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?

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Sadiq Khan to be elected mayor of London

The MP for Tooting will reclaim City Hall for Labour after eight years.

Sadiq Khan is to be elected mayor of London. Though results are still coming through, it is now mathematically impossible for anyone else to win. The Tooting MP has won City Hall back for Labour after eight years of Conservative rule.

At the time of writing, Khan is beating the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith, at 45.5 per cent to 33.9 per cent, in what could be described as a landslide victory. The Green candidate Sian Berry is third with 6 per cent of the vote, followed by the Lib Dems (4.4 per cent) and Ukip (3.5 per cent). Turnout has been higher than expected, at 44.8 per cent – the highest turnout in a London mayoral election since Boris Johnson won in 2008, when it was 45 per cent (in 2012, it was 38 per cent).

The first MP of Islamic faith ever elected in London, Khan was also the first Asian and Muslim to attend cabinet meetings, after being appointed transport minister in Gordon Brown’s government in 2009. He has represented Tooting since 2005. There will be a by-election in the constituency as Khan stands down as MP.

Khan’s thumping victory is a boost for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership, after a night of disappointing local election results, and coming third in Holyrood. At the time of writing, Labour has kept the same share of seats in the London Assembly.

The result is a disaster for Goldsmith, whose campaign came under constant criticism for its scare tactics regarding Khan as a Muslim of Pakistani heritage. The Conservatives accused Khan of “pandering to extremists”.

Andrew Boff, the Conservative group leader on the Greater London assembly, called the campaign’s attempts to link Khan to Islamic extremism “outrageous” , and the outgoing Tory deputy mayor of London, Roger Evans, said it was a “foolish” campaign, which could “leave a negative legacy” for the Conservatives in London.

The result will come as a relief to pollsters, however, who were predicting at least a 12-point lead for Khan.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.