THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

Lionising the lionesses

Football has kept me sane during a difficult part of my life. There have been weeks in the past two years when the only place I’ve left my home to visit has been Craven Cottage. I know it’s just a game. I know much about it is excessive and perhaps a little crazy, but if I couldn’t be bothered to use my season ticket, that was a warning sign to family. They always asked about the game for that reason. They don’t care about Fulham, but they know I’m hanging in there if I still do  

If your game is cricket, golf or rugby or even tennis, then good luck to you. Mine is football. It takes me out of myself and gives me something to believe in and hope for. Please don’t make me think about how trivial that is or how little it really matters. It’s mine and it matters to me.

I am obviously delighted if someone shares my enthusiasm. Who isn’t? I don’t care who or what they are. If they’re football fans, and especially if they’re Fulham fans, I’m inclined to think better of them. It made me smile to learn this morning that Margot Robbie of Barbie fame is of the Fulham faithful. It wasn’t a movie I was going to watch, to be honest, but maybe I will now I know she’s one of our own.  

So the growth of the women’s game is great. I’m all for it. I don’t watch it, just as I don’t watch school football. I would have done if my daughters were playing, but they never did. So I didn’t. And that’s my relationship with the women’s game. I would show up to support any female friend or relative that played, but not strangers. I even might go to a match with a friend who supported a women’s team. If I had any. Just like you, probably, I don’t. I can’t name a member of the Lionesses and neither — if you’re honest — can you (probably).

I was therefore surprised to fall out with an old friend on the subject. It came up during a day we spent at the Oval watching that other game. I mentioned how irritated I was by the way women’s football is being forced on us by our clubs and the media. There are pages of it in my daily paper, which I swipe by as quickly as articles about tennis. My own club relentlessly promotes its women’s team, when the difference in attendances and ticket prices confirms that nothing has changed — except for yet another political drive to make us all pretend something is true that isn’t. 

My stance on this is Bill Burr’s. I’ll take it seriously when women fans show up. The men’s game is subsiding the sport with my money. Not that anyone asked my permission. I’ve done more than enough and it’s just “not my job” to watch it for them too. 

It’s partly Australia’s fault for not batting well enough to engage our interest, but my friend at the Oval went off on me about this (though he’s watched as many live minutes of women playing as I have — i.e. zero). He’s not woke in any other way but he’s really bought into this narrative. He’s even taken to texting articles at me in a spirit of maaate!! to correct my  thinking. Then responding like a humourless wokester when he gets a humorous reaction.

The culture war of identity politics is being waged on so many fronts that reasonable people find it hard to resist on all of them. I used to play mind games in business negotiations by structuring agendas to create long sequences of concessions by my side so that I could argue when it came to an issue that really mattered to us that “it was time they gave us something too”. Such is the human desire to be fair that this trick often worked. 

We are of a generation that doesn’t need submission as a condition of friendship. We’ll get past it, I hope. If stadia fill with fans to watch women play our beautiful game (he’s a fan too, albeit of the Villa) I will be as pleased as he is. Perhaps more so. Because it will then be real and worthy of celebration, rather than just an opportunity to signal not “virtue”, but submission. 

A journey finally ends

I set out in Speranza (my 2009 Ferrari California) on May 21st to drive to Cannes via Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. Regular readers will recall it was quite an adventure. Speranza made it to Germany, where her brakes failed at 150mph on an autobahn. Exciting but not injurious — save to wallet and pride. 

I continued my journey in hire cars after she was recovered to the nearest dealer back in Luxembourg, where she remained until last Monday — almost two months!

The carbon ceramic brake disk that cracked is a “lifetime” item. It’s quite possible — as my car is approaching 100,000 miles — that I was the first customer ever to require a replacement. Many owners have a collection of several Ferraris with less mileage in aggregate than Speranza. She is a rarity for having been used as designed; a grand tourer, taken on grand tours. I can easily imagine Maranello having to order a pair of the disks from the manufacturer. For whatever reason, it took weeks.

Then diagnostics revealed two more issues. A worn wheel bearing needed replacing — another wait for parts. And a software update mandated by Maranello caused an engine sensor to fail. Fortunately that only required a software patch to fix – after yet another delay by Ferrari. If the responsiveness of their parts department reflects that of the Formula One team, it's no wonder no Ferrari since Speranza was built has been entitled to the "Constructors' Champion" badge she bears on her dashboard.

I flew to Luxembourg last Monday to collect her. I’ve put on a lot of weight post-COVID and post-WEXIT (my name — Wife Exit— for my divorce). Heathrow seemed bigger than I remembered and I was exhausted by I got to my plane. Sulking in metaphorical tents is good for neither physical nor mental health.

Public transport goes from not quite where you are to not quite where you want to be via places you've no desire to go. It was great to get back to independent private transport for the return journey. I must remember what that plane trip felt like though. In my heyday I flew several times a month and never once felt like that. It was quite a shock. If I’m to enjoy my remaining life, I clearly need to take better care of myself. 

I was unsure how I'd feel about driving Speranza after the late unpleasantness. I was done with the dealer within 90 minutes of landing so found myself with an afternoon to kill before dinner with my friends. So I drove out along the Moselle Valley towards Germany and enjoyed the wine country scenery. Monday was a bad day to do it. All restaurants and all but one of the vineyards were closed. I managed to buy some "thank you" wine for my host and then spent an hour at a view point overlooking the river. It was probably only 80 km or so, but by the end of it I was completely at ease with Speranza again. She was a joy – as she has been for most of the almost 90,000 miles I've driven her.

IMG_5246Arriving late afternoon at my friend's house, we had a glass before the other dinner guest arrived; a mutual Russian acquaintance from when I was my friend's bank's lawyer in Moscow. We spent a pleasant evening chatting in a delightful restaurant. We sadly remembered a time when we all thought – with what now seems foolish optimism – that Russia was becoming a normal country.

Our Russian friend has left his country. Having passed his language and other tests, he's waiting for his Luxembourg passport to come through. Russia doesn't do dual citizenships, so then he won't technically be Russian any more. He made no complaint, but talked cheerfully and knowledgeably about a wide range of subjects. Still, I felt for him. During twenty years as an expatriate I often enough missed my home culture. How much worse to be, not expatriated, but exiled?

The war in Ukraine has terrible consequences – and not just for the Ukrainians. As the truth slowly dawned on international investors, few of the Russian lawyers I trained to do such businesss were using those skills even before the war began. Now, it seems vanishingly unlikely that they ever will. They and the other citizens of one of the world's great cultures are suffering – as so often – because of the corruption at the heart of their polity.


I've no sympathy at all for the evil and/or clinically-insane Russian leadership. At the risk of being de-banked by some half-wit with the political understanding of a sixth-former, I do feel for the Russian people. They can't all decamp to Luxembourg.