The Fan: Why I'd rather interview Silvia Neid than Arsène Wenger

Wenger is so miserable, he's beginning to make W H Auden look positively baby-faced. The manager of the German women’s team seems like she has a lot more to say.

Look out for Roy Hodgson pulling up his trousers during the England game against the mighty men of Montenegro this coming Friday (11 October). I think I know the reason.
 
He’s not fat but at his age, 66, he has acquired a little beer belly. Not seen it –we use separate bathrooms – but I assume he has. You have to take some things on trust, such as the oft-repeated line that he speaks five languages.
 
Not heard any of them but I presume this is because in his long-legged career he has managed clubs in Sweden, Italy, Denmark and Switzerland, as well as England. Obviously, he must have picked up the local languages, as footballers do, being so awfully adaptable.
 
I base the theory about his belly on my own dear tum, which just seems to gave arrived with age and lodged itself there. While standing on the touchline, Roy’s belt slowly slips below his belly line, which of course is more comfy, but then he suddenly realises, worries that his shirt will pop out – perhaps even his belly – so he has to howk it up. This is an action that usually coincides with something frustrating happening on the pitch. Do look out for it.
 
All managers look worried, if not terrified but then we all look pretty miserable in repose, when caught unguarded, not having put on our face to the world. Without doubt, Wenger is the most miserable-looking manager of them all. Those lines, those frowns. He is beginning to make W H Auden look positively baby-faced. Remember him?
 
Auden was the first famous person I ever used a tape recorder to interview. In the Sixties, I was sent to see him at a house in St John’s Wood where he was staying with Stephen Spender. I had a sealed envelope to hand over to Auden, given to me by Leonard Russell, the literary editor of the Sunday Times (who was married to Dilys Powell, the paper’s film critic). I looked in it, of course, and inside there were 30 crisp £1 notes. Once Auden opened the envelope and stuffed it in his pocket, he lost all interest in me or the interview.
 
Meanwhile I was fussing about with the tape recorder, which I had never used before – an early Grundig, about the size of a Mini- Minor. The interview was rubbish and never appeared. I blamed it on the tape recorder and never used one again, which was silly. Oh, if only I had used one during those 18 months I spent with the Beatles, it would have been gold dust.
 
I bet interviewing miserable old Arsène would be just as unproductive as Auden, no fun at all.
 
The manager I would really like to interview is Silvia Neid, manager of the German women’s team. She is gorgeous, sorry, I mean a stunning football manager, and has won everything possible, including the World Cup. When the German women are playing, I can’t take my eyes off her, she is so cool, clipped, controlled, cempt . . . sorry, I mean kempt – getting lost with all these Cs. She has this sideways look, the slightest hint of a smile, though it might be a sneer or a snarl kept under leash. She could be Kate Moss’s more interesting big sister.
 
There is another woman on the football benches these days who I am fascinated by, very different from the immaculate, highly groomed Silvia. It’s the smallish, darkhaired, slender young woman who comes on in a tracksuit when a Chelsea player is injured. She does so quietly, without any fuss, so you don’t realise at first she is there at all, or that she’s a woman.
 
There are now one or two women chief executives of football clubs but I don’t I think I had ever seen a woman physio, which is what I took her to be, coming on to the pitch to administer to male footballers, tending to their flesh. I imagined all the dressing-room banter she must have to put up with.
 
Now I look her up on the Chelsea website, I see she is the first-team doctor – Eva Carneiro. She was born in Gibraltar of British-Spanish parents, trained as a doctor at Nottingham University, and has worked with Olympic athletes and women footballers.
 
Like Silvia, Eva strikes you as an utter professional. Who would never have a beer belly or fuss about piddling things like her belt slipping . . . 
Silvia Neid, manager of the German women's team. 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 07 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The last days of Nelson Mandela

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How Tony Blair's disingenuous line on Iraq eroded our faith in politicians

Not the Chilcot Report by Peter Oborne reveals how Blair exagerrated evidence from the intelligence services to parliament – and the public.

In this incisive book, Peter Oborne calls the invasion of Iraq “the defining calamity of the post-Cold War era” and I am inclined to agree. Not long after the March 2003 attack, I interviewed Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister and UN ambassador for Iraq. He told me that he had visited President George W Bush in Washington a few weeks before the invasion and begged him not to go ahead with it. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein would, Pachachi warned, lead inevitably to civil war between Iraq’s two main religious groupings, the Sunnis and the Shias. Bush was shocked. According to Pachachi, he had no idea that any such division among Muslims existed.

Granted, Bush was an ignoramus – but you would have thought that someone might have explained this crucial fact to him. Pachachi turned out to be right. Iraq has fallen into a disastrous religious civil war as a direct result of the invasion and Isis, a more extreme force even than al-Qaeda, has come to the fore. Nearly 5,000 coalition soldiers died; many hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, perhaps a million, have lost their lives; and the man who led the whole terrible business didn’t know that the danger even existed.

Pachachi, like many politicians across the Middle East, found this puzzling. The US had never understood the Middle East, he said, but the British did; so why hadn’t Tony Blair warned the Americans what was going to happen? We know the answer to that: although Blair was far cleverer than Bush and had better advisers, his approach was always a subservient one. Like the entire British establishment, he believed that Britain’s influence in the world depended on sticking close to the US and he was prepared to be led around on a leash because he knew that this was the only relationship Bush’s people understood or wanted from him.

To “stand shoulder to shoulder” with Bush – at least, to stand closer behind him, head bowed, than any other national leader – Blair had to persuade the British people that Saddam posed a threat to them. Oborne, in fine forensic form, demolishes (his word) the notion that Blair was simply repeating what the intelligence services had told him about Saddam’s weapons and capability; he shows that Blair exaggerated and misrepresented the intelligence he was given.

Lord Butler, the former cabinet secretary who had investigated the government’s pre-invasion use of intelligence, said the same thing in a speech in the House of Lords in 2007. He described Blair’s approach as “disingenuous”: mandarin-speak for dishonest. Oborne quotes Butler at length:

 

The United Kingdom intelligence community told him [Blair] on 23 August 2002 that, “We . . . know little about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons work since late 1988.” The prime minister did not tell us that. Indeed, he told parliament only just over a month later that the picture painted by our intelligence services was “extensive, detailed and authoritative”.

 

Oborne’s central point is that this dishonesty has done serious damage to the fundamental trust that the British people used to have in their rulers. There are all sorts of reasons why people have lost faith in politicians but it was the charismatic Blair – along with his head of communications, Alastair Campbell – who let us down the most.

Campbell is a former journalist who, even when he was the political editor of the Daily Mirror, seemed far more concerned with pushing a party line than with trying to report things truthfully. In May 2003, the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan accused him of “sexing up” the dossier on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Campbell was irate. In July, Dr David Kelly, the Ministry of Defence weapons expert who had briefed Gilligan, committed suicide. If, indeed, it was suicide – once you start losing faith in the ­official version of things, there is no end to it. And that is Oborne’s point.

Kelly’s death was followed by the scandalous Hutton inquiry, which managed to deflect attention from the questionable nature of the dossier to the way in which Gilligan had reported on it. However, although Kelly wasn’t a sufficiently senior source for Gilligan to base his report on, there is no doubt that Gilligan was essentially right: the intelligence dossier had been grossly hyped up. Campbell’s frenzied efforts to protect himself and Blair did huge damage to the BBC, the judiciary, the intelligence and security agencies and public trust in government.

Oborne’s excellent book is clear-headed and furious in its condemnation of Blair. But what about the Chilcot report, when it appears on 6 July? The ludicrous delay in publishing it has given people the expectation that it, too, will be a whitewash. Yet we are starting to get leaks that it won’t be – that it will be just as savage as Oborne would like. That is the only way we can start to drain the poison that has built up in our national life since Blair took the calamitous decision to follow the US into invading a country that its president knew zip about.

John Simpson (@JohnSimpsonNews) is the world affairs editor of the BBC

Not the Chilcot Report by Peter Oborne is published by Head of Zeus (208pp, £10)

John Simpson is World Affairs Editor of BBC News, having worked for the corporation since the beginning of his career in 1970. He has reported from more than 120 countries, including 30 war zones, and interviewed many world leaders.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad