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On the Blair trail

Mihir Bose | 15:18 UK time, Friday, 10 July 2009

Tony Blair is rarely in Great Britain for long, so to get him on his own, and especially talking about sport, is something of an event.

But there I was with him on the 0900 train to Darlington - the quiet train as he recalled it from his days as an MP when he regularly took it to return to his Sedgefield constituency.

This Friday was anything but quiet. We had no sooner left King's Cross, London, when Dr John Reid, his former home secretary, slid into the seat next to him.

Given the media was full of telephone hacking stories, it is doubtful if the two men spent much time talking about their respective football clubs, Newcastle and Celtic.

Blair wouldn't talk about politics but he was keen to expand on the idea that sport can reach beyond the playing fields, improve both bodies and minds, and help bridge the gap between divided communities.

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The opportunity to talk to him was provided by his journey to Sunderland where he was visiting his sports foundation. Set up in November 2007, it has so far helped 10,000 children from 350 schools receive tennis coaching.

In convoy, on the way to the sports foundation from Darlington station, I was provided with my one and only glimpse of being a VIP.

Escorted by speeding motorbike outriders, I found myself being driven on the wrong side of the road, while traffic on either was held back and our vehicles sped past more red lights than I can imagine.

Prime minister he may no longer be but a shadow of that power is quite telling.

At the foundation, as he signed yet another tennis ball from an admiring young boy, it felt fleetingly as if the Blair of a decade ago was back but when I asked him would he like to be back at number 10, he wouldn't be drawn.

For his real feelings, we shall have to wait for his memoirs, which are some time away but should be an interesting read.


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  • 1. At 5:23pm on 10 Jul 2009, Phillip wrote:

    Blair did a few good thinks during his premiership (for example the minimum wage) but squandered any chance of a decent legacy with the Iraq war and having Gordon Brown as Chancellor fritting away our money.

    However, this sports foundation of his actually delivers and is probably his only chance of creating any feel-good Blair legacy.

    Never thought I would say this but 'Well done Blair!'.

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  • 2. At 8:14pm on 10 Jul 2009, graham_caine wrote:

    I thought I read Blair 'TRIAL' rather than trail, pity. This man must face upto being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and de stabalising a whole region......... and then he continues to disrupt honest peoples' lives as they go about their everyday business with 'vip treatment'. No matter how much money he throws at 'good things', he will never throw off the stigmer of the deaths and hardship of millions of people, even worse than Thatcher!!

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  • 3. At 11:16pm on 10 Jul 2009, buymespresso wrote:

    The funds for that motorcade of his would help even more children get coaching.

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  • 4. At 02:15am on 11 Jul 2009, saintmike7 wrote:

    Yes Graham_Caine, but you need to face up to spelling 'up to' as one word and 'destabilising' as two.


    Those are trivialities of course. But saying he was worse than Thatcher- that suggests a need for psychotherapy. It seems your memory isn't functioning as it maybe should.

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  • 5. At 02:24am on 11 Jul 2009, saintmike7 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 6. At 11:53am on 11 Jul 2009, graham_caine wrote:

    Well Saint Mike, spelling, top on, not mi forty as they say in France. YES! worse than Thatcher who I loathed but she only was responsible for, should I say here, alledgedly, killing a boat load of young men, a mere several hundred argentinian soldiers, ruining mining communities and industrial production generally in the UK and preparing the world for this financial crisis we are in at the moment, Yes, but, for no reason, Blair joined the Americans in a bloody attack, totally irresponsible as to how to deal with the after-math which has seen years of uncontrolled civilian deaths and a completely destabalised region. He and Bush should go to LeHague and face a court of crimes against humanity, instead of pious gestures to absolve his sins, as a new catholic would say.....

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  • 7. At 12:17pm on 11 Jul 2009, kwiniaskagolfer wrote:

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  • 8. At 12:39pm on 11 Jul 2009, vanoliIsGod wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 9. At 12:56pm on 11 Jul 2009, sweetsmellofsuccess wrote:

    Was Mihir the only journalist on this trip?

    If not, he seems to have forgotten to mention that he was just one of a gaggle of journos, but instead implied that he had 'exclusive' access through his 'sources'. But it does explain why he only appears to have been able to ask one question.

    If so, how did he spend three hours on a train next to Tony Blair and only ask one question?

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  • 10. At 5:54pm on 11 Jul 2009, buymespresso wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 11. At 07:00am on 13 Jul 2009, Parag wrote:

    i did enjoy the comments more than the article itself... Editor Sire!! you have got to learn a lot... sweetsmellofsuccess was on the spot at what he said.
    "Escorted by speeding motorbike outriders, I found myself being driven on the wrong side of the road, while traffic on either was held back and our vehicles sped past more red lights than I can imagine." - I thought only we, those in the underdeveloped countries had this kind of VIP problems...

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  • 12. At 2:49pm on 13 Jul 2009, markyrobs wrote:

    What's this story about? Did Mihir actually talk to him about anything and if so what was discussed and if he didn't talk to him, why has this blog been posted?

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  • 13. At 7:56pm on 13 Jul 2009, Dazzling_Dirk_Thrust wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 14. At 11:23am on 14 Jul 2009, madmickeyt wrote:

    i'm afraid "sport without spin" have correctly taken you to task on this one chum

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  • 15. At 4:28pm on 14 Jul 2009, sweetsmellofsuccess wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 16. At 10:43am on 15 Jul 2009, Humblebeginnings wrote:

    " has so far helped 10000 children from 350 schools..."

    How's that then Mihir? Did Mr Blair personally buy rackets, balls, and a year's subscription to a tennis club or courts for each of them? Or is this just another example of political "spin" from the maestro of it, consumed only too readily by someone who should know better than to repeat "half truths"?

    I'd far rather know just how the sale of playing fields, the curtailment of competitive sport and a few other political disasters goes down in Mr Blair's list of "things you didn't oughta have done". Isn't it too easy for those with a fair old dribble of cash rippling through their accounts to engage in things that "bless" their shortcomings? Or would you like to spare a thought for the mum and dad in their twenty first floor flat whose little Jane has a great love of water but no access to economic swimming facilities?

    The great thing about sport is that it was supposed to be accessible to all kids, either unsupervised in the street or the park, and supplemented and school. Did Blair do anything to encourage that?

    Oh, and the Thatcher, Blair thing. No contest - one was really evil; the other just an opportunistic mercenary.

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  • 17. At 09:53am on 16 Jul 2009, cynicalyorkie1 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 18. At 10:58am on 16 Jul 2009, cynicalyorkie1 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 19. At 7:23pm on 17 Jul 2009, Craig Comerfrod wrote:

    I'd be fascinated to know how the motorcycle outriders coped with the railway tracks.

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  • 20. At 10:42am on 19 Jul 2009, turko123 wrote:

    graham_caine really does have a chip on his shoulder doesn't he.

    Give the guy a break for doing something good, which despite his mistakes he has always tried to do.

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  • 21. At 11:09am on 22 Jul 2009, daisydaisygive wrote:

    I found myself - this was in no way for your benefit, Mihir, this was for the former Prime Minister, and what sounds like a rather large entourage which rather suggests that you were not the only person there, nor indeed the only journalist. Given that you were on a journey that lasted several hours, the five minute interview which you obtained would also suggest that there quite a lot of other people around. And the fact that this all sounds somewhat contrived as a PR opportunity, not to mention an extraordinary drain on resources and excessive security measures, perhaps thered have been a story of real interest there, rather than hearing how exciting it was to travel in a convoy.

    So, to summarise: Blair felt like an exciting politician, which doubtless reminded Bose of his encounters with the likes of Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Sir Allen Stanford (yes, he has seen fit to compare them before). Then he asked about whether hed still like to be Prime Minister, but got no answer, and the article concludes that the interview didnt yield his real feelings on anything. Thanks very much.

    And if you can brave all five minutes, have a look at the fruit of all this testing interviewing. Lots of questions about the Olympics, for which Blair has played no part for two years, and hypothetical questions about whether Britain would bid now (which they dont have to) if Blair were Prime Minister (which he is not). Probing stuff.

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  • 22. At 2:32pm on 22 Jul 2009, PottsyPotter wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 23. At 1:44pm on 24 Jul 2009, rjaggar wrote:

    I may differ fundamentally from Mr Blair about Iraq, but I always agreed with him on the Olympics and his thoughts on sport. Always.

    I do think he needs to be sure that the benefits of the Olympics come to THIS COUNTRY, not to foreign interests.

    1. I don't agree with Seb Coe that either you succeed at elite sport or mass participation. In this day and age, you create cultures suitable for the two groups. And you manage processes from one to the other. It's a matter of management and good people, not dogma. Key is focussing on HEALTHY elite athletes. My hunch is that sport suitable for the masses (3/4 times a week) is optimal for potential elite athletes growing up. When muscles are growing, they need rest and recuperation. Break that and you risk damage.........quality, not quantity is key - optimal management of that through a healthy career is key. Case studies: Michael Johnson in athletics and Roger Federer in tennis. Find out why they stayed healthy.......
    2. Emotional management through sport as boys is often the best way to get a society of healthy men. It's not for all, but it can be for many.
    3. Sport may simulate war but people don't die. See it as societal cold-turkey medicine to go beyond animal-like cultures...........
    4. You want adults to participate as coaches, officials etc, they need to feel useful, worthwhile and not free assistance to toffs who rake off the cash for themself. Think about that..........
    5. Different role plays define winning and losing in different sports. In some, you compete head-to-head. In others, you race separately on the same track. In others, you chart your own course to get to the finish. Different folks are comfortable in some or all of those competition scenarios. DO NOT assume a child is a non-compete if they don't like one of those scenarios.
    6. The numbers on 'your' side change too: some people prefer large teams, some small teams, some are loners. Some compete better alone, some worse. Accept it and guide them to what they are best at.
    7. The nature of the physicality differs radically. You're slow at running, try golf. No need to run there. Try archery. Try shooting. Try cycling. They're all sports. Not into contact sport? No problem. Running, ski-ing, snooker, swimming. No physical contact there with opponents.
    8. The weather can be different. You fancy winter climbing, you'd better like wind, snow and blizzards sometimes. You want to play in the sun, try cycling on the continent. If you can't cope with the elements, try an indoor sport. Masses of them. Borg won Wimbledon 5 times growing up in Sweden. Seen the weather there in winter? Wouldn't play tennis in shorts then, would you? It didn't stop him, because indoors was fine..........
    9. The time required differs. Find something you can enjoy in the time you can put to it.
    10. The cost of kit differs. Here's where societies can help: you need communal kit to hire for nominal money until people know they are good at it and want to commit. Then and only then should parents and communities supply myriads of stuff. No need to be rich to try tennis out. Ditto golf. Ditto ski-ing. But you'll need big money to make it to the pros.........
    11. The mindset differs. Some need focus for a few seconds, others a few hours. Find a sport which is in tune with your mind as it is currently.

    There's something there for almost all, if not all.

    Just a matter of understanding what it's about and how to help others to find what's right for them.

    It's not that hard. It's just hard sometimes to get those superior folks to understand it.

    Funny thing. I always thought that the reason they were supposed to be superior was that they DID understand it......

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  • 24. At 5:54pm on 30 Jul 2009, jambo_lad88 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 25. At 01:13am on 08 Aug 2009, Stuart wrote:

    What a surprise.. lots of name dropping but no real useful content at all.... adios from the BBC Mihir.....

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  • 26. At 5:01pm on 17 Aug 2009, santoshkr1 wrote:

    Dear Bose sir,
    I read your news that you have been betrayed by your people. I am very shocked and feel sorrow to hear that. I also have gone through the same kind of incidence in USA in my profession, where whatever terms and condition were agreed on was never fulfilled. I am not taking any legal step towards my problem because of some family issue. But if you have no barrier in my opinion you must go ahead, if you have no helplessness, and challenge them who have made fierce criticism online about your reports and presentation skills and drag them to the court who has betrayed you badly.
    My support is there with you.

    Thank you.


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  • 27. At 11:08am on 18 Aug 2009, thinkstuff wrote:

    Moderators - I love how much difficulty people had posting sensible opinions on this blog, but a comment suggesting that the now resigned reporter sue the BBC, for whom you at least indirectly work, that's totally fine. Good work.

    Santosh, it sounds like things were tough for you - but I suspect this may be an enormous waste of your empathy. If you had followed the blog back in the glory days, you'll know that Mihir never replied to comments.

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