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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What David Hockney has to tell us about football

Why the sudden glut of blond footballers? A conversation I had with the artist back in 1966 gave me a clue. . .

In 1966, I went to interview David Hockney at a rather run-down flat in Bayswater, central London. He was 28 and had just won a gold medal at the Royal College of Art.

In his lavatory, I noticed a cut-out photograph from a newspaper of Denis Law scoring a goal. I asked if he was a football fan. He said no, he just liked Denis Law’s thighs.

The sub-editors cut that remark out of the story, to save any gossip or legal problems. In 1966 homosexual activity could still be an offence.

Hockney and a friend had recently been in the United States and had been watching an advert on TV that said “Blondes have more fun”. At two o’clock in the morning, slightly drunk, they both went out, bought some hair dye and became blond. Hockney decided to remain blond from then on, though he has naturally dark hair.

Is it true that blonds have more fun? Lionel Messi presumably thinks so, otherwise why has he greeted this brand-new season with that weird blond hair? We look at his face, his figure, his posture and we know it’s him – then we blink, thinking what the heck, does he realise some joker has been pouring stuff on his head?

He has always been such a staid, old-fashioned-looking lad, never messing around with his hair till now. Neymar, beside him, has gone even blonder, but somehow we expect it of him. He had foony hair even before he left Brazil.

Over here, blonds are popping up all over the shop. Most teams now have a born-again blondie. It must take a fortune for Marouane Fellaini of Man United to brighten up his hair, as he has so much. But it’s already fading. Cheapskate.

Mesut Özil of Arsenal held back, not going the full head, just bits of it, which I suspect is a clue to his wavering, hesitant personality. His colleague Aaron Ramsey has almost the full blond monty. Paul Pogba of Man United has a sort of blond streak, more like a marker pen than a makeover. His colleague Phil Jones has appeared blond, but he seems to have disappeared from the team sheet. Samir Nasri of Man City went startlingly blond, but is on loan to Seville, so we’re not able to enjoy his locks. And Didier Ndong of Sunderland is a striking blond, thanks to gallons of bleach.

Remember the Romanians in the 1998 World Cup? They suddenly appeared blond, every one of them. God, that was brilliant. One of my all-time best World Cup moments, and I was at Wembley in 1966.

So, why do they do it? Well, Hockney was right, in a sense. Not to have more fun – meaning more sex – because top footballers are more than well supplied, but because their normal working lives are on the whole devoid of fun.

They can’t stuff their faces with fast food, drink themselves stupid, stay up all night, take a few silly pills – which is what many of our healthy 25-year-old lads consider a reasonably fun evening. Nor can they spend all their millions on fun hols, such as skiing in the winter, a safari in the spring, or hang-gliding at the weekend. Prem players have to be so boringly sensible these days, or their foreign managers will be screaming at them in their funny foreign accents.

While not on the pitch, or training, which takes up only a few hours a day, the boredom is appalling, endlessly on planes or coaches or in some hotel that could be anywhere.

The only bright spot in the long days is to look in the mirror and think: “Hmm, I wonder what highlights would look like? I’ve done the beard and the tattoos. Now let’s go for blond. Wow, gorgeous.”

They influence each other, being simple souls, so when one dyes his hair, depending on where he is in the macho pecking order, others follow. They put in the day by looking at themselves. Harmless fun. Bless ’em.

But I expect all the faux blonds to have gone by Christmas. Along with Mourinho. I said that to myself the moment he arrived in Manchester, smirking away. Pep will see him off. OK then, let’s say Easter at the latest . . . 

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 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times