Philip Grant
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Philip Grant broadcasts daily on Surrey Sound from 9am to midday. 

Apart from looking at the morning's papers, he delves into the day's top news stories.

Read his take on the news with his regular blog articles.

Previous Blogs

Rail Fare Rises - Should the Railways be Renationalised?
(Tuesday 2 January 2018)

Is automation taking the pleasure out of shopping?
(Tuesday 24 January 2018)  

Paul Simon Feature
(Tuesday 13 February)


AFC Wimbledon - A Celebration

As the2018/19 football season gets under way and England bask in the glory of their progress in the World Cup, there is one story that seems to have missed the mainstream sport press.

AFC Wimbledon. 

The club was set up by supporters of the old Wimbledon FC back in 2002 when their club was moved from SW London to Milton Keynes.

So what have AFC Wimbledon done that merits particular mention. They are currently in League 1 and will play in this league again next season. But the team that was taken to Milton Keynes back in 2002 and had also been in League 1 last season have been relegated to League 2.

For the first time in the history of the club, AFC Wimbledon will be playing in a league above MK Dons. This is particularly satisfying to AFC Wimbledon fans that saw the club start in the low levels of non league football and work their way up to their present position – unlike MK Dons.

So first let’s look at why the old Wimbledon FC moved.

Wimbledon FC was founded in 1889 and was based at Plough Lane from 1912 to 1991. During that time they moved from being a non league to one of the founding members of the FA Premier League.

One memorable success was the 1988 FA Cup Final when they beat the League winners, Liverpool. They were known as the “Crazy Gang” this being down to the boisterous and eccentric behaviour of the players.

In 1991, following the publication of the Taylor Report recommending all-seater grounds for top-flight clubs, Wimbledon left Plough Lane to groundshare with nearby Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.  


Wimbledon FC "at home" at Selhurst Park against Manchester United - August 1996

This was supposed to be a temporary arrangement while Wimbledon sought a new stadium site in south-west London. With no tangible success, the club’s Chairman, Sam Hammam proposed new locations for the team outside London, including Dublin.

In 1997 Hammam sold Wimbledon FC to two Norwegian businessmen, Kjell Inge Røkke and Bjørn Rune Gjelsten and the following year the Plough Lane site was sold for a supermarket redevelopment.

Meanwhile in Buckinghamshire, the Milton Keynes Development Corporation had for a number of years planned a stadium in the town hosting top-flight football and was keen on the idea of an established League team relocating there.

In 2000 a consortium led by Pete Winkelman proposed a large retail development in Milton Keynes including a Football league-standard stadium. Luton, Wimbledon, Barnet, Crystal Palace and Queens Park Rangers were all approached to consider a move to Milton Keynes.

At Wimbledon, Charles Koppel was appointed chairman and in 2001 announced that the team intended to relocate to Milton Keynes. Koppel said the club would otherwise go out of business.

Such a proposal was unprecedented in English football and the Football League refused permission for the move. Koppel launched an appeal, leading to an FA arbitration hearing and subsequently the appointment of a three-man independent commission. In May 2002 this commission ruled in favour, two to one, for the move.

The League and FA contributions were summarised in the commission’s report as concerns that a relocated club would, in effect, "drive a coach and horses through the pyramid structure", "herald, or risk heralding, a franchise system for football whereby the investors in football could relocate clubs at will" and "dramatically change the defining characteristics of the English domestic game where clubs are identified with the locality or community built up over time"

For its part, Wimbledon's statement centred on the club's precarious financial situation and a claim that its case was unique. It stressed that Wimbledon had lacked its own home stadium for 11 years. Milton Keynes was Wimbledon's "last chance of financial survival".

In their submission, they claimed that Wimbledon's identity—"traditions, history, colours, name, strip, stadium design and the like"—would be preserved in Milton Keynes and supporters from London would be offered subsidised travel and tickets.

After the decision was made – which was to be final and binding, the FA stated that it still strongly opposed the relocation. It emphasised that its recommendation to the commissioners had been against the move. The chief executive of the FA, Adam Crozier, said that he believed the commission to have made an "appalling decision".

A spokesman for Milton Keynes Council said the people of Milton Keynes were looking forward to the team's arrival, stating: "It will be of great benefit to the city. Milton Keynes is becoming a city of sport."

Looking at all the above, firstly Milton Keynes is not a city and the promise of keeping Wimbledon’s identity and offering fans subsidised travel – well that never happened.

Milton Keynes at that time had it’s own football team, Milton Keynes City, a non league team which, with the right support and injection of capital, could have risen through the football pyramid to achieve league status but Pete Winkleman’s consortium preferred to buy a league place rather than develop a home grown team.

Milton Keynes City FC was subsequently wound up.

As the FA said at the time, if a club breaks links with its community and moves to a new community with a new identity and yet won’t relinquish its place in the pyramid such a move would have a fundamental impact on the way football is organised.

So in May 2002 what could fans of Wimbledon FC do?

The birth of AFC Wimbledon

The three man commission in its report said that "resurrecting the club from its ashes as, say, 'Wimbledon Town'" would be "not in the wider interests of football.”

So were the fans to trek up the M1 to Milton Keynes? No way!

Following the FA's announcement of their decision, a group of Wimbledon supporters led by Kris Stewart and fellow founding members Marc Jones and Trevor Williams met in The Fox and Grapes pub on Wimbledon Common to plan what was to be done next as part of the protest.

It was agreed that, as there was no right of appeal, the only option was to start the club again from scratch. On 30 May 2002 the idea was put forward in a Wimbledon Independent Supporters' Association meeting to create a new community-based club named AFC Wimbledon and an appeal for funds was launched.

On 13 June 2002, a new manager, a playing strip and badge, based on that of the original Wimbledon FC, and a stadium were unveiled to fans and the media at the packed-out Wimbledon Community Centre.  


Trials on Wimbledon Common in June 2002

In order to assemble a competitive team at very short notice, AFC Wimbledon held player trials on 29 June 2002 on Wimbledon Common, open to any unattached player who felt he was good enough to try out for the team. The event attracted 230 hopeful players, from whom the club's squad for their inaugural season was eventually chosen.

In the 2002–03 season, AFC Wimbledon competed in the Combined Counties League Premier Division under the management of former Wimbledon FC player Terry Eames.

Their first ever game, a pre-season friendly against Sutton United on 10 July 2002, resulted in a 4–0 loss in front of a crowd of 4,657

Their first competitive match in the CCL was away to Sandhurst Town where around 1500 supporters cheered their team to a 2-1 victory.  


Kris Stewart and Ivor Hellor at Sandhurst.

Kevin Cooper scored AFC Wimbledon's second goal against Sandhurst Town.

I’m proud to say I was there – standing on hay bales to get a good view. This venue was very different from Selhurst Park or even Plough Lane and to me demonstrated the delights of non league football.

The demise of Wimbledon FC and the creation of MK Dons

Meanwhile, Wimbledon FC started the season at Selhurst Park due to a lack of a suitable ground in Milton Keynes that met the Football League requirements.

The attendance at Selhurst Park was officially announced as 2,476, including 1,808 from Gillingham. AFC Wimbledon claimed an average crowd of over 3,700 during its first months, while Wimbledon FC attracted less than 3,000, most of whom were followers of visiting teams.

Wimbledon FC's relocation was delayed for over a year and in June 2003 the club went into administration.

Pete Winkelman had not intended to own Wimbledon FC himself. His plan had been to work alongside it while the new stadium was built, and then give the ground to the club in exchange for shares and a place on the board. He had not expected it to go into administration. With the move threatened and the club facing liquidation, he made the decision to take it on himself.

He secured funds from his consortium for the administrators to pay the players' wages, keep the club operating, and pay for the necessary renovations for the National Hockey Stadium to host League football. He made clear that his group's interest was conditional on the club moving to Milton Keynes.

 Pete Winkelman's consortium injected funds to keep it operating and paid for the renovation of the National Hockey Stadium in Milton Keynes, where the team played its first match in September 2003.

Winkelman's Inter MK Group bought the relocated club in 2004 and concurrently changed its name, badge and colours. The team's new ground, Stadium MK, opened three years later.

Meanwhile, Milton Keynes City FC went out of business before the start of the season following an unsuccessful drive for new directors and investors.

The ups and downs of the two clubs

So how have the two teams faired.

AFC Wimbledon had 6 promotions since 2002. 5 of these were over a 9 year period which saw them climb from the lowly Combined Counties League and get into the Football League. 


AFC Wimbledon fans at the playoff final that saw the team promoted to the Football League in 2011.

They have played in League 2 before their final promotion to League 1 after the 2015/16 season.

In contrast, MK Dons had 2 promotions and 3 relegations. They started off in League 1 and now back in League 2

Earlier this year, the MK Dons chairman Pete Winkelman says it has been "an absolutely horrible year" for the club but insists he still has work to do before seeking investment.

Winkelman has led the Dons since they were founded in 2004 and says the club has lost him £3m in the past year.

He told the BBC in an interview that: "To be going backwards, it's terrible and it wasn't supposed to happen. I'll be honest, I am worried - this is absolutely not where we wanted to be, it's not where we can be."

MK Dons chairman Pete Winkelman speaking in April 2018 says the prospect of being relegated from League One is "absolutely horrendous".

He told BBC Three Counties Radio that he wanted "to apologise to our supporters and the city of Milton Keynes - this is not what we expect.

"I thought going down from the Championship was bad. To be in this position is just unthinkable. None of us planned or expected. It is probably the worst ever thing that has happened."

Plough Lane

Meanwhile what of the spiritual home of Wimbledon - Plough Lane?

The old stadium was demolished and is now the site for a housing complex.  

The site of the old Plough Lane ground.

In December 2017, AFC Wimbledon was granted permission to begin work on constructing a new 11,000-seater stadium (which could be expanded to hold up to 20,000 in the future) on the site of Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium. The new ground will be only 250 yards away from the original Plough Lane, Wimbledon's home from 1912 until 1991.  

The moral of the story

After the decision by the commission to allow Wimbledon FC to relocate, the Football Association changed their rules to ensure such a situation does not happen in the future.

MK Dons could have supported MK City (which was subsequently closed), but instead bought a club and a league place. Did MK Dons earn their place in the Football League? Many would argue not.

Unlike AFC Wimbledon who earned their place in the League 1 after starting in level 9 of the football pyramid.

And that is why AFC Wimbledon fans have a smile on their faces.

 

Paul Simon Feature
(Tuesday 13 February)

Musician Paul Simon has recently announced that he is giving up live touring. His farewell tour - "Homeward Bound" will end in London in July. Philip Grant has made this feature looking back at his career.

 


Is automation taking the pleasure out of shopping?
(Tuesday 24 January 2018)

That is, of course, if you find shopping a "pleasure" - which I don't.

I welcome the march of automation and I must admit I welcome the news that a checkout designed to scan an entire basket or trolley’s worth of shopping in one go, is being tested in a store in North London.

The centre piece of IBM’s shop of the future are the self-service checkouts. The technology allows large numbers of items to be scanned at once. It does this as each shopping item has a tiny “radio frequency identification” chip embedded in it. This system could make the traditional barcodes obsolete as the chip contains much more information.

The customer places their items on a scanning platform, which displays the full list on a screen. They open a smartphone app and tap the device on a reader to deduct payment from an account linked to a card app, such as Apple Pay or Android Pay, and are then emailed a receipt.

(See the London Evening Standard review here)

Fantastic!

This trial comes as Amazon opens its first supermarket without checkouts whether human operated or self-service.

Amazon Go, as it's called, has been tested by staff for the past year in Seattle.

It uses an array of ceiling-mounted cameras to identify each customer and track what items they select, eliminating the need for billing. Before entering, shoppers must scan the Amazon Go smartphone app. Sensors on the shelves add items to the bill as customers pick them up - and deletes any they put back. Purchases are billed to customers' credit cards when they leave the store.

This makes the dreaded supermarket queue a thing of the past and will no doubt give any retailer a huge advantage over its competitors.

I think these are great advances with technology. It means I can buy my pint of milk or loaf of bread without having to speak to a human - something I don't want to do when I'm in a hurry.

However research has shown that automated checkout machines put off about a quarter of older people from going shopping.

According to the charity Anchor, older people find the automated checkouts intimidating and unfriendly. They say that without someone to talk to at the tills, shopping can be a miserable experience for some people.

The British Retail Consortium said it was important for shops to be welcoming for everyone and warned that automated checkouts could add to loneliness and isolation among the elderly.

Mario Ambrosi, a spokesman from Anchor said, "There was a time when people knew their shopkeepers and could pass the time of day. You can't do that with a machine."

A study by the charity suggests 24% of older people are deterred from shopping by automated checkouts. It means they can have gone shopping without having said 'hello' to a single person - and that, according to Mr Ambrosi, can be quite a miserable experience.

Also this week fears that robots could take the jobs of humans may be premature after Britain’s first cyborg shop assistant was sacked after a week of confusing customers.

In an experiment run by Heriot-Watt University, the Scottish supermarket chain Margiotta was asked to trial ‘ShopBot’, who they affectionately named ‘Fabio’. Fabio was programmed with directions to hundreds of items in the company’s Edinburgh store and initially charmed customers with his ‘hello gorgeous’ greeting, playful high fives, jokes and offers of hugs.

But within just a few days, the robot was demoted after giving unhelpful advice such as ‘it’s in the alcohol section’ when asked where to find beer. Banished to an aisle where he was only allowed to offer samples of pulled pork, Fabio started to alarm customers who went out of their way to avoid him.

While human staff managed to tempt 12 customers to try the meat every 15 minutes, Fabio only managed two.

The supermarket owner, Luisa Margiotta, soon realised the robot was actually putting off shoppers. Ironically, when they packed up Fabio to send it back to the lab, some staff were reduced to tears! Dr Oliver Lemon, director of the Interaction Lab at Heriot-Watt, admits he was surprised by the reaction his invention got. He admitted that one of the things they didn't expect was the people working in the shop becoming quite attached to it.

So will robots replace shop workers in the future? Luisa Margiotta was sceptical. She said: “We find our customers love a personal interaction and speaking to our staff is a big part of that.

“Our staff members know our regulars very well and can have conversations on a daily a basis, and I doubt robots would be able to fulfil this."

One comment I saw on twitter suggested that staff at their local corner shop were willing to chat, have a laugh and a joke and talk about things with the customer and whilst prices were a bit more than at a supermarket, the experience is far better and it makes life a little more fun.


That may be true for some but sometimes when all you want is a pint of milk, you don't want a conversation.

If I want a conversation, I'll go down to my local.

Now I will admit I do fall in the "older person" bracket. I have my bus pass. But I get so frustrated standing in a check out queue wasting time waiting for dithering pensioners idly gossiping, loading their shopping into their bags before fumbling for a purse and counting out their cash. And when they have paid they still carry on chatting to the checkout attendant.

Now I may be accused of being a miserable old sod but I say thank goodness for self service technology!

But what is the answer?

Most of us work for a living and only get an hour for lunch or a couple of days off a week, I would suggest that supermarkets offer a 5% discount on items bought by pensioners, or those who want a chat, between 9:30 and 11:30 on weekday mornings.

And what about checkout aisles specifically for those who want to stop and chat? A kind of slow lane?

My compromise is to have three types of checkouts. The self service for those in a hurry and are only buying a couple of items. An attended checkout for those with a larger shop but still limited with time and a "slow" checkout for those who want to "have a chat".

I know which one I would use.

What do you think? Give us your thoughts on our facebook page.  


 


Rail Fare Rises - Should the Railways be Renationalised?
(Tuesday 2 January 2018)

Average rail ticket prices have risen by 3.4% across the UK. This is the largest increase to fares since 2013.

Commuters say they are being priced out of getting to work. The Department for Transport said price rises were capped in line with inflation. Fare increases to regulated fares are calculated using the previous July's Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation. Around half of all tickets fall under this category.

Paul Plummer, chief executive of industry trade body the Rail Delivery Group, said the fare changes would provide cash for better services and investment. Figures released by the Rail Delivery Group suggest that for every pound paid in fares, 97p goes directly back to operating and improving services.

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, accused the government of choosing to ignore rail passengers, while fuel duty continued to be frozen. He asks that there be a level playing field.

Meanwhile the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) said the need for public ownership of the railways had "never been more popular or necessary".

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said it was investing in the biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian times. One example is the major rebuilding of London Bridge station which was fully reopened on the 2 January.

So is nationalisation the answer?

Britain's rail network was first nationalised in 1948 and privatised again in 1993. The Labour Party says our railways have become inefficient and expensive. They want to see a return to public ownership.

Labour's pledge appears to resonate with the public. Two years ago, a YouGov poll suggested half of voters would prefer trains to be run by the public sector.

So do we want to go back to the days of British Rail?

As a nationalised industry, they were under funded and inefficient and lacked innovation.

Overcrowding on many routes has become a problem, but this is largely down to Victorian infrastructure rather than any fault of the private operators. If British Rail was around now it would be facing exactly the same problems.

Since privatisation Train Operating Companies have developed services and been far more innovative than the old British Rail. This zeal of innovation on the railways has not been seen since the Twenties and Thirties when the “Big Four” train companies competed for passengers. This new innovation has helped deliver a doubling in the annual number of passenger journeys since the early Nineties.  

The number of passenger journeys have increased from 735 million in 1994-95 to 1.7 billion in 2015-16 (source: Office of Rail and Road). That is as high as the 1950's. Would this have happened under British Rail? And if so how would they have responded?

Punctuality is at a record high and Britain can now boast the safest railways in Europe. BR’s safety record was lamentable and regional routes were often ignored and suffered chronic under investment. It is also worth remembering that fares rose at an alarming rate under BR; it was not unusual for them to rise by 5pc or 6pc a year. Under privatisation fare rises have been pegged at less than inflation.

And what about private investment? Private companies invested a total of £925 million in Britain’s rail network in 2016-17, the highest figure recorded since the Office of Rail and Road’s data series began in 2006-07. Of this figure, £767m was spent on rolling stock.

What do you think? Give us your thoughts on our facebook page.



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