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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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.