For a few short years, I was the manager of the Ukrainian football club Dynamo Kiev. Under my leadership we won four league titles, two Ukrainian Cups and three Ukrainian Super Cups. This was done on a shoestring budget. Dynamo were not, as far as I knew, in any serious financial trouble but Ukrainian football has never been a particularly lucrative market.
In what turned out to be my final match as Dynamo Kiev manager, we beat Manchester United 2-1 in the Champions League final and held the European Cup aloft for the first time in the club’s history.
That summer, to honour my achievement, the club erected a statue of me outside the Lobanovsky Dynamo Stadium.
But I wanted more than this. I wanted to build a side that would be remembered. The Porto side that lifted the trophy in 2003 will only be remembered as the place that Jose Mourinho first came to prominence. The Liverpool team of two years later will only be remembered outside of the Mersey area (for they are a famously nostalgic people, trading on past glories) for the dramatic comeback of the final. I did not want this for Dynamo. I did not want us to be a mere footnote in history; I wanted us to be greats.
Unfortunately, the board did not share my aspirational vision. The transfer budget, to be fair, was more than modest, but the player and staff wage budget was, frankly, risible. I requested it be increased.
The board refused.
I floated the idea that the transfer budget be cut, so that the wage budget could be raised. This proposal was dismissed out of hand. Eventually, I reached the end of my tether. There was no way I could keep our best players and bring in fresh talent to build on this squad if I had my hands tied with such a small wage budget. After much thought, I made the board an ultimatum: either you trust me and let me have a larger wage budget, or I walk.
As I left the meeting with the board that gloomy July afternoon, my resignation reluctantly tendered, I passed the newly-built statue of myself, smiling, arms aloft, celebrating the greatest moment in Dynamo Kiev’s history. I looked up at my own face, immortalised in alloy metal, and watched a snowflake gently land on my face, melt, and roll down my cheek like a tear. My own eyes were red as fire with weeping. “I’ve got a brass neck on me,” I sobbed, ruefully.
Now, that only happened within the fictional world of the football strategy game Championship Manager 2003-04. I have never even been to Kiev, which may explain why in my imagination it is likely to be snowing there in mid-July. But so involved do I get in these games that should I ever visit the capital of Ukraine I would half expect to find at statue of me there.
Last week, in the real world, the Parliament Square protester Brian Haw sadly passed away. It does not need me to say that cancer is an awful disease, one that has affected too many close to me. My heart goes out to those that counted Haw as a friend.
However, calls led by John McDonnell for there to be a statue built in Brian Haw’s honour are completely wrong. Haw was not a man who cherished democracy and free speech as much as many would like to think. It also occurred to me, upon meeting him and hearing the testament of others who have crossed his path, that he did not encompass many of the values projected onto him by parts of the liberal media. He was also a tad bonkers.
For some, perhaps many, he was an emblem of the anti-war movement. As long as Haw was there, the anti-war movement was not dead. They could carry on their daily lives uncompromised while he gave up everything for the cause. But these people have not seemed to consider what kind of mental state a person has to be in to wilfully leave their family and live on a busy central London street for a decade. For them, the logical conclusion of the end of the protest against war in Iraq in 2003 was to go home. For Haw the logical conclusion was to stay on the street for 8 more years.
When a friend of mine (a friend who is considered well on the left of the Labour Party, if you are the kind of person for whom that matters) met Haw a few years ago, Haw punched him in the face. His crime? To innocently ask, during a conversation with one of Haw’s hangers-on, “Isn’t the judiciary self-regulating?” The peace activist chinned my comrade, told him to “F**k off” and denounced him as a stooge of the state.
Last summer, I was a regular visitor to the ‘Democracy Village’ while they were under threat of eviction, doing a half-arsed job of being a video reporter for Political Scrapbook. The Democracy Village was set up to protest against the UK’s involvement in the Middle East. Yet it was abundantly clear that Brian Haw had no time for these people, or indeed any protest happening on Parliament Square that didn’t solely involve him, a megaphone and pictures of dead children to scare tourists. It was at this time that his website was altered, so that the tagline read: ‘THE Parliament Square Peace Campaign’, with extra emphasis on ‘The’. No one else.
On one visit, myself and my editor approached Haw to see if he would share some thoughts with us. He did not. He just shouted at us. Some were swearwords, the rest was incoherent. We ran away.
Far from being a protector of democracy, Haw was the unelected self-chosen protest king of Parliament Square, immovable by the elected powers of Parliament or London Mayor. Parliament Square belonged to him and even those who shared his beliefs were not welcome. If you didn’t share them, then you were merely a stooge of the state, deserving of an earful. Or faceful.
Yet John McDonnell was a character witness for Brian Haw, and sure John McDonnell is an honourable man.
So, should a statue of Haw stand aside Mandela, who helped end apartheid in South Africa? Aside Lincoln, who abolished slavery? Aside Churchill, who held back the tide of fascism in Europe?
A statue of me in Kiev would be more fitting.