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Troubled student games 'were almost scrapped'

EVEN 18 years on, the World Student Games can be guaranteed to generate strong feelings in Sheffield.

At the time, council and business leaders saw it as a catalyst for regeneration after the bruising impact of the miners's strike and the collapse of the steel industry.

But without Government help and that elusive TV deal, it was to leave a painful financial legacy.

In fact, the Games nearly didn't take place at all, according to one of the figures involved in the organisation.

Throughout 1989, most of the organising team felt that the WSG wouldn't happen because virtually no money was being generated, says former Labour politician John Cornwell, who lives in Nether Edge.

He was working for an arm's-length company set up to run the games, Universiade GB Ltd, which offered "a painful experience of being involved right up to the neck".

Amid the shambles, both the finance director and chief executive left and an estimated 55 staff quit over two years – "an attrition rate that was worse than Bomber Command".

It was left to the council to take over and at least the games themselves were a success.

"Surprisingly, for all the legions of knockers, outraged ratepayers and cynical unbelievers, who included one-third of the Labour Party councillors members of the city, the council ran a very efficient, very enjoyable Games in their splendid new stadium and their purpose-built arena, sports halls and swimming pools."

Let's not forget, either, that the Lyceum Theatre was rebuilt on the back of the WSG cultural programme, points out the man who chaired the Lyceum Trust.

Memories of the event, including how Sheffield-born astronaut Helen Sharman dropped the torch that was to light the flame (it didn't really matter because the flame was gas-fuelled) resurface in John Cornwell's book on his life in Sheffield.

He was a Labour heavyweight in the 80s – deputy leader of South Yorkshire County Council and a sometime member of Sheffield City Council.

And there was the Wally Of The Year Award instituted by long-serving councillor Peter Price.

"This award was given, with due solemnity, to the chair of the committee judged to have made the daftest decision during the previous 12 months.

"Peter Price contrived to be the winner virtually every year and is still disappointed that he was beaten one year by the chair of planning, whose committee had allowed the contentious exterior design of a cinema that was subsequently built in Barkers Pool."

The book, as its title suggests, has a wider span than just local politics.

Never Walk Behind The Bowler's Arm!, or What The Germans Did For Us!, covers territory ranging from the 1940 Blitz and family connections in Germany to teaching for nearly a quarter of a century at Ecclesfield School and the joys of cricket and rugby.

As a member of the backroom team with Sheffield Eagles, the thrill of seeing the team beat Wigan in the 1998 Cup Final beats any of the cultural highlights he has witnessed.

"While there are undoubtedly outstandingly blissful occasions in the great concert halls, opera houses and theatres of the world, none could have outdone the ecstasy of the atmosphere at Wembley that May afternoon a decade ago."

Complete with a smattering of his poems, this is John Cornwell's ninth book, most of them rooted in local history, including the story of King Edward VII School where he chaired the governors for nine years.

"There is nothing particularly remarkable about my life's story but I have attempted to add a little humour to the events I have recorded and I hope that will make it acceptable and interesting to readers," he says.

And it's something he thinks other people should consider. "I very much believe everyone should leave some kind of written record of the happenings in their lives, if only for their family, both existing members and those as yet unborn.

"Many of us regret that we did not talk more to our parents and grandparents and have only a hazy picture of the details of their lives and how they coped with the big events of their time."

Never Walk Behind The Bowler's Arm!, or What The Germans Did For Us!, by John Cornwell, 8. Tel 255 0851.

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