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As West Ham United move into the Olympic Stadium it seems a good time to post this article which I wrote for the supporters’ website www.kumb.com in February 2015, but which may have far wider relevance in terms of our understanding of opinion polls and surveys.

Football fans are a conservative bunch. Most have their matchday routines – travel, drinking, eating and a favourite seat or spot on the terraces. It is understandable that talk of a new ground, however much it may promise future success for the team, will cause unease amongst some supporters. In West Ham’s case opinions may be even more polarised. Some fans look forward to the iconic stadium, the trophies it may bring, the larger capacity and promise of cheaper seats. Others wonder why the need to move when the Club often have to advertise to sell out the Boleyn Ground, worry about views in a partly converted athletics stadium and are concerned that the promised cheap seats will be far from the pitch. What we do know is that 85% of West Ham fans backed the Club’s move to the Olympic Stadium – or did they?

Surprisingly there was no concerted campaign against the move to Stratford, perhaps partly as a result of the Club’s clever strategy in carefully controlling information. Instead a group of supporters, most but not all of whom opposed the move, set up WHU’S VIEW?, a campaign with the single aim of ensuring that an independent poll of fans took place before West Ham committed to moving to the Olympic Stadium, a procedure in line with the Football Supporters’ Federation policy. A poll was promised, but not run until after the deal had been signed.

WHU’S VIEW? suggested that the poll should be run by Electoral Reform Services, who carried out a poll determining the views of Everton supporters on their proposed stadium move. I personally proposed this at a Supporters Advisory Board meeting but it was not well received by Ms Brady. The Club chose to work with YouGov.

In May 2013 West Ham proudly announced that 85% of fans supported the Olympic Stadium move. The media duly reported that such a large majority of fans backed the move but there was still disquiet amongst supporters. Anecdotally many said they knew few in favour and questioned the poll result. A series of other polls had given very varied results, but none with such backing for the move. WHU’S VIEW?’s own poll, carried out in 2012 when it was unclear whether the Club would hold their one, showed that 88% of 2200 match-attending fans opposed the move. Perhaps the YouGov poll deserves closer investigation.

WHU’S VIEW? had asked for a simple Yes/No poll of season ticket holders and match attending members. YouGov’s poll covered the wider supporter data base and asked respondents to choose from six options:

  • I support the move to the Olympic Stadium because it will provide an overall better fan experience.
  • I support the move to the Olympic Stadium because it will provide the resources to improve the squad and build the Club.
  • I support the move to the Olympic Stadium because it will grow the Club to new levels of support.
  • I support the move because I trust the West Ham United Directors to make the right decision to take the Club forward.
  • I would consider supporting the move to the Olympic Stadium but need more information.
  • I am against moving to the Olympic Stadium under any circumstances.

Just one of these options opposed the move, however this wasn’t a simple no but indicated opposition ‘under any circumstances’. If tickets were a fiver, pies free and Lionel Messi guaranteed to be playing centre forward, who could vote no? It appeared to some observers that the questions had been selected with the aim to achieve the ‘right answer’.

It was though not just the questions that raised concerns. Supporters were not sent a simple ballot paper, or, has been suggested by WHU’S VIEW?, literature from those both for and against the move. Instead, West Ham prepared what could best be described as a marketing brochure, with many pages of information extolling the virtues of moving to the Olympic Stadium. The 85% who voted in favour did this after reading the Club’s ‘propaganda’. How many might have shown less enthusiasm for the move if the full unbiased facts or both sides of the argument had been presented?

In determining demand for a new product it is normal to seek the views of potential new customers, so arguably West Ham were right to poll the wider data base, although of course one would normally undertake such market research well in advance of a product change, not once a deal has been signed. It is however generally recognised that one’s existing long term customers are the most valuable and that it is easier to retain these than find new ones. Many therefore question whether both morally and commercially it was right to afford those who rarely attend matches the same say as loyal season ticket holders. Anecdotally it seems that a larger proportion of season ticket holders oppose the move but the Club chose not to publish such a breakdown of the poll results.

In 2013 West Ham announced a consultation with supporters on changing the Club crest. Leaving aside any discussion of the validity of this consultation and the selection of possible designs, the poll which followed deserves comment. Again West Ham turned to YouGov and again the Club’s views were presented with the poll, this time with a four minute video narrated by former player Tony Cottee, which had to be viewed before participants could vote. A narrow majority backed the change, which controversially incorporated ‘London’ onto the crest. How many were swayed by the Club’s video? Would the result have been different if other views or designs had also been presented with the poll?

Both polls were presented as ‘independent’. No one doubted that in YouGov they had been overseen by a respected independent organisation who had counted the votes, but some supporters expressed concern that the Club’s close involvement had compromised the polls’ independence. It was felt that West Ham’s choice of questions and presentation of one-sided marketing information may have influenced the outcome. In effect that West Ham had manipulated the polls to get the results they wanted and that YouGov had allowed this to happen. One KUMB poster referred to YouGov as ‘What result do you want Gov?’

I took up these concerns with YouGov, whose Managing Director Frank Saez had been quoted by West Ham when announcing the Olympic Stadium poll result as saying.

“The impressive response of nearly 12,000 completed surveys underlines the passion West Ham United fans feel about the historic move to the Olympic Stadium. The number of respondents is six times larger than typical survey sizes used for a robust research analysis.

“The immense turnout means the survey results provide a highly accurate reflection of the views of all core spectator groups including Season Ticket holders, Academy members and matchday attendees.”

Responding to my concerns, Mr Saez advised that the questions and responses had been discussed with West Ham and were in line with industry practices. He said that he was happy with the wording and did not agree that they were unfair or unbalanced. In response to the concern that providing marketing information with the polls which was very biased towards one point of view, could have affected the result of the poll, Mr Saez commented that YouGov cannot control this and that it is down to the client. He was however not concerned that the Club would not allow supporters to vote on the crest until they had viewed a marketing video and said that it is common for people to do this. He suggested that that I took up my concerns with the Club.

I put it to Mr Saez that some of the many polls that YouGov run could also be influenced by those commissioning them to get the results they want, with the suggestion that this is not what the public expect is happening when they see a poll published. Mr Saez expressed concern that misgivings about one survey should be used to draw conclusions about YouGov’s polls when they run a very large number each year. He said that YouGov claim to be the UK’s most accurate pollster, a claim which I would not seek to dispute.
Mr Saez made it clear that the West Ham polls were carried out according to industry guidelines and practice. I have no reason to doubt this and therefore wish to make it very clear that my concerns lie not with YouGov, but with the selection of questions and presentation of marketing information by West Ham United and the market research industry which permits such practice by the client in an ‘independent’ poll. I made several requests to Mr Saez to provide details of the relevant trade association(s) whose guidelines he was referring to, but received no response.
In August 2016 West Ham United will start playing at the Olympic Stadium. Whether the majority of fans wanted to move will never be known. It seems that the desire of the Club to ensure a positive result and a market research industry that appears to permit those commissioning polls to influence the result, have combined to undermine the truly independent poll that fans wanted.

An Evening of Coarse Golf

One evening every June or July my friend and I venture out onto a local course for our annual game of golf. We don’t have a handicap, don’t belong to a golf club and carry round a bag with a motley selection of clubs, most of which are more than thirty years old. We are part of that large group of golfers which the establishment pretend don’t exist but who hack our way along fairways up and down the country, the round considered a success if we don’t do anything too embarrassing – or if we do that not too many people notice. We are what Michael Green describe as ‘coarse golfers’ in his book, The Art of Coarse Golf, which makes highly amusing reading for those of us belonging to golf’s underclass.

So last Friday I met my friend for our annual round. To spare him from any embarrassment and me from a libel suit, it’s probably best that he remains anonymous, so let’s just call him Dave. It was however me who committed the first faux pas, the professional sending me out of his shop for entering whilst carrying a bag of clubs. At least our attire passed muster, unlike last year when my scraggiest shorts and t-shirt were deemed unacceptable and I was only allowed to play because the boss wasn’t there. I bought six of his cheapest balls, which he advised had been retrieved from lakes and would soon be back where they’d come from. How did he know?

The 1st hole passed without major incident but the 2nd provided ample evidence of our coarseness. Dave’s tee shot flew high but 45° left of the fairway, landing in trees out of bounds. Now even proper golfers play the odd poor shot but the difference is that they recover, firing the ball 200 yards towards the green. Dave on the other hand hit his next ball what seemed like 200 yards in the air but only about 30 yards forward – and once more at his favoured 45° angle. The thud of ball on wood and squawk of a couple of crows as they rose from the trees confirmed that he was once again out of bounds. Convention and good manners dictate that a golfer must not laugh at his opponent’s misfortune. Regrettably I adhered to neither. Still in order to win, a coarse golfer, lacking in his own abilities, has to rely on hoping that his opponent takes more shots than he does, even to the point of lending dodgy clubs. After many poor strokes that I like to blame on Dave’s clubs, I’ve learned to adapt my game to the odd selection in my own bag, despite possessing neither a six nor seven iron and the five iron being somewhat suspect after I bent it round a tree with the very first shot I ever used it for.

Barring several incursions into ponds and bunkers, the next few holes proceeded without undue incident, Dave even managing a par on the fifth. Despite needing ten shots on the 7th I was one hole ahead at the turn, and thanks to Dave’s excursions into the woods, six shots to the good. Remarkably, on the par three 11th we both hit the green but it was a mixed blessing. The three chaps in front assumed this was our normal golf and invited us to play through. Our attempts to decline were rebuffed so we were faced with every coarse golfer’s nightmare – an audience as we teed off. Inevitably Dave drove straight into a pond while I just cleared a ditch, the ball landing no further away than I could have thrown it. A remarkable turn of form (OK some disastrous shots from Dave, including two from bunkers that landed behind him) saw me win four holes in a row and looking good for a victory, but in course golf nothing is predicable. Before moving on however I shall take this opportunity to describe two of the most coarse golf shots it has been my pleasure to witness.

The first was played by my brother on the municipal course in Shrewsbury, where he achieved the remarkable feet of landing a ball on a railway line that was some way behind the tee. His drive was excellent in terms of power but poor on elevation, and slammed into the low concrete winter tee platform about ten yards ahead of us. From here it ricocheted at a great pace, passing just over our heads, clearing a hedge and landing on the Newport to Crewe railway line. A coarse golf shot to be proud of. The second was played at Risebridge in Romford, where to the right of the first tee is a putting green and behind that the clubhouse. It would take a shot of remarkable inaccuracy to trouble those on the putting green, but this one did. It flew at head height, requiring those practicing their putting to take immediate avoiding action, continued to the roof of the professional’s shop, where it bounced around a while, before coming to rest in a flower bed. Most golfers would hurriedly leave such a scene, but this one marched across the putting green, dropped his ball by the flower bed and hacked another shot in the vague direction of the fairway. I suppose at this point I should admit that the perpetrator of this fine coarse golf shot was my good self.

So back to the matter of last week’s round. Four holes up with six to play, the game was almost mine. A short put on the 13th would have virtually sealed it, but I missed it – and the next one. Dave won the hole and the next three. Our golf wasn’t improving although it did help our bird spotting, a pair of woodpeckers flying indignantly across the fairway, disturbed by another of my shots into the trees.

Golf is a cruel game. It never allows even the coarsest of golfers to entirely give up hope, so ensures that every round there is a shot or two that the player can be proud of. Shots that they can convince themselves are their normal game, while the other hundred or so were aberrations caused by external influences. It happened to me on the 17th. Two good shots, straight and in the air and I was putting for a birdie, a rarity that a course golfer might just achieve every three or four rounds. Clearly it wasn’t my turn today but a par took me to the last one up. I couldn’t lose!

I suspect that the designer of the 18th hole went through an unpleasant childhood experience which gave him a pathological dislike for golfers. Why else would you build a small green on an island and slope it so balls roll off into the water? Even the bridge is placed to the side, so no use to the coarse golfer who might otherwise choose to put over it. Despite having sent balls splashing into a selection of ponds and lakes around the course, we agreed that it would be unsporting to play short of the water and attempt to cross it on our second shots. Anyway there was no guarantee of the safety shot going anywhere near where intended, or of the second clearing the water. I played first, taking the trusty eight iron but with that fateful error of trying to hit it a bit harder than usual. Plop, into the water it dropped. Dave’s shot was longer but too far right and his ball too dropped into the lake. Quite ridiculously this is a par three, the designer making no allowance for penalty shots or lost balls. An under-hit wedge just cleared the water and with three puts I was down in six. Dave needed a five to draw the round but continued his fine coarse form, sending his ball over the water, right across the green and into the pond the other side and eventually taking eight.

Inspection of the scorecard illustrated our inconsistency as not one of the eighteen holes had been halved. A coarse golfer aims to beat a hundred. I’d failed by seven shots and Dave by a whopping fifteen. Our clubs have now been returned to their respective lofts where they will rest for another twelve months, but one evening next summer they will be down again as Dave and I once more seek to rediscover our younger form when scores were sometimes in the nineties but more importantly to complete a round of golf with only limited public humiliation.

An Evening in Scotland

So what to do after a meeting in Glasgow? Drive to the airport and fly home, or take a train to Pitlochry, climb to a little loch beneath the summit of Ben Vrackie, then catch the sleeper at 22.50, arriving back into London just before 8.00 next morning?

Most business people chose the former. They are probably tired after that 4am start to get to an airport, the waiting, the security checks, the cramped seats and more queues once they got to Scotland. They’ll have seen nothing of the wonderful Scottish scenery and by the time they get home will be ready for bed. What a day!

Last Friday I chose the latter. Meetings finished in Glasgow, I caught a train to Stirling, popped into the city for a bite to eat then boarded The Highland Chieftain on its long journey from Kings Cross to Inverness. As usual the train was busy, carrying a wide range of passengers on journeys long and short. An hour’s ride passing mountains, woods and rivers took us to the wonderfully situated Perthshire town of Pitlochry.

At the town’s attractive station another alighting passenger called out a loud greeting to his friend on the platform, only to be prodded by his embarrassed wife and told that he was looking at a stranger and the chap meeting them was further down the platform. Such incidents add to the variety of rail travel.

Stopping only to buy an ice cream (raspberry ripple – a long lost flavour that seems to have just been rediscovered) I followed a lane past one of our most beautifully situated golf clubs and was soon at the foot of the mountain. Negotiating a steep path through woods alongside a fast flowing stream and pausing only to bruise my leg on a hidden fence post, in less than an hour I was on the open mountain.

This is the best of Scotland; mountain air, wonderful views and great walking. Another mile or so of stony footpath took me to one of my favourite places – Loch a Choire below the summit of Ben Vrackie. It was the fourth time I’d walked here and whether sun, rain, daytime or evening, the still water nestling beneath the mountain top has a special atmosphere. I was the only person here and probably the only one left on the mountain.

Descent was faster than ascent and I was back in Pitlochry by ten. Time for a quick takeaway and wander down to the station. Dusk was falling as half a dozen passengers waited for our overnight train to London. I chatted to a gentleman from France who was here to take photos. His interest is sleeper trains and he’d travelled on them all over Europe. Sadly many are being axed but our wonderful Caledonian Sleepers seem safe with their own franchise and new stock under construction. Asleep by Perth, I woke as we approached Euston and was home by nine. Why would I want to fly?

What’s Wrong with Britain

Right then, I’ve just worked out what’s wrong with Britain.
It’s not the EU, it’s not immigrants, it’s not the Tories. It’s simple.
Too many people are just too bloody selfish.

The politicians more concerned with personal ambition than the good of the country.

The people who park where they like to save walking a few yards.

The people who live their lives with no concern for the environment and the future of our planet.

The people who say ‘charity begins at home’ (and usually ends there).

The people who smoke in front of their children.

The man from Eastern Europe who told me that he voted leave because of the migrants.

The man in the Quiet Coach last night making repeated calls on his phone who ignored my request to stop.

The two ladies on the Birmingham train yesterday who thought it was Ok to keep their bags on seats because they were old (about 60 at most).

The people who drive too fast and too aggressively just to get somewhere a few minutes quicker.

The people who kill animals for fun.

The teenager who thought it would be fun to throw a traffic cone and damage my wife’s coach in Greenwich yesterday.

The people who vote based solely on what is best for them.

The people who drop litter – and justify it because someone is paid to pick it up.

Perhaps if we all thought a bit more about other people the country wouldn’t be in this state.

EU REFERENDUM – Why I will be Voting to Remain

In this unstable world people need to work together – in harmony not conflict.
It is better to work with our neighbours and to influence policy from within, than to cast aside longstanding relationships.

A large majority of MPs, business and financial institutions and trade unions say that we should remain in the EU.
These people have more understanding of the issues and what is best for Britain than most members of the general public.
We should listen to them.

The EU have helped to improve our environment, for example cleaner beaches.
I believe that our environment will be better protected if we remain in the EU.

The EU is not perfect but it has proved successful in helping countries to work peacefully together in very many ways.
There seems to be no clear plan as to how the country would deal with a great many issues if we were to leave the EU.

It appears that the majority of people in Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland are opposed to Brexit.
A vote to leave may well lead to splitting up of the United Kingdom and would upset the current relative stability in Northern Ireland, with risk of a return to the ‘troubles’.

From my business viewpoint –

We purchase raw materials from the EU and are starting to export there.
Potential EU customers are concerned of the effect of Brexit on trade – so we are less likely to get business.
We find that trading with EU countries is much easier than non EU.
It is generally accepted that a leave vote will cause a drop in the exchange rate of about 10%. This will cost the company at least £50,000 / year (£4,000 per member of staff).
The likely negative effect on the UK economy would impact on our sales & profitability.
This summer’s pay rises will be considerably lower if the vote is to leave and our job security will be reduced.

And to respond to what seem to be the main arguments to leave –

Refugees are from outside the EU (mostly Syria, Afghanistan & Africa) and Brexit would have no effect on limiting their numbers (not that I oppose allowing reasonable numbers into the UK).
Migrants from EU countries (east & west) contribute to our society. They generally work hard, pay taxes and many sectors would struggle without them.

I see little evidence of ‘bad laws’ being dictated to us from Brussels.
Those opposed to the EU seem unable to quote such laws, (other than for example Boris’s false comments about selling bananas).

Whilst UK voters have only limited influence on EU policy through our MEPs, most of us have even less influence on the UK Government. The current Government was elected by only a third of the electorate and the votes of the 75% of us living in ‘safe constituencies’ have no impact on the outcome of elections.
If people want greater say in their laws the first step should to campaign for proportional representation (as in almost every other country), not leaving the EU.

The EU is a single market, not a single state.
I don’t believe that it intends to become a single state, or that the people of other countries would accept it, but if this was proposed the UK could opt out.
The referendum vote will be close and if the vote is to remain I don’t believe that there is even a possibility that any UK Government would be empowered to sign away our sovereignty into a single state.

In summary –

It is a huge risk to leave the EU.
I have seen nothing from the leave campaign that suggests to me that this is a risk worth taking.
I have seen the benefits of our current relationship with European countries and believe that it would be best for our country now and for our future generations, for us to continue to work closely with our closest neighbours and to remain in the EU.

Peter Caton
13th June 2016

50 Walks on the Essex Coast – Update

I’ve completed the 50 walks and been back to check many of them and take more photos. Some kind friends have checked others for me, one fortunately spotting that in writing right rather than left I was directing walkers into the North Sea! Rest assured the error has been corrected.

It has been highly enjoyable to walk the whole Essex coast once more, but this time also with the added bonus of many circular walks through countryside. I’ve seen deer, hares, seals, a slow worm and countless birds, and met many interesting people on the way. Not much has altered but the biggest and most positive change is Thurrock Thameside Nature Park, which is taking over the former Mucking landfill site. One of the walks is based around here and I’ve visited the Essex Wildlife Trust visitor centre several times, sampling its excellent cakes. Also new is the recently opened visitor centre on The Naze at Walton, a stone’s throw from the iconic tower.

The manuscript and colour photos will be sent to Matador for typesetting next week and the maps (Ordnance Survey based) are in hand with a specialist cartographer. The book is being produced in full colour so the cover price of £9.99 will represent excellent value. Publication will be in the autumn – in time for Christmas presents and some bracing winter walks on the sea walls of Essex.

50 Walks on the Essex Coast

My next book – publishing late summer: –

A walking guide describing 50 walks along the Essex coast, the longest coastline of any English county.

Having discovered the wonderful Essex coastline as he narrated his journey along its whole length, writing Essex Coast Walk, Peter Caton now describes walks covering the entire publicly accessible coast, helping others to follow in his footsteps.

Detailed route instructions are provided, along with high quality maps, while background information and colour photos add background and interest.

Following rivers, creeks and open sea, on paths, tracks and promenades, often with circuits completed across countryside, the walking and views are varied. There is much history and wildlife to be seen as the walker discovers picturesque villages, nature reserves and little-known gems along the coast.

£9.99 – ISBN 9781785892578

Brand New Website

This website is currently being redesigned and I apologise that the full content has not yet been loaded. It will soon be completed and occasional blogs posted. The first will give news of my next book, a walking guide, 50 Walks on the Essex Coast.