’d avoid the big screen soccer nights, though. The beautiful game murders civilised conversation.
A young inexperienced England Team crashes out of the 2014 World Cup, Mexican and Brazilian fans chant homophobic abuse, Croatian and Russian fans unfurl neo-Nazi banners and finger-licking FIFA are mired in accusations of palm-greasing over the staging of the 2022 competition in Qatar, a filthy rich absolute monarchy with no football tradition and summertime temperatures in the withering forties. And so, it’s business as usual for the beautiful game. Timely then, to re-post my 2012 piece from a happier time for British sport, Rainbow Sporting Heroes…
As Olympic fever goes into hyperdrive, I was thinking about homophobia in sport, particularly the beautiful game. Even though the likes of David Beckham are in touch with their feminine side and Eric Cantona is prone to writing a poetic line or two, there are no fairies in top flight football, apparently. Why is this, I wonder? Even rugby, the butchest of sports, has the wonderful Gareth Thomas quietly waving his rainbow flag. There was Justin Fashanu a few years back, of course, but his revelation led to excommunication by the soccer establishment, misery and his eventual suicide. It was a shameful episode. More…
My sister rang with glad tidings about her boys. She has four (not counting her saintly husband – sis and I are very alike so believe me he is). First born, Dan the man, has got himself a cracking new job with prospects and a pension. Second in line, brainy Jack, has just received a sparkling set of exam results. Third sprog, brawny Tom, is now playing semi-professional football at the tender age of 15 (they groom ‘em ever younger these days). But what of Josh, the baby of the clan? Well, he moves up a gear to secondary school next month and is showing quite a lot of promise himself in the kick-about stakes. Who knows? In a few years, we might have two players in the top flight. Time to pop our corks and toast to a comfortable dotage of wine and song. Remember, boys, we are your favourite uncles.
With the introduction of a vaguely worded law in Russia banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors (i.e. the very mention of it will attract a sliding scale of fines and repeated violations may result in a stint in the clink), the chattering classes have called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi on Russia’s Black Sea Coast. The idea is to give Tsar Putin and his Russian Orthodox cabal a good kick up the arse. I can’t see it amounting to much. After all, the soccer World Cup circus will be coming to town in Qatar in 2022, a gulf state with a less than sparkling record on human rights of any kind and we seem happy to do brisk business with a host of nasty little regimes around the globe. Let not conscience get in the way of the beautiful game or making a few shillings. The new Russian Law is similar in word and intent to the much-hated Section 28, enacted by the Thatcher Government in 1988 and only abolished in 2003 (now being reintroduced through the back door in some self-governing schools – along with creationism, no doubt). Section 28 was a vicious little side swipe from the Iron Lady’s handbag, tossed in to appease the swivel-eyed loons out in the shires. It was largely ineffectual in the real world and I’m hoping against hope that punitive Putin’s decree will go the same way. But then, Russia isn’t Britain.
So what can be done? I have huge admiration for the two Swedish athletes, Emma Green Tregaro and Moa Hjelmer, who painted their nails the colours of the rainbow while competing at this year’s World Athletics Championship in Moscow. It was a subtle rebuke but still caused quite a brouhaha. Nice one, ladies. How about Winter Olympians displaying the pink triangle (on their nails, a fake tattoo on their hands, whatever)? Personally, I think this would send a more powerful and historically resonant message. The pink triangle was the badge that gay people wore on their ragged uniforms in the death camps before the Nazis herded them into the gas chambers (just as Jews wore the Star of David and other ‘enemies’ of the state had their own emblems). Simple, effective and very televisual. Just a thought.
My sister’s football-crazed family has finally spawned a potential star. Tom, third boy of four, has been selected to train with Reading FC’s Soccer Academy. The Academy has a fine reputation for nurturing young talent. Tom’s only 14 (but nearly six foot tall with shoulders the width of a barn door) and his coach thinks he has what it takes to go all the way. Someone once said that to me when I was 14, but that’s another story.
Naturally, Tom turned to his wise old uncle for lifestyle advice. I told him to watch the drink (think George Best and Gazza) and avoid sleeping with prostitutes old enough to be his granny (Wayne Rooney). I also told him that, as his favourite uncles, Liam and I wouldn’t be the least bit embarrassed if he set us up in a luxury penthouse overlooking the Thames. After all, if he makes it into the Premier League, he’ll be bringing in more dosh than Denmark.
“I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”