Monday, 16 March 2009


I don’t like paying more than £2 for a pint of beer - it just doesn’t seem right. In a supermarket, it’s obviously much cheaper, but I rarely buy alcohol in Tesco because I’ll usually go out to a pub/bar with friends rather than pick up a can of Fosters and drink it at home. The one exception I remember was just before Sheffield Wednesday v Sheffield United last October, when I found myself outside a Hillsborough off-licence drinking a can of Carling on a street corner and thought this is it - I am definitely a student now.

But when the government announced it was considering plans to introduce minimum alcohol prices, my heart sank. Why penalise the people who drink to socialise rather than drink for the sake of it? And also why penalise the poor who can’t afford the major brands so buy the cheaper ones instead? In France you can often buy eight bottles of beer for the same price as one in the UK, and our binge drinking problem is much worse than theirs. A culture change is what’s required - it’s nothing to do with the price.

I was on a train on Saturday evening between Worcester and Birmingham, and a group of youths got on, obviously drunk off their heads and it made me laugh when they tried to buy an under-16 ticket from the conductor - slightly contradictory, perhaps! Anyway, I thought to myself if you put up the minimum price of alcohol then that will not stop them - they’ll just ask their parents for more money. The youth culture in E4’s Skins might make for an entertaining programme and interesting case study, but the portrayal of alcohol as being a sexy and rebellious thing is the route cause of the problem - that’s what needs to change.

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On Saturday I picked up a copy of The Sun someone had left behind on a London Midland train and was shocked to see a picture of my former school in an article about a radical Muslim! I attended Westcliff High School for Boys in Southend-on-Sea, Essex [right], for seven years, just like Maajid Nawaz. But the most radical person I ever met there was either the Year 7 lad who circulated pornography around the classroom one day, or maybe the Year 11 who threw a flour-bomb at the deputy headmaster.

This isn’t a patch on Mr Nawaz, who got involved in radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir, even though most of his friends (like mine) were "white and middle class" and "supported Liverpool". Fortunately he reformed in time and is now speaking out about the dangers of fundamentalism: I remember his mother coming to speak in assembly a few years ago when he was in an Egyptian prison for belonging to a banned political party. I specifically recall that assembly because I remember her mobile phone going off whilst she was being introduced, which was most amusing.

Anyway, she talked to us about the former Westcliff pupil and how he was being allegedly badly treated in prison, and asked us if we could pray for him and remember him. She broke down in tears at the time, and it was one of the most emotional assemblies I’ve certainly ever seen someone give. But not to worry as he is out of prison now and has turned from his bad ways. All’s well that ends well. Lesson learnt: don't annoy the Egyptians - next time you might be mummified.

* * *

Eight wins in ten games and only five goals conceded. Not bad in my eyes. But with only 14 goals scored in that time, it shows Southend United are a team building from the back. The arrival of striker Theo Robinson from Watford and Dorian Dervitte from Tottenham Hotpsur at the end of January on loan have transformed the side by injecting it with someone who can score goals and someone else who can defend to avoid conceding goals. It might seem pretty simple, but the previous ten leagues games up to the current run comprised of one win, two draws and seven defeats - so it would be accurate to say there’s been a change of form!

This just goes to show how important the loan market is to Football League managers at the moment. So far this season, Southend manager Steve Tilson has brought in some fantastic young loanees from the likes of Chelsea, West Ham and Portsmouth, and they have helped the side shoot up the league when they’ve been here. The obvious problem is that they will most probably leave never to be seen again, and then you have gaps to fill. This seems to have been the problem between November and January this season, and could cost us a play-off place. But with four points to make up in nine games, even if we don’t make it into the top six, at least it’s a bit more exciting. However, I’m not looking forward to totting up my total football expenses at the end of the season - as I believe it may already be over £500... oh dear. Ah well, at least I’m enjoying myself. (By the way, I also have no idea what the footballer/pilot in this picture is doing, but at least he's enjoying himself too - that's what it's all about really.)