Hart of the Matter
If, like me, you are struggling to keep up with the wave of sporting excitement which has engulfed us in recent days, perhaps it is time to sit back, draw breath and think of something else.
This is especially necessary before Sunday, which is a day with the potential for endless jubilation and payback time for our many national humiliations.
For on Sunday England have a very good chance of beating Germany at football and Australia at cricket on the same day. But we have learned it is best not to count our chickens before they hatch. We must learn from Basil Fawlty what tends to happen if we begin to imagine that, for the first time, we are up on the deal.
Let us not try to imagine how we will deal with Andy Murray’s Wimbledon semi-final match against Rafa Nadal reaching the fifth set as England step out onto the pitch for their World Cup quarter-final against Argentina on Friday, and think instead about sports provision in a time of austerity.
Haverhill is very lucky to have seen the prestigious football project at Chalkstone come to fruition in time to miss the worst effects of the current belt-tightening.
If it had taken a year longer to get off the ground, I doubt whether it would have happened at all, and although there are one or two lone voices who have opposed the scheme, it is fair to say that most sensible people would see it as a major feather in the town’s cap.
Like everything else in Haverhill (except the cinema), its gestation period has been worthy of something truly elephantine. There will have been less time between London being approved to host the Olympics and actually doing so in the completed facilities, than it has taken for the Haverhill football project to progress from its first appearance in council papers to reality.
I gather attempts are being made to ensure the facilities are not only used widely within local and junior football, but in other sports as well. This is very progressive thinking, because the days when each individual sport could hope eventually to move towards gaining exactly the facilities it would need in the long term are long gone.
Poor Jeremy Hunt, the chap who has obtained the unenviable Government job of secretary for culture, media and sport (and the Olympics), is going to be under the cosh over the next year or two.
Since Tuesday’s flagellation announcement by the chancellor, economists have been getting less and less sure of whether the 25 per cent cuts in Government departments are going to be achievable.
But poor old culture, media and sport is an easy target. It oversees an area which provides for what many might consider luxuries in life. Welfare, education, health, policing – all these are essentials. Business is sacrosanct and scientific research produces quantifiable and often profitable results.
But arts projects? The BBC? Sports facilities? Unlikely to be very secure. On the other hand, I thought the whole point of getting the Olympics was not so much the event itself, but the facilities it would generate.
Various initiatives, some from councils, others from clubs, have resulted in an impressive corridor of sport and leisure facilities along Ehringshausen Way, from the newly-refurbished leisure centre, by way of the cinema and the tennis club to the cricket ground.
On the other side of the coin, with the closure of middle schools, pressure of space is clearly going to be an issue for many sports organisations. There may be some protection for schools budgets, but they are still going to be retrenching over the next year or two.
If the initiative to allow free independent schools to be set up is pursued in this area, new pressures will be created in existing schools, which may see them having to build up all their sources of revenue.
Years ago, the chief education officer in Suffolk, an enlightened chap called John Hill, envisaged schools as being facilities for the whole community – used throughout the year for all sorts of educational and leisure activities by everyone, rather in the manner of the original village college ideas of Henry Morris in Cambridgeshire.
This vision was sometimes adhered to and sometimes not, but since schools were given much more individual control in the 1980s it has become even more patchy, and dependent on particular heads or boards of governors.
In keeping with the austere age, and the promised rolling back of some of the strangulating safety legislation, now would be a good time to look again at all the ways in which school buildings can benefit communities as centres for cultural and sporting activities.
I would argue that, in hard times, culture and sport become more important, not less. But if we are looking for cash to be forthcoming for other new facilities along the lines of the football project, we will be waiting a very long time indeed.