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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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

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