What's black and white and mocked all over? Pardew in 2010. Photo: Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty Images
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There's more than one Alan Pardew: "Background" is a burden in the beautiful game

Football, where the dirty cockney and the whippet handler live on.

I used to think that others were prejudiced against me because of my background. I got it into my head that the reason I wasn’t being promoted on the Sunday Times, doomed for ever to be the boy assistant on the Atticus column, was that I was northern and provincial and hadn’t gone to a public school or Oxbridge.

This was back in the Sixties. For about four years, working on the column, I had to write really boring pieces about who would be the next master of Balliol, our ambassador in Washington, or the bishop of London, as if I cared. I wanted to interview footballers, Merseyside pop singers, gritty northern novelists, working-class cockney photographers.

I used to lie awake and think: if only I’d gone to Eton – like Ian Fleming, who used to be Atticus – or Cambridge, like Nick Tomalin, who’d been president of the Union and was the current Atticus, and my boss. I’d be much more valued, loved and admired. Perhaps I should take elocution lessons.

A few months ago when the Newcastle fans were being beastly to Alan Pardew – more than beastly, they were bestial – I wondered if he was lying awake at night and thinking: is it ’cos I is cockney?

He was born in Wimbledon (so that makes him something other than cockney) and his career as a player was almost totally London-based, with Palace and Charlton, then as a manager at West Ham, Charlton and Southampton, before, to everyone’s surprise, he fetched up at Newcastle. In the eyes of the average northern football fan, who is known for being a splendid, fair-minded chap, he was and always will be seen as a dirty cockney bastard. If Newcastle had won the League he might have been forgiven and his awful southern background overlooked, but even when he pulled them round, got them on a winning streak, he was still booed – just for being Pardew.

What about Big Sam? Is he lying awake in his Big Bed thinking: what have I done wrong, why are they still against me, is it ’cos I is northern? In the eyes of all southern fans, who are known for their tolerance and niceness, Sam will for ever be a typical northerner, booting the ball upfield when he played for Bolton, Sunderland and Preston, doing much the same when he went on to manage Preston, Blackpool, Bolton and Blackburn. Eating all the pies, keeping whippets, ee-by-gumming. We don’t want his sort, so many West Ham fans thought, when he got appointed.

He’s done a great job at West Ham, overachieving if anything, though I can’t see them making the top six. And yet he is still being booed by West Ham fans, who also take it out on the co-owners for appointing him. They just don’t like Big Sam. As the Geordies despised Pardew.

Big Sam, in his earlier career, when he was always being overlooked for bigger, smarter clubs, used to say that if he’d been called Alardicce, and not Allardyce, he’d have done much better. In the Prem at present, none of the top seven managers is English – in order, they are Portuguese, Chilean, French, two Dutch, Northern Irish, Argentinian. In fact, Sam, born in Dudley, is our most successful English manager.

In the middle of the night these days, he has probably forgotten about his longing to be an Italian. Being born within the sound of Bow Bells, that would be enough. I am sure he thinks he’s a good manager, doing a great job in difficult circumstances as Pardew did. What else can it be but blind prejudice against him?

Pardew won in the end, in the sense that he wasn’t sacked. He chose to move to Palace, so the fans didn’t have the satisfaction of humiliating him, but it was clear that they were the reason he left. They’d made his life a misery.

I nearly left the Sunday Times, thinking that’s it, they don’t like me here; and then something happened outside my control. The Sixties didn’t begin, in fact, until 1964 – that was the year it changed. Suddenly gritty northern writers, Merseyside pop singers, footballers and cockney snappers became the flavour of the times. I got given the job. Oh bliss...

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 27 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Russia vs the west

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.