I, Daniel Blake

I am a little wary about reviewing Ken Loach’s latest film, “I, Daniel Blake”. I am fortunate not to rely on benefits and never to have been so poor that I had to make the heartbreaking and unacceptable choices between feeding myself of my son or doing without electricity, as Katie does in the film. However, that does not, or should not mean that it is not a film for me or one that I as a relatively privileged person can have an opinion about. Indeed, I think, to be successful, the film has to be one for people like me – it certainly isn’t something I can imagine that a real life Katie would go to, even if you paid for her ticket and arranged for someone to look after Daisy and Dylan, nor could the eponymous hero really be visualised going to it. It is, therefore a film for all the people whose real lives it does not depict.

Most of the glowing praise the film has received has come from “the left”- MPs and poverty campaigners using it, as no doubt intended by Ken Loach, as the basis to shame “neoliberals”. On Question Time this week, Loach vehemently believed that people today are less compassionate than they ever were, but ironically, the film doesn’t really support that. There are only two truly compassion-free character, the presenter in a CV workshop, who rebukes Dan for not living in the real world, and a Job Centre official who is pedantically dismissive of his attempts to fulfil his job seeking requirements. Otherwise, the Job Centre and DWP officials range between trying to be as helpful as they can within the parameters of their job and just stoically trying to enforce the rules they have no discretion to over-ride. Elsewhere, people are caring. Dan’s neighbour offers to do whatever he can to help when he sees Dan selling all his furniture. His former boss offers to help him do his shopping and invites him to come out with his former colleagues. The manager of a garden centre wants to offer him a job. Even the furniture dealer who gives a pitiful £200 for the contents of his flat, right down to the carpets, is appreciative of the carved wooden mobiles he’s made and would buy them “for good money”.

But if it is only intended as a source of confirmation bias for those whose contact with the poorest in society is being their representatives rather than their peers, it won’t have any effect. It needs to persuade and shame those who are responsible for the wrongs it seeks to expose, as Loach’s first film, Cathy Come Home did 50 years ago. Otherwise it merely ends up treating its subjects as instruments for a particular agenda rather than people with dignity and self-respect (which is the final message which Daniel Blake wants to get across to the bureaucracy that so frustrates him through the film). An interesting blog from a former benefits adviser sets out why he wouldn’t watch the film. Some are beyond persuasion and focused on quibbles about accuracy while admitting no knowledge – Toby Young being the most egregious (but egregiousness is his raison d’etre). I hope not to fall into that category. Such criticisms are weak because it is a work of fiction based on reality, rather than a documentary. It is intending to make a point about this aspect of society generally rather than specific points about a particular instance: there are many things which Katie and Dan could do differently and perhaps which in real life would lead to different, happier outcomes, but what they actually do does not generally seem too implausible.

In fact, I think the doing of plausible, reasonable but self-defeating things by the main characters is what gives the film much of its realism. That’s why we watch or listen to soap operas – of course, from the outside, the decisions the characters make, make us shout at the telly or the radio “No! You can’t go and hide the body, just go and explain to the police straightaway that it was an accident”. So it is easy to watch I, Daniel Blake and say that a good piece of advice when dealing with any bureaucratic process is just to quietly grit your teeth and do precisely what it asks of you if you need it. The people in the Job Centre and the people in the DWP call centre, and their managers, can’t do anything different so there’s no point in pushing back against them, even if it is sorely tempting.

But, while that is reasonable advice in real life, that’s not what the film is about. My personal experience of unemployment and claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance was that staff wanted to help as much as they could but were disinclined to if people were abusive to them and things like punctuality and attendance, while petty in individual cases, were essential to make the system work. I got my signing on times mixed up once and had to explain myself to avoid being sanctioned – but, as I was fortunately not relying on the JSA money to eat was able to do so without it being undermined by the fear of failure. Many others will not be so fortunate. There was little they could do to assist in my job search and they understood that the online portal wasn’t going to be very helpful so they didn’t waste their time trying to challenge my compliance. Meanwhile I overheard their advisers giving more detailed and sensitive job seeking support to other claimants who were obviously trying but somewhat clueless than I’ve ever had from a careers adviser or recruitment consultant.

Where the film seems to come out is in a cry for there to be no bureaucratic decision-making about people’s entitlements as citizens. It is self-evident to viewers of the film that Dan and Katie are decent people who just want a roof over their heads and enough to allow them to heat and light their homes and to feed themselves and those they are responsible for. That there is a system to which this is not self-evident so that those in need have to evidence that need seems to be the real cruelty. If your doctor has said you’re not fit to work, why isn’t that the end of the matter?

 What the film, surprisingly, isn’t is a critique of “austerity” – apart from some throwaway references to Bedroom Tax, which can’t have applied to Dan – but of the process for getting what is due. The film is very good at showing how difficult it is for any bureaucratic system to function and that there is an inherent tension between people in dire need of support, who will quite normally be sometimes unable to detach their desperation from their way of dealing with the system, and the officials who have to administer the system. That tension is not there when the people giving the support are the ones whose resources are being used – so the food bank volunteer who witnesses the heartbreaking scene of a starving Katie cramming cold beans from the can into her mouth can go and offer a meal and a drink. Similarly, the manager of the shop Katie steals sanitary towels from can let her off because he can make good the shortfall in the takings. But it is hard to see how we could plausibly give such discretion to civil servants because it is not their money they are dispensing. While it is the opposite of what Loach intended, Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs’ take that the film is a libertarian rant against the welfare state has some strength to it.

So, what could be done to address the points raised by the film? One approach might be the libertarian one of cutting the state out because the tension between bureaucracy and compassion cannot be resolved. But that seems to me to be far too extreme. While the social networks around Dan are very strong (and he extends its reach to support Katie, Daisy and Dylan) and delivery of support by charitable work like the food bank show how local care can be more sensitive than the state, I’m always left with the questions, “but what if there aren’t enough charitable people, donors and volunteers, what if like Katie, you don’t know anyone who can help?”.

An alternative might be some form of universal basic income (UBI) which would require nothing more than identifying yourself as Daniel Blake’s final statement suggests “as a citizen”. The problems with this are that it is hard to see how it could be set at a high enough level to look after both Dan and Katie whose needs are very different, while being affordable. If there are roughly 40 million working age adults in Britain and a UBI were set at £10,000 a year, that would cost £400bn. That is well over double the current welfare budget excluding pensions and child benefits. It would equate to providing everybody with benefits at the level of the current welfare cap, which would be a large windfall needing to be recouped by taxation from the majority of the population while not providing a single extra penny to the very poorest who currently qualify for the highest level of welfare. Of course, it could be tweaked to address specific needs but then you are right back where we started of having a system which required those in need to provide evidence of that need.

So, maybe a more modest proposal would be to give greater flexibility and discretion to DWP staff. This is probably more difficult than it sounds. At the level of the film, it would be easy to encourage more officials to be like Ann, who offered Dan a glass of water when he looked unwell after standing up for Katie and helped him to complete the online JSA application. One of the other complaints voiced by Dan was about how everything was becoming “digital by default” rather than letting him speak to a human being or fill in a form and it would be possible to go back from having more things being principally and preferentially accessible online. Although as more and more people of all ages are becoming comfortable with using computers this is probably really only a plea to slow down the penetration of digital access to services when there’s an argument that all that is needed is to make digital access easier to navigate. Giving more real discretion is much harder while there are limits to entitlements and eligibility but relaxing some process steps, like orally going through what has already been filled out in writing as in the film’s first scene would be possible.

While the idea of relying more on people’s doctors rather than DWP assessors regardless of qualification has an appeal, I wonder whether that would be a good idea or attractive to doctors. It would have the effect of making clinical decisions, which ought to be made for clinical reasons also be definitive welfare benefits decisions. There is a difference between advising someone that it would be better for their health not to work and saying that they must certain benefits. While the finale of the film might have been an illustration of Spike Milligan’s proposed tombstone inscription (“I told you I was ill”) an odd thing for me was that Dan showed through the film that he was very capable of working. He walked for miles around Newcastle, did lots of DIY jobs around the house to help Katie, carved ornaments and built furniture to replace the furniture he sold when he dropped his JSA claim. Would it have been better for his health not to have done any of this? Would there be no work he could do that was no more physically and mentally onerous? The advice of his doctors did not seem to be this nuanced and to address the gap between being capable of working in some sense and it being advisable not to work. Would it be a good idea for medical diagnoses to be dependent upon the financial situation of the patient so that they might advise a wealthy person who had no need of work that they should rest, but to tell those who were poor but capable of some work that they should work? Or vice versa. If that is an intolerable decision to place in the hands of DWP, why isn’t it intolerable to make your GP tailor her diagnoses to your wealth?

I, Daniel Blake is a good film. It is a welcome counterbalance to the myriad sensationalist TV programmes about benefit claimants (although a recent episode of C5’s “On Benefits: Spend it Like Beckham” was unintentionally more depressing than I, Daniel Blake with the real world example of a tone deaf young woman believing her future lay as a singer and spending all her benefits money on recording a song or the massively obese man spending his benefits on cosmetic surgery to make him look like Beckham). It is sad that we need reminding that it is much more typical that those relying on benefits are ordinary people who have not chosen that life and would love to escape it than that they are scroungers laughing at the life of ease the taxpayer is mug enough to afford them, but we do. That awareness is perhaps the best legacy the film can have as there is nothing very much in the film to provide solutions to the systemic issues it is arguing against. Those will have to come from people more willing to grapple with the difficulty of setting humanising a state bureaucracy effectively in practice.

Leeds Liverpool Canal by bike

 

Cycling along the canal is one of my favourite local days out in Leeds. Back in the Spring, Oli (9) and I tested out the bike he got for Christmas by riding out to Saltaire and back and when I told him that you could go all the way to Liverpool by the canal we found ourselves planning to do just that. After all, having done Kirkstall-Saltaire as a round trip of 21 miles in 3 1/2 gentle hours, it would only involve doing another hour and a half a day over 4 days to cover the full 127 or so miles. On summer days, that would allow for long stops for lunch and drinks and snacks.

So, a few months later, starting over the August Bank Holiday weekend we found ourselves setting off to do the whole trip. We agreed it would be more fun as a holiday to start at Liverpool and work our way back so that we could have a day out in Liverpool first, as we might not fancy it at the end of the journey. The only problem with this was that that the most comprehensive guide to the Leeds Liverpool Canal is written as if nobody in their right mind would contemplate going in that direction – to the extent of even having the maps oriented with the East on the left. Of course, that’s not a huge problem when the whole nature of the canal is that it runs between Leeds and Liverpool so map reading isn’t that high a priority.

Equipment

Oli rode a Frog 69 which is a hybrid MTB without suspension and was on road/track tyres – in retrospect, it might have been better to have switched to the knobbly tyres it came with in case of wet weather, but as it turned out this wasn’t a problem as we only had about an hour of rain on the third day and that came while we were on well-surfaced paths. As a birthday present I got myself a Revolution Country 1 touring bike from Edinburgh Bicycle Co-Operative in Leeds, along with a pair of 40l waterproof panniers (I thought it would be pushing our luck too much to expect Oli to carry more than our snacks and lunches in a handlebar bag). Both bikes were comfortable and well suited to the trip, although some of the sections had only rudimentary paths (particularly in the middle of the Lancashire countryside between Liverpool and Wigan, between Accrington and Burnley, and between Gargrave and Kildwick) where a bike with front suspension might have been more comfortable for me. A road bike would have struggled but pretty much anything else other than a BMX would be perfectly fine for the trip.

Liverpool

After breakfast and a dog walk on Sunday morning, we set off on the easy downhill journey to Leeds station for the train to Liverpool. The Transpennine Express train was quick and had good space for our bikes to be stowed in the carriage safely. We then had a little confusion trying to rely on Google Maps cycle satnav (the iPhone mount worked well) to get us to Prince’s Dock and the Malmaison where we were staying. I haven’t been to Liverpool for years and was pleasantly surprised by how vibrant and lively the waterfront is. We spent the afternoon going on various rides, listening to the bands playing at the music festival that was on and having a wander around Tate Liverpool. We finished off by going out for a Pizza at Pizza Express in the newish Liverpool One shopping centre and a game of mini-golf at Jungle Rumble, which was excellent (and I won by 9 shots over the 18 holes, go me!).

Albert Dock

Spot the Dazzle Ships, OMD fans

There’s no escaping the Beatles, even in a Malmaison

Disco Superhero

The Road to Wigan Pier

Day 1 of our cycling started on Bank Holiday Monday and involved following the canal from where it started, right by the docks where we were staying, up to Wigan. Due to the circuitous route the canal ended up with as a result of complicated local political wranglings in the C18th, this was a 36 mile journey rather than the 22 miles or so it can be done in by road. It was a really nice sunny day with a little breeze at times but otherwise perfect conditions. There wasn’t a lot to see along the canal going out of Liverpool through Bootle and Aintree, but as we were just warming up that wasn’t a problem. Once we’d left the edge of the city behind the countryside was fairly flat but pleasant. There were also, handily placed through mid-afternoon, at least half a dozen canalside pubs with beer gardens any one of which we could have happily spent the whole afternoon. After passing a couple we succumbed to the Saracen’s Head, Halsall for a drink, a snack and a rest after having already exceeded the longest distance either of us had ever ridden in a day (the 21 miles from our initial ride to Saltaire). All along this section, taking advantage of the fine weather and the Bank Holiday, were many families and groups walking or riding their bikes. There were also more bichon frises than we’d ever seen before – they’re clearly very popular in Merseyside and West Lancashire – and these made Oli miss Fluffy. Everyone was very friendly.

We then got back on our bikes and didn’t have another major stop until we reached a lovely ice cream cafe, Yours Is The Earth in Parbold, just outside Wigan. Luckily we got there just in time at 4.30 to get what turned out to be their last ice creams of the day. We felt a little bad wolfing them down on a bench outside the cafe as more than a dozen other people arriving after us were turned away even though the cafe seemed still to be serving coffee! Even though Google Maps was saying we weren’t far from Wigan, it wasn’t clear whether we would have to cycle up the 27 locks to get to the Premier Inn we were staying at so we thought a rest would be a good idea just in case (it turned out that that climb was instead what we’d be starting day 2 with). The Premier Inn staff were very helpful and not only allowed us to keep our bikes safely with us in our room but moved us to a disabled room to give more space. After a shower and a rest we finished off with an underwhelming meal at the Moon Under Water Wetherspoons in the town centre (from my perspective mainly for the George Orwell link).

Day 1: 36.4 miles, 5 hr 53, average speed 6.18mph, 1043ft climbed (a large proportion of which was in Wigan town centre!).

A lock and lunch

Well earned ice creams at Parbold, near Wigan

Not Orwell’s experience of Wigan Pier

Wigan to Burnley

Planning the route to divide into 4 manageable days of cycling was made difficult by trying to find places to stay at the end of each day. Stopping at Blackburn would have been too early and made the third day too long and Accrington didn’t appear to have anywhere at all to stay. So we had to prepare for a longer day to get to Burnley. After spending a week last summer in Dubrovnik if anyone had said I’d have my next summer holiday staying at Premier Inns in Wigan and Burnley I’d have given them a very funny look, but, here we were!

As mentioned, the day started with cycling up the 27 locks going out of Wigan. Just after we passed them we had our first fall as Oli went over in a deep rut, resulting in his new shoes and hand getting muddy but nothing more serious. We then pressed on towards Blackburn. Although we’d stocked up with sandwiches from the M&S in Wigan town centre before setting off, I’d hoped that as with the first day, we’d be able to find a nice pub or cafe by the canal. We were out of luck in the country, but surely a decent sized town like Blackburn would oblige?

No. We passed one pub by the canal on entering Blackburn from the West but it didn’t really have a garden and sitting in a car park having a bag of crisps and a coke didn’t appeal. Unfortunately, that was as good as Blackburn got. There was literally nothing there along the canal to appeal to anyone. We barely passed anyone who could be described as walking for pleasure – almost everyone we met were groups of miserable looking teenagers ambling around  – and there was nowhere to stop other than a bench which looked like it had been set up to offer a view but the only view it offered was of the back of a brewery, a factory car park and rows of houses. In the end we pressed on, Oli concluding firmly that Blackburn’s score for appeal was minus 20 out of 100 (he gives Leeds, his home town 92 and had concluded that he’d happily live in Liverpool, for comparison).

Our moods lifted as we left Blackburn and finally we managed to find a cafe by the river in Rishton. Well, although it had tables and menus it was more like someone’s back yard than a cafe, but the owners were very friendly (even offering to go upstairs and find me a charger for my phone) and it was nice to be back in a place with people who smiled and were having a nice day. We then pressed on through Accrington, which, after having visited some years ago to stand and be sleeted on during a midweek match back in Brentford’s League 2 days (we lost) I didn’t feel any need to inspect further beyond the marker post for having reached the half way point of the canal.

We then slowly ground our way in to Burnley (and I had a small crash as my pedal got stuck in the ground in a narrow rut I was going down) where Google Maps got a bit confused, took us past some Travelers who were preparing to race round some open ground on pony and traps and eventually took us to our second Premier Inn. We were both surprised by how nice the big park in the centre of Burnley was and the welcome in the Brewer’s Fayre attached to the hotel was friendly. In a final rebuff to Blackburn, Oli awarded Burnley 63 points. The breakfast was also nicer than at the Premier Inn in Wigan.

Day 2: 41.0 miles, 6 hours 36 minutes, average speed 6.20 mph, 1887ft climbed

 

 

Halfway – just outside Accrington

Burnley to Gargrave, Gargrave to Kildwick nr Skipton

Being the middle of the week the towpath had few people walking other than a few older men going for an early stroll in Burnley so we were able to crack on at a decent pace. By now we were well used to riding the towpath so even though we had a spell of fairly heavy rain it didn’t dampen our spirits. It was also interesting for Yorkshireman Oli to see us cross the border from Lancashire to Yorkshire and watch as the flags turned from Red to White Roses (we even saw a pair of semi-detached houses a little past Nelson where one had a red rose and the neighbour a white rose – potentially a premise for a sitcom). By the time we got to Barnoldswick and the highest point on the canal (yay, all downhill from here!) the sun was out again and we found a nice cafe for lunch. Unfortunately, in his eagerness to get going again after lunch we probably didn’t stop long enough to digest and Oli developed a headache a bit further along which was exacerbated by the bumpy towpath. Fortunately the nice lady at the cafe had told us that there was a bit of the national cycle path which allowed us to avoid part of the towpath on the way to Gargrave and we took that but by the time we reached the outskirts of Gargrave Oli was flagging and we ended up walking the last mile. Gargrave gave the option of taking a train home or trying to find a room to stay the night and cancel our booking further on in Kildwick, but after a good rest and another drink and a snack, Oli piped up to ask how much further we had and on hearing it was “only” 10 miles said “let’s do it” and then spent the next hour making up and singing songs, when only a little earlier he’d nearly had enough. So we then went on to make it to our final night’s destination, the White Lion in Kildwick where we had a nice large room and a very hearty meal (and some very nice ale for me).

Day 3:

Burnley to Gargrave: 20.0 miles, 3 hours 26 minutes, 5.81mph, 1005ft climbed

Gargrave to Kildwick: 10.1 miles, 1 hour 36 minutes, 6.25mph, 432ft climbed

Lock Stop Cafe, Barnoldswick – the highest point of the canal

Kildwick to Kirkstall

Although the food was great, both of us were pretty much done with full English Breakfasts by this, our fourth in a row so Oli just had cereal. Plus we had lunch at Salt’s Mill to look forward to, or so we intended, on this our final day and one which was planned to be shorter. However, the towpath all the way was well surfaced and wide so we ended up bombing along much more quickly than on the first three days, especially with the assistance of the downhill slope at Bingley and arrived in Saltaire just past 11, far too early for lunch. We decided instead to have an ice cream from the canal boat diner and then to pedal the final familiar ten miles to Kirkstall where Oli’s mum and Fluffy would be waiting to meet us and to take Oli, his bike and our luggage back home to save the slog of the steep hill up from the canal. I followed on my bike, but it felt very strange without the weight of the panniers over the back wheel, even though at times through some of the narrower gates along the previous 128 miles I’d been cursing the panniers and wondering which bits of kit I could safely dispense with for our next cycling adventure!

Day 4: 20.3 miles, 2 hours 29 minutes, 8.14mph, 1277 ft mainly downhill!

Altogether it was a great few days away and a proper holiday. Unlike many holidays where the last day can be a bit down because of the feeling of the holiday coming to an end, we found ourselves excited and at times literally racing to get to the end. If doing it again I’d probably look more closely at finding somewhere to stay around Accrington at the end of day 2, then to finish day 3 in Gargrave before going from there to Leeds at the end, or perhaps going in the opposite direction. But those are minor changes and both Oli and I agreed that it was a great adventure and I think a big achievement for a 9 year old (and not inconsiderable for a slightly out of shape 44 year old!). I wonder what would be good for our next trip. As Oli said, we could go a lot further each day on the road once he’s got more experience with roads and traffic. Any suggestions gratefully received!

Almost home

Huddersfield 2 v Brentford 1 – 6 August 2016

It seems almost no time ago at all that I was writing after Brentford’s final game of the 15-16 season about our 5-1 win at Huddersfield. The warm August sunshine seemed little different to that in May. But, there had been big changes in the Huddersfield team which had seen a dozen new players join the squad as well as the optimism of 15,000 season ticket holders attracted by the giveaway price of £179. After the upheaval that Brentford had in the previous close season it was something of a relief that this summer has been so quiet but also a disappointment that there was no big new signing to run the rule over.

The photo above shows much of my view for the first half. I usually like to join in the singing and chanting at football, but I also like to be able to see the game and not have to stand up just to do so. So I must admit to being irritated by my neighbour’s insistence on baiting his fellow Bees and exhorting them to sing to the exclusion of all else.

While we haven’t had any big new signings, the team was very different from that which had destroyed Huddersfield only 3 months previously. Canos and Swift had not been tempted to return – Canos eventually going for too much money for a 19 year old to Norwich and Swift, probably sensibly, deciding that Brentford fans didn’t like him much, going to Reading (and scoring the winning goal in his league debut for them). In defence we had Elder, on loan from Leicester for the season at Left Back, replacing Bidwell who’d been sold to QPR. Egan, from Gillingham, started as Centre Back alongside Dean who was wearing the captain’s armband (which for some reason was controversial among some Bees fans online) and Clarke deputising for the injured Colin at Right Back.

In midfield was a first proper chance to see McLeod, who has suffered 18 months of injury since joining from Glasgow Rangers, alongside Woods, McEachran (who like McLeod has barely played through injury most of last season), Kerschbaumer and Sawyers who had followed Dean Smith from his old club, Walsall. Hogan was the sole striker.

That which I saw of the first half had Brentford playing neatly but Huddersfield showing more intent in pressing and attacking. Encouragingly McLeod looked more robust than I’d expected and McEachran looked willing to make tackles and interceptions. Kerschbaumer was much more mobile than he’d appeared last season and seemed to have developed his all round game and positioning but was not able to find one of the through balls to Hogan which were plentiful at the tail end of last season. Indeed there was one attack where Hogan looked to return the favour by trying to square to Kerschbaumer where he might have been better advised to attempt an angled shot himself, but I think it was encouraging that they seem to like playing together. However, overall, the first half was largely as would be expected from two newly assembled teams trying to get used to playing at full pace at the beginning of the season with neither causing the other huge difficulties and both being a little less sharp than they might hope to become. Clarke looked lively and willing to attack, albeit less secure defensively – more like Odubajo than Colin, but understandably rawer than either. He was my man of the match.

The second half continued in similar vein apart from Huddersfield attacking with greater urgency. As with the game in May, manager Wagner seems to be keen on geeing up the players to focus on attacking early in the second half and just as in that game, it led to a Huddersfield goal. I think Elder and McLeod possibly could have done more to stop the cross going in and perhaps Clarke could have blocked the header on the goal line but after a reasonably solid defensive performance to that point I think it was more a case of decent attacking play than any particularly abject defending.

At that point, Smith made an immediate change in replacing Kerschbaumer and McEachran with Saunders and Yennaris. Others will disagree, as both substituted players have had their share of critics, but I don’t think they’d done badly, the change being more one to move from a careful quick passing game to one which involved more pressing and drive. This paid off only a few minutes later as the urgency of both players resulted in a good cross from McLeod which was met with a strong shot from Yennaris for the equaliser. On balance though, Huddersfield had had far more of the play and chances so this wasn’t time to try and hold out for a point with quarter of an hour to play. But it also wasn’t time to step off Huddersfield’s attackers as we did only 90 seconds later in giving Van La Parra far too much freedom to advance into the penalty area. Bentley, who had done decently well in goal so that we didn’t miss Button (who’d had a good debut for Fulham *spit* the day before in keeping a clean sheet against everyone’s favourite for the title, Newcastle), saved at close range but the rebound fell nicely to be tapped in to make it 2-1. On that showing, Bentley is on a par with Button as a shot stopper and much better at kicking out, but much less confident with the short passes or throws out to the defence which have for the last 3 years been the start of most of our play from Button.

Apart from a couple of set pieces which ultimately came to nothing, Brentford didn’t seriously threaten for a second equaliser and had they got one, it would have been a little harsh on Huddersfield who were the sharper team on the day. The quality of their recruitment could be seen by the fact that Scannell, who has been their best player against us each time I’ve seen them, although he played well when he came on as a late substitute, didn’t stand out as being noticeably better than his team-mates. It was interesting however to see McLeod taking free kicks but there being deliberate plays to create doubt whether it would be him or Saunders – this means that we are potentially less predictable from those situations. There was also a slightly odd clearly worked routine involving crowding the Huddersfield goalkeeper ahead of free kicks before running onside for the kick which didn’t work beyond provoking derision from the home fans.

Sawyers looked to have some skill but also a languid style which I suspect could get the fans on his back if not accompanied by goals and assists and wins for the Bees in the near future. As it was, being charitable I’ll say he showed some promise but hadn’t yet acclimatised to the pace and intensity of the game in the Championship compared to League 1. There’s no dishonour in that – two years ago players like Pritchard looked very raw and lightweight in losing against Bournemouth at the beginning of the season. It is important not to read too much into early season games. They are a good time to get some “free” points for clubs which have completed their summer business and pre-seasons bang on schedule but plenty of clubs will take August to click into shape.

The bigger worry was that so far we look a little pedestrian and similar to last season (the last 9 games aside). Lacking the pace and energy of either the injured Judge or a livewire like Canos means that we won’t look so exciting or be able to conjure goals up with pure inspiration (like Canos’s 21 second opener in May) and there were at least some signs that we’re more defensively organised to allow for more patience. However, even if bringing Saunders (who surely can’t still be considered a big part of the team for the whole season) and Yennaris might count as an effective Plan B, there’s clearly no more direct Plan C. Smith brought Hofmann on late but more in hope than expectation. Even though Hofmann seemed fitter and more mobile than last season, there still weren’t any players to run on past him as he needs or any other sign of how he might fit the shape of the team. If there are any more players to join the club before the end of the transfer window, I hope that they are pacy attacking midfielders/wingers. It doesn’t matter if they are raw and need to be introduced sparingly like Canos, but they need to have the pace to contrast with the rest of the team. Otherwise it might be another long hard season in what looks already to be the toughest Championship of the 3 seasons we have seen first hand.

– This is a picture of the food festival outside Huddersfield station. It looked pretty good and quite a few Bees and Huddersfield fans could be seen enjoying it before and after the match but I bet the organisers breathed a big sigh of relief when the fixtures came out that Huddersfield’s first game wasn’t Leeds at home!