Gazette letters: Winter robins and Hackney Marshes

A robin in a residential garden (Picture: PA)

A robin in a residential garden (Picture: PA) - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Scrawny twigs bearing the overripe remnants of autumn’s fruit, writes Will McCallum, Hackney Wick.

Berries not gorged on by birds are colourfully trodden into the pavement as they drop from the branch. Pastes of red and orange stain the concrete beneath similarly hued leaves. Thankfully, some berries remain resolutely on the branch; there are some fine holly bushes in Islington’s front gardens, with their Christmas reds and greens.

Last week, running along the back streets of Holloway towards Hampstead Heath, I caught a glimpse of one of my favourite sights of the year: my first winter robin, proudly sat on an iron gate with red chest puffed out like a smug child in a new winter coat.

For some years I have recorded the first winter robin I see (last year was not until December 11 in Cornwall). It’s an odd habit as the association of robins with winter is based more in folklore than science. Robins are with us year round and so how is it that each year I arbitrarily pick one when the weather gets cold and note it as the first robin of winter?

It may be that as the twigs are more sparsely covered in leaves, it is simply easier to see the bright orange breast of a robin. Or maybe as the weather gets colder and presumably the food is harder to find, robins get more daring and so come closer to us humans in the hope of a crumb from our table.

Whatever the reason, it is always a joyful sight.

The downward spiral towards the decimation of grassroots football continues unabated, particularly at Hackney Marshes where difficulties arise on a weekly basis as pitch availability becomes problematicwrites Johnnie Walker, chairman of the Hackney and Leyton Sunday Football League.

Most Read

Even though we have had the East Marsh pitches returned to us, as a consequence we have had the pitches on Mabley Green taken away. So in recent history, as well as Mabley Green, we have lost the Arena Fields to the Olympian bandits, Wick Field to some sort of forest, and the pitches that used to exist along Lea Bridge Road.

This gradual destruction of what was possibly the biggest complex of football pitches in the world is quite alarming. Hackney Marshes as a football facility has become even more vitally important to grassroots football, especially here in north-east London, because pitches and their accompanying facilities are disappearing all around us, and if there are any facilities remaining, many of the other borough councils have driven the hire fees so high that they remain unused.

The latest issue regards the South Marsh car park and the trouble we often have gaining access to the venue.

This has become a huge problem recently and it appears to be escalating out of control with tempers getting frayed, insults and threats being levelled at the staff and drivers being stupid and leaving their cars parked in places where it becomes impossible for buses to pass.

It has come about because now the East Marsh pitches are back in use, amazingly and quite stupidly there is no East Marsh car park; in fact there is no water point and no toilet.

We used to have all these facilities on the East Marsh as many footballers, some now in their 80s, will remember, but promises regarding reinstatement and improvements of the same were conveniently forgotten, just as we expected – and anyway the awful user groups, who incidentally can have no idea of the history of the Marshes and its connection to football, are in the habit of opposing any reinstating of facilities what so ever.

This car park business is probably going to escalate and I can see it becoming a real issue that is bound to add further stress to our footballers.

We will not get any sympathy from Hackney Council: they seem to accede to any request or demand from any tuppenny-ha’penny little firm that calls itself a user group. The Football Association have also been a waste of time; they went along with all this planning and gave their approval for the design of the totally inadequate facilities.

The FA and Hackney Council approved the East Marsh takeover in spite of our protests, which were ignored, and therefore we were never consulted as to our needs.

Football didn’t get any compensation from the Olympic disaster; we just go paying our way as we have always done, unlike other “organisations” who seem to get funding at the drop of a hat, presumably because they exist for the good of the community.

What have we been doing since 1948, then?

I bet the general public imagine there is vast amounts of “readies” to be had given the amount of cash floating around in football, but not much winds up benefiting the real grassroots.

Just reflect on the farce taking place at present with the renamed London Stadium.

We knew at the outset it wasn’t a football stadium, but Lord Coe and co insisted it would have to be suitable for athletic meetings as a legacy.

How on earth would a stadium that large pay its way by hosting a few athletic meetings a year?

So now it has to be hired out to West Ham at a sum subsidised by the whole of the nation’s taxpayers. Tottenham’s Daniel Levy had the right idea: knock it down and start again and fund the restructure of the long-defunct Crystal Palace.

Isn’t it amazing that so many people who supposedly are reputed to have brains, are guilty of wasting so much money, money which could have been better used for the real grassroots of sport in general.

What has happened to the promised golden legacy?

The elite in some sports may have benefited after the London Olympics, but we local sportsmen and women now have less than we ever had.