The photos show three key places in my life in Birmingham – on the left is All Saints Primary School, closed under slum clearance in the 1970s and demolished in August 2015: Centre is the court at Birmingham University Students union, which I first went to age 17 and then the new Holte End at Villa Park. My father and grandfather were Aston Villa supporters and I have been a supporter as long as I can remember. In fact I never had a choice. When I was a lad, support your local team was not optional. But that kind of working class culture has become history. Read on!
This website deals with British culture as I have seen it from the viewpoint of a baby boomer, born after the defeat of Hitler into the new welfare state and enjoying the opportunities of the social mobility of the time when working class kids had a real chance to move into the middle class, with some difficulty and some real costs as my story shows. But it is a tale of a world which was not ruled by money, as the 21st century has become. Or it was less so than today.
Whether football, or whatever, the context is a society which has lost its moral compass. History as entertainment or celebrity gravy train, morphs into football losing its working class roots to become an outlet for big money, which reflects wider changes in the life of a Britain which Napoleon thought was a nation of shopkeepers but has become a nation of high rollers . But this is not a political site, but an exploration of what it meant to be a child growing up in the Victorian slums of north Birmingham, and what happened when I found the way out. But never lost the only heritage my father and grandfather gave me, the chase after glory that is always the legacy for those of us who support Aston Villa. Classically a working class club in the inner city, and now a player in the world of the Premiership. When my father took me down for the first time, most fans travelled by bus or train and lived inside the Birmingham boundary. We now are a global club, owned by an American. Its fate is symbolic of changes which took me outside Birmingham, but never so far away that Villa Park was more than an hour away. My story is of social mobility. But not that much mobility. These jottings are not emotion recalled in tranquillity but lessons from a perspective of bottom up through a glass, darkly.
And it is a reminiscence of a family which knew the world of Kathleen Dyas – the Girl from Hockley – but from a different angle. More about Hockley in the section on Hockley, and in particular the section on Kathleen, and the other remarkable woman living at the same time in the Victorian slums of Hockley – Julia Maria Fisher, nee Lane. My mother.
Their lives were dominated by the struggle to live in the old classic slum of Victorian Hockley. That was more or less where my journey started. Where it went afterward is what this site is about. It is in part a comment on a famous phrase by one of my mother’s favourite poets, Rudyard Kipling, whose cat in the Just So Stories says that “I am the cat that walks by himself, and all places are alike to me”. Just so indeed. Except that as the reader may find out, all places are not alike to me.
This site follows a number of themes, with football and the role of Aston Villa prominent. It celebrates among other things the fruits of the work of that footballing pioneer and great man, William McGregor, Birmingham draper and secretary of the club when it emerged as a major player in the game. His achievement was the football league, a classic merger of competition and regulation. He had a moral compass – and a keen sense of how to build for success as Aston Villa under his charge demonstrated. It is dedicated to his memory.
1st October 2015