The football season in England is winding to its close, so the opportunity to do as I did last night is running out. Tuesday evening; spent all day in front of a screen; quick drive down the A3 and across the Hog’s Back (where there are roadworks); and then a couple of hours in front of Aldershot Town v Bristol Rovers in League Two.
And it was a pleasure. These are two of the better footballing teams in the lower reaches of the English football league, and though the stats may not show it – with only one goal (to Aldershot) and only one corner each – this was a fast and furious and pretty competitive match with both teams trying most of the time to keep the ball on the ground and pass their way forwards. Nice to watch.
But there was another reason it was nice to watch as well, and that was not expected when I decided, late afternoon, that a bit of fresh air would be good. For Aldershot Town Football Club was celebrating: it was 20 years, pretty much to the day, since the town’s previous football club, called just “Aldershot” (without the “Town”) had been liquidated. Aldershot FC remains the only Football League club in living memory to disappear entirely mid-season: Accrington Stanley’s demise 30 years earlier is a rather different story and they didn’t liquidate until later. In 1991/92 Aldershot got to about this time in the season and then had to give up as it no longer existed: its previously-played matches were expunged from the records. Among them was a game I remember going to with my mate Geoff, the Scunthorpe fan: a Friday night 0-0 draw with Scunthorpe in front of 1,929 spectators with horizontal sleet throughout. Ah, the good old days.
Anyway, last night there was a celebration and, at half time, around 40 of the former Aldershot Football Club’s ex-players, totalling more than 6,000 appearances and 600 goals, were individually called out from the stands and applauded all the way to the centre circle. Few of them, Steve Claridge apart, would be household names in other than Aldershot households and they ranged in age from probably 80 down to mid-40s. All of them seemed genuinely pleased to be there and a bit moved, and the crowd cheered every one of them.
And the MC of the event made what I thought was a particularly apt comment: that the Aldershot FC of yesterday is really the Aldershot Town FC of today. You might regard a football club that liquidates as pretty much a total failure (it had never won much anyway apart from during the war, when everyone was stationed nearby), but without it, you wouldn’t have a town with a football tradition, a ground, a hard core of supporters, memories of promotions and cup runs…
There’s a wider point here. More generally in the UK we’re apt to regard business failure as a stigma and something to be avoided in polite conversation. In fact, of course, up to the moment of failure there are usually good things going on too, and why shouldn’t they be remembered? You need to learn the lessons from any failure, but you don’t need to obliterate all the past. Celebrating the liquidation may seem an odd thing to do; but at Aldershot last night it seemed a good thing to have done.
5 March Trial and error
I’ve been at home today when I shouldn’t have been. I should have been out, doing my civic duty, being part of the judicial process. From last Wednesday, I was meant to be on jury service, and the sentence for me was due to be two weeks. Except that it wasn’t, because of what is technically known, in strict legal-ese, pari passu and res ipsae loquitur, as a cock-up.
Now I have to be a bit careful here because obviously as a juror you’re sworn to some secrecy and the penalties for contempt of court are severe. So I’ll identify neither the court nor the case. But the reason I’m no longer on jury service is that, in the case I was on, a bit of inadmissable evidence was brought up by the prosecution and, once it’d been ruled as inadmissable, there’s no option but to abandon the hearing and discharge the jury. Fully discharge, that is – so we don’t “contaminate” any future jury that will now hear the case with the stuff that we shouldn’t have heard. So instead of two weeks, I had three days, and two of those were spent in the waiting room.
Ah well, you’re saying, these things happen. No one’s fault. And maybe you’re right. But this is the third time I’ve done jury service in not much more than 10 years; in those three separate stints, I’ve been on four cases, and three of them have collapsed because of some or other prosecution foul-up.
In one, there was a gaping hole in the case for the crown: central characters in the incident that was being tried had gone missing, but the trial had gone ahead anyway; when they then showed up after several days of the hearing, it meant the whole thing had to be scrapped and started again. In another case of mine, witness after witness for the prosecution testified to the fact that the defendant had been silly and rather bad… but not guilty of the charge that had actually been laid against him. Again the trial stopped. Now I’ve had a third one.
All three of these cases are, of course, different. But in each of them, something pretty basic has gone wrong with the prosecution side of things. And, had the latest one gone on, I could have pointed out an error in the charge as brought: possibly not a germane error, but an error nonetheless. If the law is meant to be precise, then so too should be the paperwork involved in it, but that wasn’t how it was.
The upshot of all three cases, though, is a waste of everyone’s time, and probably quite a bit of expense too. The lawyers will not lose out from it: there are extra days in court for them in any retrial. But police who were giving evidence last week will have to go back to do it all over again and a new set of jurors will get their expenses. It mounts up.
And while it may not affect the final outcome or the basic cause of justice, it’s not reassuring for those of us schooled in businesses where errors can’t be tolerated and are often swiftly punished that the judicial system just seems to shrug its shoulders and start again.