London 2012

Remembering David Bowie and his unintentional relationship with sport

I’ll be honest I know very little, if nothing at all, about the life of David Bowie. I have latched on to many music icons including Elvis, Nina Simone, Freddie Mercury, Oasis & the Stone Roses to name a few, but never really Bowie. I could never explain why but I suppose it doesn’t matter. Bowie came to me later than the others. Elvis I listened to since I was biting ankles, Freddie I discovered at primary school and Oasis were the same. Nina and the Roses were my true high school sweet hearts, but Bowie arrived upon my years at University.

I knew all the classics, and I loved them truth be told; Rebel Rebel, Heroes, Starman, Let’s Dance & Life on Mars. All classics in their own way and by their own unique merit but one song affected me in a way that no song had before or since. I remember the very first time I heard this Bowie track.

Space Oddity brought me to a stand still. I was in my car driving back from Stirling University in my first year as a student; I think I was listening to Absolute Classic Rock, or something, and then I heard it. Those dulcet tones, the strumming of the guitar and the military drum.

I pulled into the lay-by, parked the car and cried. I sobbed my eyes out. I didn’t know what the song was about (my guess was space), I recognised Bowie’s iconic vocals but I had never heard anything like it in my life, and I strongly suspect I never will.

The guitar solo, the clap of the hands; majestic.

I could never truthfully say I was a Bowie fan. I don’t own a single album of his, I wouldn’t know anything cover to cover, but by God did that song strike me.

I rushed home, fired up the laptop and searched the track on YouTube.

I thought, ‘I wonder if he knew, sitting in his chair with the big boots and the orange/red hair, that he was untouchable then, and always?’.

I consider myself a music fan. I know a thing or two, but I’ve never heard anything like this. I feel sorry for the true Bowie faithful because if I’m so devastated by his two year anniversary having only been moved by one truly great song then God only knows how the others feel.

To tie this in with the page I should conclude by emphasizing the lasting impression Bowie has made on sports through his iconic career in the music industry. Many of Bowie’s tracks can be heard over the tannoy at sports grounds across the country. His music get’s the crowd going, because everyone and their granny and their granny’s cat knows those tracks. But one song stands above all others in the realm of sport.

Heroes was released on the 23 September 1977. The story goes that the song was inspired by Bowie’s producer Tony Visconti embracing one of Bowie’s backing vocalists by the Berlin Wall. After witnessing such a sight Bowie wrote a song which told the story of two lovers, one from East Berlin and the other from West Berlin. Bowie performed the track at the German Reichstag in Berlin (West Berlin) on the 6 June 1987. This performance was later considered as a catalyst to the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall, which had divided the East from the West since 1961. The German government recognised and thanked Bowie upon his death on 10 January 2016 for “helping to bring down the Wall”, they added “you are now among Heroes”.

Coming away from the songs political and ideological strong hold, the track is recognised by sports fans the world over as one that has accompanied a montage of victory parades, concluded the end of show slow motion short film and encompassed sports greatest moments, athletes and team performances. It is a song that is likely picked in the Top 5 marathon training song, and will most likely be your song of choice as you victoriously cross the finish line. Everyone wants their ‘Heroes’ moment.

It’s no surprise that when London hosted the Olympic games in 2012 that Team GB rocked up to the London Stadium to the sound of Bowie’s Heroes. It’s a British anthem all on it’s own. Every time a gold medal was added to the GB table we heard it again, and again, and again, and again. 29 times to be exact, and then some.

Biblical in every way. Uniqueness personified. Rest in Peace David Bowie.

Commencing countdown, engines on (five, four, three)
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (two, one, liftoff)



British politics has not always had an interest in sport. Even now many involved in politics feel that the two should never mix.

For a long time it never did. A huge step was taken in 1972 when the Sports Council (now known as UK Sport) was established in Britain.

This organisation launched the ‘Sport for All’ campaign. The aim behind it was to promote wider public awareness of the value of sport across the United Kingdom. ‘Sport for All’ wielded a dual message; it wished to promote access to sport for marginalised or disadvantaged groups, such as women, the disabled or those of a low socio-economic status, furthermore ‘Sport for All’ wished to promote sport as a part of everyone’s day to day life.  Over the course of the campaign new facilities where built to offer sport provision, or there was simply improvements made to existing facilities.

The establishment of the Sports Councils for a short time provided a positive step for sport. All would soon change under Thatcher’s Conservative Party.


Margaret Thatcher, the woman that would change it all.

Lady Thatcher, and the Conservative party, would form the role as British Prime Minister for 11 years from 1979 – 1990.

Beginning with the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Thatcher desired all British athletes to boycott the international sporting event because the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. That GB athletes that did attend, did so without government support.

Thatcher was ever keen to reduce public spending would never allow for a home Olympics. When Birmingham bid for the 1992 Commonwealth Games, it did so without financial support from the government.

Thatcher and Football were two words that certainly did not mix well. Following two “crowd disaster” in 1985 (Heysel and the Bradford Fire) Thatcher and her Conservative government introduced fan ID cards under the Football Spectators Act of 1989. The ID cards were required by fans to gain admission to football grounds in Britain.

Critics of the scheme complained that a vast majority of supporters may have been law-abiding citizens. There were also technological difficulties associated with the cards and heavy queuing was another major issue.

The Prime Minister also failed to consider the possibility that most disturbances were outside grounds rather than inside.

Hillsborough would be the final “crowd disaster” that would lead to the abolishment of the ‘National Membership Scheme’.

School Sport, and the work of the Sports Councils, was to take a heavy toll during the Margaret Thatcher era. The Prime Ministers 1981 Regulation 909 gave education authorities the right to sell school land that they considered surplus to their requirements. Over the next decade an estimated 5,000 playing fields were sold, many converted to housing developments, supermarkets or car parks.

A survey by the Secondary Heads Association showed that the proportion of pupils under 14 spending less than two hours a week in physical education rose from 38% to 71% between 1987 and 1990, a shocking statistic which completely summarises Thatcher’s indifference towards sport.

JOHN MAJOR: The sports fan not without failure

John Major, and the Conservative party, would succeed Margaret Thatcher and form the role as British Prime Minister for 7 years from 1990 – 1997.

Major aimed to place sport at the top of the Westminster agenda. He believed that School Sport was the first step towards a lifetime participation in sport. To achieve lifetime participation John Major aimed to provided links been school and club sport.

Sport: Raising the Game released in 1995, was to be the Conservative Party’s new sports policy plan. The plan committed to correcting Thatcher’s failure and looked to reinstate a minimum of 2 hours a week dedicated to Physical Education and School Sport for ALL children. Traditional British sports and team games would be central to the plans. The cultural heritage surrounding team sports in Britain was to be used to promote pro school values and character building.

Under Major’s Conservative government huge funding was put aside for the provision of extracurricular activities and school – club links. The establishment of the National Lottery in 1992 was used for this exact purpose. The Lottery funds were to be split amongst the UK Sports Councils with the sole purpose of providing school sport.

Under Major sport appeared to be in good hands, however there are issues with his policy.

Major valued traditional, team games and while this appeared to be harmless in reality it divided genders. ‘Traditionally’ boys played rough, competitive, tactical games like football or rugby while girls played low intensity, aesthetically pleasing, technical games like netball and gymnastics.  The plan was critiqued for not engaging everyone at school level.

The idea of ‘traditional’ school sport mirrored Victorian ideology that resided in the English public and Scottish private schools. The plan was deemed as ‘more of the same for the more able’.

TONY BLAIR: The Game Plan

Tony Blair, and the Labour party, would succeed John Major, and form the role as British Prime Minister for 10 years from 1997 – 2007.

It was now Labour’s turn to create an inclusive and proactive sports environment in Britain. The Game Plan was Blair’s proposal for improving sport in the UK. For the first time in British history the plan outlined physical activity objectives.

Sport under Blair’s Labour government was going to be used as a tool to benefit not only education but wider society. Sport would be used to benefit UK health, crime, social inclusion and educational outcomes. The Game Plan strategy sought to increase opportunity equality, allowing people to participate within the social structures of British society. Blair’s plan targeted women, the elderly, school leavers and economically disadvantaged groups.

It was estimated that £2 billion was the cost of physical inactivity each year. Physical Activity and Sport would be the miracle cure for chronic diseases. Labour admired sport as a money saving tool; it provided a preventative medicine which in the long run would decrease NHS costs.

The Game Plan outlined the value that Blair placed on International sport participation and success. He believed a successful sporting nation created a ‘feel good factor’ that could have incalculable benefits on British people.

However, it would be too simple to say that Tony Blair’s Labour party had got it entirely right. It is very difficult to evaluate the success the Game Plan had on social inclusion for obvious reasons. Furthermore, its success in the area of improved educational outcome can be questioned.

It appeared that many leading educational organisations jumped on the bandwagon in support of educational improvement. The Qualification and Curriculum Authority (QCA) attached themselves to Labour’s Game Plan as did Youth Sport Trust (YST). However there could be many reasons for this.

Perhaps to be seen that they are doing there jobs right, the QCA agreed that the strategy was working. They were hardly going to disagree. Similarly the YST who aims to increase sport opportunities for all young people, working within the realms of social inclusion, were never going to oppose the “success” of Blair’s Game Plan.

GORDON BROWN: Competitive School Sport, the Revival

Gordon Brown, and the Labour party, would succeed Tony Blair, and form the role as British Prime Minister for 10 years from 2007 – 2010.

Competitive School Sport was Brown’s war cry following the news in 2005 that London would host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Brown’s Labour government channelled the use of new school sport such as cycling, canoeing and boxing in order to broaden inclusion and improve participation rates.

His proposal set out to increase the minimum 2 hours of Physical Education to a weekly 5 hours of PE time. This proposal however has not since been met. It was a fairly unrealistic proposal which would require a huge increase in volunteers and specialised teaching staff.

As for the use of new sports such as canoeing and boxing well there is very little evidence to suggest that they have been used in the British school system. The equipment and facilities required, not even mentioning the specialist coaching, was far beyond the reach of Gordon Brown.

DAVID CAMERON: Cuts to school sport – A Conservative Carbon Copy

David Cameron, and the Conservative party, would succeed Gordon Brown, and form the role as British Prime Minister for 5 years from 2010 – present.

Cameron faced the hard task of attempting to continue an Olympic Games Legacy after the success of the home nation event. This is a task that the current Prime Minister has never really accomplished.

Cameron and the Conservative government in their first year in power backed major cuts for school sport partnerships, which had helped to increase the quality and range of sport available in schools.

Ironically, for a government that values competition, competitive sport between schools has suffered after Cameron cut school sports partnership funding.

The £162 million annual funding for school sports partnerships was cut in October 2010. However, with such a backlash the Conservative government had to make a partial U-turn which resulted in a £65 million a year investment in school sport. This however would only last until the year 2013.

Cameron and his love of ‘competitive sports’, like Major’s Sport: Raising the Game policy, can cause mass exclusion. Again a Conservative government singled out talented and sporty pupils, while ignoring the indifferent. This would be another downfall discrediting the Olympic game legacy.

Cameron, after dismissing the idea of reintroducing the 2 hour Physical Education target, because schools were meeting it “by doing things like Indian dance or whatever, that you and I probably wouldn’t think of as sport”, provided a new draft PE curriculum published in 2012 that will make it compulsory to take part in what his Conservative party believe to be “recognised and recognisable sports” such as football, hockey and netball.

This may well be a carbon copy of Major’s Conservative ‘Traditional’ Sports Policy, the difference being that John Major placed a fair amount of funding behind sport. Cameron obviously has different plans for his purse, and indeed he was not the man to “Inspire a Generation”.

PAULA RADCLIFFE – Simply the Best!

Virgin Money London Marathon Preview Press ConferencesTomorrow morning Paula Radcliffe, aged 41, will run her final competitive marathon at the scene of her greatest triumph as a long distance runner.

The Virgin Money London Marathon will be host to Radcliffe’s final act. It is the stage where in 2003 Radcliffe set the women’s record time at 2 hours, 15 minutes and 25 seconds. This is seen as one of the most imposing records in world athletics.


Unfortunately Radcliffe has been forced to bow out of elite competition due to a recurring injury in her left foot however the legacy she has made leaves much to commemorate.

Paula Radcliffe has been a stand out figure in the fight against doping in elite sport. A year before her quite remarkable record beating run, the British athlete asked the International Association of Athletics Federations to increase the frequency of her doping tests.

Radcliffe’s physiotherapist, Gerard Hartmann, even insisted that Radcliffe would meticulously check her water bottles pre race to check that the bottles had not been contaminated without her knowing.


Paula Radcliffe has been an outstanding British athlete; there is no one quite like her.

Radcliffe has won the London marathon 3 times in 2002, 2003 and 2005. She has done the same in New York in 2004, 2007 and 2008 also winning the Chicago marathon in 2002.

This great athlete has represented her nation in several international competitions including the European championships, World championships, the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games.

Sebastian Coe, the man behind the success of the London 2012 Olympic Games, has commented that Radcliffe is a pioneer of women’s sport and has made an impact on wider society, he said:

“She gave women permission to feel they could go out and run and be part of the London Marathon….A generation of runners, male and female, have taken up the sport because of Paula Radcliffe.”


Radcliffe’s athletic success was testament to her tremendous fitness levels and unique tolerance for pain.

At the age of 17, sports scientist Andrew Jones discovered that a young Radcliffe possessed an unbelievable capacity for oxygen. Radcliffe, at such a tender age, had a VO2 max of 70. This is the highest of any female athlete. (VO2 Max = the maximum volume of oxygen an athlete can use)

Radcliffe was known to run, on average, a staggering 140 to 150 miles a week; running for hours on end in the morning and again in the afternoon.

A magnificent trainer, who pushed herself to the absolute limit, Radcliffe would refuse to simply step off the treadmill. Paula’s sport scientist, Andrew Jones said:

“When we are testing on the treadmill we ask people to tell us when they feel they have about a minute left to run,”

Jones continues….

“Paula would be clearly as exhausted as most athletes ever get but would signal she wanted to keep going. And this would keep going and going. She would rather have gone off the back of the treadmill than be stopped. She would push herself beyond what seemed possible.”


Radcliffe would peak at the 2003 London Marathon, that day would be her golden moment in time.

Had things gone differently at the summer Olympic Games in Athens the following year Radcliffe believes herself that she would have broke her record.

Athens proved to be a difficult time for the British athlete. Prior to the competition Radcliffe was seen as the favourite to win gold in the women’s marathon. Three weeks before the competition Radcliffe was in the best form of her life. Coach and husband Gary Lough said:

“Three weeks before Athens she ran a tempo run of 24.4 miles in 2hr 15min at altitude,”

Lough continued…

“That was better than a similar run she had done before London. We knew she was in 2:13.45 to 2:14.10 form. She was in unbelievable shape, the peak of her career. That was when the rose had fully blossomed – and then she got injured.”

A freak accident would prevent Radcliffe competing to her full potential at the event in 2004. While out for a jog, a stone hit by a passing car fired into the knee of the athlete which caused a ‘clot and abscess’, and for two weeks Radcliffe was out of action.

Pumped with anti-inflammatorys her body was unable to metabolise food, leading to dehydration and white coloured bowel movements. Despite this, Radcliffe ran on but had to stop 22 miles into the race.

The British press branded Radcliffe a failure and a choker, unaware of her injury. Still most of this flack has continued to this day.


Tomorrow morning on her return to the London Marathon, Radcliffe aims not to break her record but to run the race in under 3 hours, and to do so would be a huge send off and thank you to the fans and to the sport that she loves.

As an 11 year old girl visiting the marathon, a young Radcliffe was mesmerised by the performance of Norwegian runner, Ingrid Kristiansen. Since becoming a huge sporting success Radcliffe has commented on the inspiration she experienced that day saying:
“It broke down any barriers I had in my head….I thought: why can’t I be in there running and being competitive too?”

Perhaps tomorrow, that kid in the crowd will also say “Why not me?”