Saturday, 29 October 2016


John Inverdale - his media career started in Lincoln

WHENEVER he hears the song, Going Underground by The Jam, high-profile BBC and ITV sports presenter John Inverdale is transported back to Lincoln coach station.

That was the Top 40 song he heard being played as he was preparing to make his way back home to Bristol after landing his first job in journalism - as a cub reporter on the Lincolnshire Echo.

It was in the early 1980s, and Inverdale,  who had just graduated with a history degree from the University of Southampton and a diploma in journalism from Cardiff Institute, had been finding it particularly hard to land his first reporter's job in the wake of turmoil in the newspaper industry following a showdown between the print unions and the new Thatcher government.

"I wrote to every UK newspaper listed in Willings Press Guide, but to no avail," he told an audience in Cleethorpes. "I even got the cold shoulder from a title in Stornoway."

Then, from out of the blue, came an interview offer from the Lincoln-based newspaper.

"The first question, the Editor asked me was: "What does Market Rasen mean to you?"

"Horse racing," I said.

"You've got the job,"came back the reply, after which the rest of the interview was to settle the formalities.

Unusually for a young man, Inverdale had been a racing fan since teenage years - partly because of a sustained period of illness which kept him off school (like John Cleese, he went to Clifton College).

In those days, racing was the only programme screened on daytime TV, so he used to follow the action from Kempton, Sandown, Thirsk and elsewhere.

He became so enamoured that, some time later, he bunked off lessons and caught a train from Bristol to the Cheltenham Festival, praying that he would not be seen by anyone who knew him. 

Opposite him in the carriage was a man whose face was hidden behind the broadsheet racing newspaper, The Sporting Life. When he lowered it, horror of horrors, who should the man be but his English teacher?

Master and pupil were equally embarrassed but they struck a pact - "if you don't tell, I won't tell" - that they sustained to the rest of Inverdale's time as a schoolboy.

To this day, he remains a racing enthusiast and rates National Hunt racing his second favourite sport after rugby union - with the Six Nations rugby tournament and the Cheltenham Festival as the highlights of his sporting year.

For Inverdale, a pretty mouth-watering annual calendar it is too, starting with the Australian open tennis in January and taking in other top events such as Wimbledon, athletics  and Ryder Cup golf.

This year has proved particularly special because it also incorporated the Rio Olympics and scintillating  Ryder Cup action where the fervour of the crowd brought out the best in some of the players, with two particularly memorable matches.

There was an audience of about 100 for the highly entertaining pie and pea supper event held at Cleethorpes cricket club.

Inverdale spoke highly of the inspirational on-field leadership  of the likes of Michael Vaughan (cricket) and Martin Johnson (rugby union), plus the entertaining laugh-a-minute personality of Boris Becker (whom he predicted, may no longer be coach of Novak Djokovic for much longer).

John McEnroe is also a great raconteur, not just about tennis but also about  his other interests, including wine and music. But, because he is so self-absorbed, he might not be best company if you were within him for an hour in a stuck lift.

Inverdale  spoke entertainingly (if slightly ruefully) about an eight minute slot he had during one of his BBC interview shows with footballer Sol Campbell, then captain of Spurs.

The club's, Alan Sugar, had only just sacked Swiss manager Christian Gross, so having Campbell  as a guest was particularly topical.

But the footballer, who had earlier refused to share a sofa with the two previous guests, Wimbledon. champion Goran Ivanisevic and gymnastics Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci, stonewalled all questions about Gross' departure.

"I don't want to talk about it - these things happen in football." That was about the limit of Campbell's responses.

Nor was he much more forthcoming about an underwhelming England performance in a recent  international against mediocre  opposition.

In response, Inverdale determined not to ask the footballer about a. newly-launched DVD that Campbell was keen to promote.
Sol Campbell - uncommunicative

But, with the "conversation" threatening to dry up, a voice on his earphone him told that there was two minutes still to fill.

Inverdale found he had little option but to ask about the DVD - at which point Campbell became suddenly loose-tongued and effusive. 

"I hated myself afterwards for giving him the opportunity," revealed Inverdale. "I had given in and let him beat me. Thinking about it today still makes me angry."

It is common practice now for TV sports coverage, especially football programmes, to be hosted by past or present particpants. 

Inverdale  acknowledged that their firsthand insider  experience of sport was invaluable, but he said there was also a role for  journalists who, through their training, knew how, why and when to ask the sort of questions that sports participants might shy away from - the questions most likely to prompt revealing insights.

Of the analysts he admired, he expressed particular respect  for rugby union's Jonathan Davies  because he has a knack of seeing in advance what is going to happen. 

"If Scotland aren't careful, Ireland are likelyto score in the corner," he once said. And, sure enough, moments later, that is just what happened.

During a lively question-and-answer session, Inverdale, who is chairman of Esher rugby club, near his home in Kingston-upon-Thames, also spoke of his admiration for England's head rugby union coach, Eddie Jones, the demise of England's football team, the Allardyce  affair, the corrosion of athletics and cycling by drugs, security at football grounds and  the future of sport in a TV-dominated age.

He suspected that the decision of golf's governing body to award broadcasting coverage rights to Sky may have backfired.

Although the transfer generated  a short-term cash boost, the profile of the game has suffered because events such as the Open are now watched by 800,000 viewers compared with between three and four million when it was on BBC TV.

Inverdale was quizzed about an incident when he famously landed himself in hot water (especially with feminists) by describing 2013 Wimbledon ladies' singles champion Marion Bartoli as "not a looker".

The following day, he had the unsettling experience of having photographers camped outside his front door - a case of the media  turning on one of its own. 

"It was not a pleasant experience," he said. "Bartoli has since become a good friend. My remark was misinterpreted.

"I was praising her for her determination. She didn't have the the long levers of Maria Sharapova  or the strength of Serena Williams, but she showed what could be achieved through sheer determination."

More recently there was an incident when Sir Steve Redgrave walked out of a studio he was sharing with Inverdale during Olympic coverage of the rowing.

It was reported in the tabloid Press as having been the result of a bust-up between the two men, but, according to Inverdale, it was nothing of the sort - it was prompted by Sir Steve's frustration that the rowing coverage would have to be cut short because time was overrunning.

Of his time in Lincolnshire in the early '80s, Inverdale said he loved the county's skies and always volunteered to carry out reporting assignments in places such as Boston and Sutton-on-Sea because he enjoyed the drive east from from Lincoln.

On summer weekends, he played cricket for Lincoln on both Saturdays and Sundays. "No wonder I didn't have a girlfiend," he quipped.

Then, when he did get a girlfriend (by now he was working for BBC Radio Lincolnshire), he was heartbroken when the relationship ended.

To help him get over it, he went  with a group of pals to Cleethorpes - his first visit to the resort - where they succeeded in their dual intention of watching the carnival and getting drunk.

"It was a blisteringly hot day in August 1983," he recalled.

Now married to Jackie and with two Chelsea-supporting sons, aged 24 and 22, plus a daughter who works for Nike, the 59-year-old follows  Southampton and Lincoln City, but he also has a soft spot for Grimsby Town.

He said he was  full of admiration for fans who would be getting up at 6am the next day to make the long trip for match at Yeovil.

"Even if Town lose 2-1 to a hotly-disputed goal in the last minute,  fans won't regret having made the journey,"he said. "That's the passion of sport for you."

Inverdale also had an amusing anecdote about playing in a celebrity cricket match against a team captained by  Eric Clapton in what the legendary rock guitarist had announced would be his last match.

Inevitably most of the crowd wanted Clapton to score plenty of runs in his final innings, but he skied the second ball to cover where Inverdale was fielding.

"The ball was so high that the broadcaster  had time to ask former Test player Mark Ramprakash, fielding at mid-off,  what he should do.

"Drop the ball!"came back the reply.

The advice was taken, allowing Clapton to prolong his innings till he reached 20 or so before losing his wicket.

Inverdale acknowledged that he had been very "lucky" in his career, but there was one misjudgement for which he  is still kicking himself.

He turned down an offer to cough up £5,000 for a half-share in the racehorse, Make A Stand.

With its winnings approaching £1-million, it was a decision he came to bitterly regret - not least when he found himself commentating at the 1997 Cheltenham Festival, when the horse was running in the prestigious Champion Hurdle.

Although the horse was owned by his close friend, Peter Deal, this was a race that Inverdale did not want the pocket-sized chestnut to win - it would have been rubbing further salt into the wound.

"Even as I was describing the action, I was inwardly praying for it to fall."

But Make A Stand, trained by Martin Piper, surged to a famous victory, further enhancing the sour lemons taste in Inverdale's mouth.

"I try not to think about that horse too much," he said. "But If only . . .

"I could haven been £500,000 richer!"

* Photo of Sol Campbell: Stefan Schafer via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 26 October 2016



Ignore the second headline -  it will be at a cost to  the council tax payer. Nothing is free.

The money will have to come out of one of its budgets with  private sector partner engie, thereby depleting resources elsewhere.

How much did the failed project cost? How much will the restoration cost?

These are questions the media need to ask North East Lincolnshire Council - possibly through Freedom of Information.

The fiasco is a classic example of what risks happening when decisions are  taken in secret and with no advance consultation

Tuesday, 25 October 2016


A BLEAK presentation on the  risks posed to the Grimsby area by Brexit sparked protest at a meeting of the North East Lincolnshire Council's audit and governance committee. 

The authority's deputy finance chief of North East Lincolnshire Council, Guy Lonsdale, warned of: 

* Lower economic growth
* Reduced inward investment
* Inflationary pressures and
* Diminished revenue from Whitehall. 

He said the Humber and Greater Lincolnshire region stood to miss out on Euro-grants totalling almost £236-million up to the year 2020. 

Among the projects at risk is a £1.3-million scheme to strengthen flood defences in Immingham. 

Mr Lonsdale said: "The referendum is not binding and does not formally trigger the leaving process, but it is pretty certain that Brexit will happen. 

"It will be a massive, massive task to untangle 44 years of treaties and laws, and a period of economic uncertainty is almost certain." 

John Stockton (UKIP, Heneage) described the officer's presentation  as "gloom and doom", while Coun Matt Stinson (Ind, Sidney Sussex) likened it to "a manifesto for the Remain campaign". 

He insisted: "Instead of focusing on the worst, we should be emphasising the opportunities, particularly over the longer term". 

Head of finance Sharon Wroot agreed that it was important to be positive but defended her colleague's presentation  as a "risk assessment".

Monday, 24 October 2016


 DON'T let's be "busy fools"!

That was the message from Coun John Fenty during a North East Lincolnshire Council committee meeting debate on the potential impact of Brexit.

The authority is poised to set up not just its own internal "Brexit committee" but also a "community cohesion group" in the event of hostility towards the many  EU migrants who work in the Grimsby area.

But the proposed response reminded Coun Fenty (Con, Humberston & New Waltham) of the Millenium Bug fiasco when people were told computer systems would crash in the very  first second of the year 2000.

"People were in blind panic,"he recalled. "They were jumping through  hoops - all because of forecasts that were totally inaccurate.

"Instead of being busy fools, let's wait and see what happens."

It will probably not be until March or April that we get a clearer picture of the likely consequences of the EU Referendum's 'No'  vote. 

Friday, 7 October 2016


TWO  trips to overseas destinations have been recorded  by Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers in the latest edition of the MPs’ Register of Financial Interests.

In November last year, he spent almost a week in Cyprus as part of a Conservative Friends of Cyprus delegation exploring political issues on the island and its relationship with Greece and Turkey.

The value of accommodation, subsistence and flight is put at £800.

In February this year, he was part of a parliamentary delegation that spent four days in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to meet with members of the Shura Council, Government ministers, human rights groups and university officials to learn about the kingdom and  latest developments therein.
The value is recorded as being  £2,888.

Overseas  travel was also enjoyed by  Brigg and Goole MP Andrew Percy, who went on two trips to Israel - last July and last December - but no such excursions were made by Grimsby MP Melanie Onn, by Victoria Atkins (Louth and Horncastle) or by Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough).

 Mr Vickers lists his wife, Ann, as being employed as a part-time junior secretary, while Ms Onn has registered that she employed her mother, Jacqueline Jagger, as a casual caseworker until August last year.

Meanwhile, Sir Edward employs his wife, Mary, as an office manager.
During autumn and winter, knot become probably the commonest bird on the Cleethorpes Beach tideline. At this time of year, these small grey waders are grey all over, but a bird on the left has retained part of its bronze-coloured breeding plumage. Also in shot is a much larger herring gull.


A tranquil scene on the Fitties - but what if a tidal surge crashed through the sea defences?

A VISION of Humberston Fitties chalet owners fleeing from flood waters in their nightwear was conjured up at full meeting of North East Lincolnshire Council.

Portfolio holder for finance and resources  Coun  Mathew Patrick (Lab, Heneage) demanded: "Do we want see a situation where tenants are seeking to escape in freezing cold seawater while still in their pyjamas?"

Despite his graphic imagery, members voted 24-11 to veto a controversial cabinet decision that the  current close season for night-time chalet occupation should be extended to include November and December as well as January and February.

They believe that the tenants have formulated a sufficiently robust evacuation plan in the event of a future tidal storm surge overwhelming  the defences (which were strengthened by the Environment Agency in 2010 at a cost of £785,000) .

Prior to the debate, Tim Paddison, a flood risk expert with the Black and Veatch consultancy, outlined the risks. But the meeting also heard from three chalet owners - Linda Hague, Alex Hamilton and Paul Harwood - who all expressed strong objections to the prospect of an extended close season.

"Four months' closure would be intolerable," protested Mr Harwood. "It would be cruel, illogical and unjust .

"Please help us - we don't want our community to be strangled by NELC."

Numerous  chalet owners were present at the meeting - held at the Assembly Rooms in Grimsby Town Hall - and there were sporadic bursts of applause after they heard cross-party speeches of support for their case from councillors who included UKIP's Nick Pettigrew, Independents Stephen Harness and Matt Stinson, Conservatives Philip Jackson, John Fenty and  Stan Shreeve plus Labour's Karl Wilson and Tim Mickleburgh

"Everything we do carries risks," said Coun  Jackson who is, himself, a professional risk assessor.

A different perspective came from Coun  Matty Brown (Lab, Croft Baker) who warned that the council could incur substantial costs if, having disregarded specialist advice, it faced a situation in which flooding resulted in catastrophic consequences

He reminded colleagues: "We have a responsibility of financial prudence to all residents of the borough."

The cabinet will now have to review its unpopular decision at a forthcoming meeting later this year.

  • The debate offered an opportunity for the administration  to update the council on the plan to sell the Fitties site, but, though Coun  Brown noted that a change of ownership was possible, no further information was provided.


A GOVERNMENT  crackdown on  gambling  is being urged by North East Lincolnshire Council.

In particularly, members want curbs on stakes waged on the  Fixed Odds Betting Terminals familiar in most betting shops,  which, it has been claimed, are raking in as much as £22.85-million per annum just within this borough alone.

At a full council meeting, Coun  Steve Beasant (Lib-Dem), who has no fewer than five betting shops in his East Marsh ward, said some perennial  gamblers had become "brainwashed", and he accused the  industry  of  "creaming off" the monies of customers.

Staying controversial, he went on to suggest that drug dealers might even be using the shops to "money-launder" their ill-gotten gains.

Coun  Beasant complained that few betting shops   had notices in their windows emphasising the importance of "responsible" gambling.

He claimed in-store gaming machines promised a "casino-type experience", but the prospects of winning were miniscule and those who became addicted risked having their lives "ruined".

Concerns were also  voiced by Coun Ian Lindley (Con, Scartho) who expressed resentment at the extent of gambling-related advertised when he views live Premier League football on Sky TV most Sunday afternoons.

"It has become too easy to place bets on a mobile phone," he protested.

The council voted unanimously to write to both local MPs and the relevant Government, ministers imploring them to review the current legislation and to allow local authorities, such as NELC, to reduce the maximum stake on Fixed Odd Betting Terminals from £100 to £2.


FOXES continue to be conspicuous in the Grimsby and Cleethorpes area.

Many mammal species seem to be increasing in the borough, but none more so than Mr Reynard.

They are feared by young children and heartily disliked by some gardeners for their habit of digging out soil for bulbs.

On the plus side, they probably help  to keep a lid on rat numbers.