Saturday afternoon at ‘the Cottage’
December 15, 2010

It has been a busy week or so since returning from Rwanda. Over the last ten days I’ve caught up with family and friends in Bristol, Nottingham, London and Birmingham.

I spent the last weekend in London. This enabled me to visit Gem in Balham and catch up with her journalistic exploits. She has penned the lead article for the bumper Christmas issue of Love It!

It was also an opportunity to attend the annual Book Bus reunion, held at Adulis – an Eritrean restaurant in the Oval area, and meet up with the colleagues I worked with in Zambia during May.

In between morning coffee on the Balham High Road and an evening out on the Brixton Road I spent a chilly winter afternoon in the Johnny Haynes Stand, at Craven Cottage, watching the Premiership game between Fulham and Sunderland.

In truth it was a disappointing game (a nil –nil draw), so much so that the reporter in the Independent on Sunday awarded the man of the match award to referee Neil Swarbrick!

I have to say it did cross my mind that if  the level of play I saw on saw on Saturday was typical of that in the middle to lower reaches of the Premier League then perhaps the current Forest team wouldn’t be out-of-place should they gain promotion.   

I first visited Craven Cottage for the opening game of the 1976-7 season. It was a warm and sunny August day and Fulham were entertaining a Forest side in the old second division. It finished 2-2 and Forest’s scorers were the lively winger Terry Curran and old stager John O’Hare.

Little did I suspect at the time that this would be the first game of an incredible four-year period that would see Cloughie’s Forest team win promotion to the 1st division  followed by the league championship and back to back European Cups!

Craven Cottage is always a  joy to visit, even in the fading light of a grey December day. From Putney Bridge tube station there is a lovely walk through Bishops Park to the riverside stadium which has managed to successfully merge early 20th century architecture with 21st century amenities.

The Johnny Haynes stand, named after ‘the maestro’ – an elegant midfield player for England during the late 1950’s and early 60’s, still sports a classic gable, labelled Fulham Football Club, and my seat was an original of the wooden tip up variety.

The players still enter the pitch from the unique pavilion building, referred to as ‘the cottage,’ which stands in the corner of the ground between the Johnny Haynes Stand and the Putney End.

I have always had a soft spot for Fulham, a homely club in a fashionable part of London. When I first started to follow football they were permanently in the lower reaches of the 1st division. 

Their chairman was music hall comedian Tommy Trinder and the star player was the afore-mentioned Haynes.

There was also a promising attacking full back, George Cohen, who would go on to pick up a World Cup Winners medal.

Bobby Moore and George Best briefly illuminated the Craven Cottage pitch in the twilight of their careers, and Malcolm MacDonald began his goal scoring exploits on the bank of the Thames, but as the years passed by Fulham began a slow descent towards the basement of English football.

Fortunately for them, under the ownership of the Harrods boss Mohammed Al Fayed, they once more returned to the top-level, in 2001, where they have gradually re-established themselves over the last nine years.

Last year, under manager Roy Hodgson (now at Liverpool), Fulham enjoyed a fairy tale run in the Europa Cup reaching the final, in Hamburg, where they eventually lost to Atletico Madrid.  

Al Fayed was at the game on Saturday. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly and too many more performances like the one I witnessed could lead to current manager Mark ‘Sparky’ Hughes being shown the door.

Fulham are perilously close to the relegation places, only goal difference separating them from the bottom three, but I hope they will survive.

Do you remember? Yes, I remember it well!
July 16, 2010

Today was the last day of the school year at Naunton Park Primary School, (seen here back in the early days!)

Back in December I left after nearly eleven years there as headteacher. When I had moved on from my previous schools, six in total with two as headteacher, I had always followed my own golden rule. It was simple, always look forward and never go back!  Forget the difficulties and the dark days and take the good times and the sunshine with you, in your memories and in your heart.

Leaving Naunton Park was a little different. I wasn’t moving to another school but retiring from the trials and tribulations of the English education system and about to embark upon voluntary work overseas, in Africa.

This had captured the imagination of the children, indeed the whole school community, and they were extremely generous in supporting my first project, four weeks on the Book Bus in Zambia. I owed it to the kids to visit them on my return and promised I would do so.

It did feel rather strange when, six months later, I returned as a visitor to the school where once I’d been head. I was given a wonderful reception and they showed a genuine interest in my presentation, engrossed by the images of the schools and children I had worked with in Zambia.

Many of them were keen to know what I was doing next and I outlined my forthcoming plans for working in Rwanda as an educational adviser with VSO.

As I pulled out of the school car park, and headed out of Cheltenham that day, I thought to myself that this really was the last time and I would never be going back. But never say never!  A week or so later I received a kind email from my successor inviting me to return today, the last day of term, for the Y6 leavers’ play.

He went on to explain that Y6 would really like me to be there and that since I had visited last some of the girls had organised a cake stall, after school one day, to raise money for VSO. They had taken over £70.00. I was amazed and I am extremely grateful to them. Thank you!

I had known most of these children from when they had first started school as 4 or 5 year olds. They were now eleven and about to leave Naunton Park for the exciting new challenges that lay ahead at secondary school. This was their big day and the time had come for moving on up and moving on out. The leavers’ play was to be their swan song, performed in front of their parents and the rest of the school and yet they wanted me there as well. I was very touched.  

These same children had put on a memorable final assembly for me on my last day as headteacher and here they were again, having some how  found the time from within the hectic summer schedule of SATs, a  residential visit, school sports, cycling proficiency, visits to their new secondary schools  etc. about to mount another spectacular performance.      

It was called, ‘Do You Remember?’ a humorous musical play, affectionately recalling some of those things  from primary school that live in the memory forever: the first day, learning to tell the time, the egg and spoon race, and of course being sent to see the head!      

As I watched and listened from the back of the hall, every word as clear as a bell by the way, I thought how proud I was of everything that had been achieved at Naunton Park School over the last ten years, epitomised by these enthusiastic and talented children on the stage in front of me, and how privileged I was to have been invited back one more time.

After the performance it was really nice to catch up, over coffee, with so many parents and staff before stepping out on to the playground for one last time and being inundated by Y6 leavers wanting me to sign their autograph books and school shirts! I felt quite a celebrity.

I wish them all the very best at secondary school and in their future lives, and hope that like me they will always carry a little bit of Naunton Park in their hearts.

And to everyone left at Naunton Park, School’s out for Summer – enjoy it!

This really was the last time and I won’t be back again, but I’ve got those good times and sunshiny days firmly in my head. Yes, I remember it well! 

Take care and all the very best to you all.