What's black and white and mocked all over? Pardew in 2010. Photo: Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty Images
Show Hide image

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

GETTY
Show Hide image

Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.