Home Page From a joke to a world-beater in 20 years - can we do the same? 12/08/11

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

After a week when two highly unlikely things happened on top of each other – children rampaging and looting city streets for four nights running, and England becoming world number one at test cricket – one might reasonably ask what can Haverhill add to this frenzy of improbability.

Waterstones moving in? Plans to build an opera house? A new railway line? Sadly, none of these, but we didn’t have any riots and we are English so we can breathe a sigh of relief over one and bask in the reflected glory of the other.

It has already been remarked that the reason Haverhill High Street was not looted was because none of the shops sell anything worth stealing – harsh and untrue, but nonetheless amusing, and showing the sort of self-deprecating humour which the British are particularly good at.

Rather than get annoyed about the failings we see around us, or get together to change the world, we tend to make a joke of it and thus begin to stereotype the very failings we have identified.

Haverhill has been particularly successful at this form of national sport for as long as I can remember. We get righteously angry over anyone from outside saying anything detrimental about our town, but we reserve the right to send it up and knock it down unmercifully ourselves.

Does this have a familiar ring to it? If so, maybe you, like me, have been a cricket follower for the last 40-odd years. For nearly all that time the English cricket team has been a joke to many. Throw an apple to someone and they drop it and you would refer to their suitability to play for England, etc.

There were moments of success, islands of joy in an ocean of depression. A couple of Ashes wins in Australia, against under-strength opposition, and sizeable wins in this country against the lesser sides. Then came the big one – an Ashes win here in 2005 against the indisputably best team of its era (whose best bowler was injured in a freak treading-on-the-ball incident), to vast amounts of celebration and general hubris.

But that was not properly sustained and soon followed by more disaster until many, me included, had begun to give up altogether so as not to be disappointed by yet another false dawn. But now the England team actually look like the real deal, although it’s a bit early to be absolutely certain.

I can see a real parallel here with Haverhill’s stop-start progress over the same period. Many bad times, some good moments, and a huge step forward which still seems to be hanging in the air.

A lot of good work has gone on in the last few years to get the town to where it is now. This is similar to the cricketers of 2005 and, as with them, it has been followed by a great deal of self-congratulation on the part of the borough council. We continually hear how much the council has spent and how successful its initiatives have been.

It wasn’t enough for the England cricket team, and it is unlikely to be enough for Haverhill. However, the cricketers have finally scaled their peak and they have given some good pointers to those who wish to do the same.

The elements that have made the difference are: teamwork, leadership and individual maturity.

Few, if any, of the current England team are superbly naturally gifted – certainly not as gifted as most of their current opposition, India – and, similarly, Haverhill, I think most would admit, does not have the natural advantages of its neighbours. But the team members have clearly bonded to a degree where they act as one individual and feed on each other’s success.

There have been a lot of plaudits – justly so – for England coach Andy Flower and captain Andrew Strauss, because it is their leadership that has created the team and led to its success. The vacuum of leadership for Haverhill, whether from within or without, is obvious to all. On the few occasions when it has shown signs of emerging, it has been destroyed by ignorance, envy, personality clashes, infighting or petty back-biting.

To the scepticism of many, me included, Flower took the England team on some ‘character-building’ trips – to the First World War battlefields, to a so-called boot camp in Germany, and so on.

This is the sort of thing senior management have to go through in many companies, to the endless amusement of those lower down (or older) who see it as a complete waste of time and money.

I find it difficult to attribute to any other source the extraordinary new maturity to be found in several of the players who in the past have appeared timid, childish or egocentric. You no longer hear any of them now saying how well they have done, just how much they can still improve.

This is where the parallel breaks down a bit, because one could hardly advocate the whole population of Haverhill being sent to a boot camp. But there are many kinds of toughness and the cut and thrust of local politics can be as lonely and challenging a place as the Boxing Day test match in Melbourne is for an Englishman.

We need someone to build a team that can take the field at County Hall, Whitehall, Westminster, the head offices of major retailers, or wherever, and reduce the powers that be to 98 all out on the first morning. Any offers?



















David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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