The Fan: putting the clap-monitor into action at White Hart Lane

From Thierry Henry to Christian Eriksen, It is fascinating to note which names the fans cheers loudest for.

I was at White Hart Lane, waiting for the Spurs v Everton game, wondering whether to eat my sarnies now or at half-time. I hate 1.30pm kick-offs. They ruin the shape of the day. When football began, kick-offs were at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. So sensible. A 1.30pm start means you have to take some sort of lunch. I’m not going to starve, am I, or buy stuff – have you seen the rubbish on offer and the prices? So I decided to start munching at 1.20pm – pausing when they read out the teams.

I do love this pre-match ritual. It happens at all games, everywhere. I record on my clap-monitor which players get the loudest cheers from the home crowd. Away crowds don’t count: they are in the minority and madly cheer every name in their team, just to prove they are there. A home crowd is fickle. Their heroes change as the season progresses; they take against players or give ironic cheers.

At Arsenal, for a while, the overexcited announcer used to read out only the first names. “THIERRY!” he would yell and the whole crowd would go manic and scream, “HENRY!!!”

But when he yelled, “EMMANUEL!” I was never sure which one he meant. Adebayor always got a good cheer, at least in his early days, whereas Eboué, whose first name was also Emmanuel, was never popular.

There has always been a king of White Hart Lane, the player whom we cheered as soon as he was announced. I loved Jimmy Greaves, smiling at his name, knowing he would do bugger all, stand around the penalty box, then poach us a winning goal. Dave Mackay – I felt physically reassured when he was on the team sheet. If Blanchflower was playing, he would bring intelligence.

Hoddle was my all-time Totting-ham love heart. I would arrive early just to see him tie his bootlaces. I loved Waddle and, of course, Gazza, even though I would worry he would do something really stupid. Ginola also made me smile, standing hands on hips, having totally missed the ball, then wildly waving his arms, blaming his teammates.

I loved Modric. So slight, so ethereal, got kicked to death yet always got up and got on with it. Bale became the king of WHL. We all felt better if he was playing, even if he did nothing until the last quarter, then won us the game.

Sitting there, munching tuna sandwiches, it suddenly struck me that in 50 years of going to Spurs, this was the first time that I didn’t have a hero – someone who makes my heart flutter when I hear his name. They are all middling journeymen, no real cloggers or disasters – like some we have had in the past, who made me put a finger in my ear to blot out their names – nor is there one touched remotely by genius.

So I listened carefully, to see what the Spurs crowd thought. Nobody got much of a cheer, reflecting the present mood. Or it could be a reflection of today’s Premiership crowds generally, compared with those of 50 years ago: the affluent prawn sandwich brigade is now the majority,which explains why at Old Trafford and the Emirates you can often hear a prawn drop.

I did record the decibels, using my own code, and to my surprise the one who got slightly more cheers than the rest was Christian Eriksen. He has talent but I was sceptical before he arrived, suspecting every half-decent club had turned him down. I turned to my companions and asked if they currently had a fave. Katherine – whom I suspect is still in love with Darren Anderton, the player who used to push back his floppy hair when he took a corner – immediately said Dembélé. Derek named Lloris, the goalie, and Adebayor.

Spurs did win 1-0 but Eriksen was useless and got dragged off after 58 minutes. I came away depressed, realising that I now find today’s Spurs depressing. Not like me.

(News flash: three days later, I was dancing round the room. Spurs had stuffed Newcastle 4-0 away. Football, eh. Fans, eh …)
 

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 19 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The Space Issue

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.