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Saturday, 1 October 2016

Road to nowhere: the Jimmy Hill Way and other Coventry cul-de-sacs

I'll be popping out tomorrow to get petrol for the car and blow me down if I won't be travelling along the soon-to-be-called Jimmy Hill Way. Yes, that's right! The boring old A444 in Coventry is going to be named after the illustrious football pundit and one-time Coventry City manager.

Yeah, you probably already knew that. So what? Well, as one or two commentators have already observed, it's not everyone's idea of er, a good idea. Hill might be well liked by Coventry's beleaguered football fans, but, apart from thinking "nigger" is a humorous bit of football pitch banter, he's also notorious for his money-spinning tour of apartheid-era South Africa. Organising a tour of racially-segregated South Africa by a group of almost exclusively white British footballers isn't quite the "legendary" behaviour that seems to merit a road being re-named in your honour. Or so I think ...

At which point you're probably wondering why I'm going on about this on my tedious-as-hell music blog. Well ...

Well ... it's kind of obvious. Ask most non-Coventrians to name some famous descendants of the city and they'll soon come up with the Specials. Even football fans. Jerry Dammers, Terry Hall, 2-Tone: it's a huge part of the modern history of Coventry (I blogged about some of this earlier this year). Yes, OK, Hill helped make Coventry a moderately successful football club. Yes, they even, against the odds, won an FA Cup final (I was there). And perhaps understandably, as this once-fairly-big club slips into ever more precarious circumstances, the urge to memorialise a successful figure grows almost irresistible.


But, no. If you're going to start re-naming dull dual-carriageways in Coventry you should have a little sensitivity. The A444 (which I've been up and down thousands of times in my own oh-so-exciting lifetime) cuts a rude swathe through a part of northern Coventry with a particularly high concentration of people of South Asian descent. Did anyone ask them what they think of the Jimmy Hill Way proposal? Fine, maybe some are football fans and like the idea. Maybe they're not but don't care either way. Or maybe some recall that racism has been a real problem in Coventry and would rather that "legendary" football moguls like this one are not accorded some kind of civic hero status.

Given that Mahatma Gandhi's experience of racism in South Africa played a big part in his political consciousness, there's a not insignificant historical link between South Africa and some of the non-white residents who live in close proximity to Coventry City's football ground. Meanwhile, it was (of course) Jerry Dammers who wrote Free Nelson Mandela, that ubiquitous sing-alonger-er that became so associated with the UK's anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s.

Surely this is the legacy that Coventry City Council should be celebrating, not make-a-fast-buck footballers who tour racially-segregated countries.

Actually, it's not that I want Coventry to start renaming roads after musicians (Jerry Dammers Way, Neville Staple Street, Ghost Town Square, Do Nothing Road, Gangsters Close ...). Or that I want it to indulge in a splurge of touristy heritagisation of its music history (the Coventry Music Museum and 2-Tone Village are already doing that). I guess it comes back to priorities. Is football, with its many warts and all, such an important part of Coventry's history? Does the city's very long and complex multi-cultural history not matter rather more than a once-famous football manager who used to be on television on Saturday nights?

The Specials react to news of the renamed road

And so, with the ref about to blow his whistle, here's a last-gasp winner. As someone who's originally from Coventry and still there a lot, I'd like to declare an interest. I used to watch the odd Coventry City game in my mis-spent youth and also liked the Specials (and Fun Boy Three!). It's no contest. While the Specials, their amazing punk-ska sound and the multiracial 2-Tone legacy still matter in my life, football has been several-times-relegated (to a zone of life called "Scandals, big business and media hype").

Forget football. 2-Tone is as much a part of Coventry as its central ring road, its modernist pedestrianised shopping centre and its bombed-out cathedral. But what's that? You say you've been threatened by gangsters? Well, we're busy making new road signs. Call back later.

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