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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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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