A football match in the executive box: pop stars, DJs and former England physios

Disgusting, shouldn’t be allowed, ruining football as we know and love it. So naturally, when invited to be a guest in an executive box, I said brilliant, count me in.

One of the things that pisses off fans is all these private boxes. Jealousy, of course, why can’t we have all that comfort, but also fury that for ten minutes after half-time all their seats are empty.

At the Emirates, you look around that magnificent stadium and there’s a ring of emptiness, as if some idle cleaner has chucked the Domestos around the middle of the bowl only, leaving life struggling on elsewhere.

Disgusting, shouldn’t be allowed, ruining football as we know and love it. So naturally, when invited to be a guest in an executive box, I said brilliant, count me in.

It was Arsenal-Borussia Dortmund and I was there an hour early – to stuff my face with Cumberland sausage and mash, washed down with fine wines. (It said Cumberland sausage on the menu but they were just bangers. I do know my Cumberland sausage and it should be long and in a coil.)

There were about 15 people in this private dining room, like a hotel suite, with uniformed staff. I had been invited by a friend, Frank Barrett, a friend of the person who has the box.

When I was last in an Arsenal box, it was Arab-owned, but there were no Arabs, just chauffeurs, gardeners, restaurant managers, people employed by the Arabs, or being treated by them, not all of them with much of an interest in football. That could be one reason why they’re so slow to take their seats.

This time they all seemed keen and knowledgeable. One of them was Gary Lewin, the England physio, who for 22 years was the physio at Arsenal. I went across and asked him about Roy Hodgson. Is it true he can speak four foreign languages, something I’ve oft scoffed at? At the last England game, Gary heard Roy converse fluently in German with a German coach and then turn and speak Italian to an Italian. So there, that was me in my place.

I didn’t recognise the other well-known person, a tall, striking blonde who turned out to be Sarah Harding of Girls Aloud. I sat down beside her and her boyfriend – at least, a bloke who said he was a DJ and record producer originally from Stockport – and said come on then, what’s Ashley really like? She must have met Ashley Cole when he was married to Cheryl, also in Girls Aloud. Do keep up.

Both of them certainly did know Ashley – but I had to cover my ears when they started. Having been taken once, along with Wayne Rooney, to the high court by David Moyes, I don’t want to repeat anything that might get me in bad bother.

I went out to take my seat before the whistle blew carrying a final glass and another sausage but was sent back by a jobsworth. No plates or glasses are allowed in the seats outside. So, a second reason for empty seats. People are still scoffing.

I drank up quickly and rushed outside again – and found myself sitting beside Gary. A bit inhibiting. How can I come out with my banal, half-witted observations when I’m sitting beside someone who does know about football? Didn’t stop me, of course. When I said Arsenal seemed lethargic, no bite, do they think they’re still playing Norwich, Gary nodded politely, then turned to look the other way. When he observed that Arsenal was missing Flamini, a proper holding player to counter Dortmund’s quick attacks, I said spot on, Gary, I was just thinking that myself. And also Theo, Gary added. Exactly, I replied, thinking, now who’s Theo, their new physio?

I asked him if Arsène would give them a bollocking at halftime and he said no, that was not his style. In all his years working with him, he could remember Arsène losing his temper twice. I did ask for details, but it was half-time and I was rushing for the lavatory.

There was just one WC in our private dining room – so that could be another reason for the delays with taking seats. It was locked. Eventually the waitress knocked at the door and asked whoever was inside if they were OK, and out came the pop star, saying she’d been sick and had been ill all day. Hope it wasn’t the Cumberland sausages – which weren’t . . .

When lucky enough to be watching football from a more expensive vantage point, it pays to be humble. Image: Getty

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 30 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Should you bother to vote?

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

We know what Donald Trump's presidency will look like - and it's terrifying

The direction of America's 45th president plans to take is all too clear.

Welcome to what we may one day describe as the last day of the long 20th century.

“The Trump Era: The Decline of the Great Republic” is our cover story. “Now the world holds its breath” is the Mirror’s splash, “Protesters mass ahead of Trump's presidency” is the Times’, while the Metro opts to look back at America’s departing 44th President: “Farewell Mr President” sighs their frontpage.

Of today’s frontpages, i best captures the scale of what’s about to happen: “The day the world changes”. And today’s FT demonstrates part of that change: “Mnuchin backs 'long-term' strong dollar after mixed Trump signals”. The President-Elect (and sadly that’s the last time I’ll be able to refer to Trump in that way) had suggested that the dollar was overvalued, statements that his nominee for Treasury Secretary has rowed back on.

Here’s what we know about Donald Trump so far: that his major appointments split into five groups: protectionists, white nationalists, conservative ideologues,  his own family members, and James Mattis, upon whom all hope that this presidency won’t end in global catastrophe now rests.  Trump has done nothing at all to reassure anyone that he won’t use the presidency to enrich himself on a global scale. His relationship with the truth remains just as thin as it ever was.

Far from “not knowing what Trump’s presidency will look like”, we have a pretty good idea: at home, a drive to shrink the state, and abroad, a retreat from pro-Europeanism and a stridently anti-China position, on trade for certain and very possibly on Taiwan as well.

We are ending the era of the United States as a rational actor and guarantor of a degree of global stability, and one in which the world’s largest hegemon behaves as an irrational actor and guarantees global instability.

The comparison with Brexit perhaps blinds many people to the scale of the change that Trump represents. The very worst thing that could happen after Brexit is that we become poorer.  The downside of Trump could be that we look back on 1989 to 2017 as the very short 21st century.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.