Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Guardian's Seumas Milne writes that Gordon Brown's belated assault on neoliberalism may have come too late to save his premiership:

If Labour goes down to defeat next year, it will not be the result of the slow, cautious social democratic moves the government has finally taken in the aftermath of the crisis. It will be because it failed to take so many of them in the previous 11 years - preferring instead the Faustian pact New Labour made with the Murdochs of the financial and corporate ascendancy.

In the Times, Tristram Hunt says that the Supreme Court is not an American import but an original English ideal:

[I]t marks the welcome return of an idea that first emerged in Britain in the mid-18th century: the separation of powers. And it was the Americans who stole the idea from us, thanks to the writings of an inquisitive French philosopher ... what really impressed Montesquieu was English freedom. In contrast to the fearful royal absolutism of Louis XV's France, the English enjoyed the right to worship, trade and speak their minds. And this was the direct product, Montesquieu thought, of the English constitution's separation of powers.

In the American Prospect, Tim Fernholz says that the Democrats won't suffer a repeat of their disastrous 1994 midterm election results:

[C]ongressional Republicans are still less popular than Democrats and have yet to offer any kind of platform for another shot at running the show. Worse, they are leaderless: By the end of 1993, Republican Whip Newt Gingrich and his team had already brought ethics charges against a speaker of the House that lead to his resignation, and widely publicized the House banking scandal. Today, the Republican Party remains divided and lacks the ability to attract centrist voters, while the Democrats continue to be a relatively unified majority party, with the capacity to stay that way.

In the Independent, Mark Donne calls on David Miliband to halt secretive military aid to Colombia:

The Labour government has long supported the Uribe administration, both diplomatically and militarily, and personal ties are strong. Colombia's former defence minister Juan Manuel Santos - who resigned in May and whose arrest has been ordered by an Ecuadorian court after air strikes on Ecuador - co-authored a book called The Third Way For Colombia with one Tony Blair. Under Santos'swatch, the killings of civilians and trade unionists by the security forces increased.

In the Times, Bill Emmott argues that if the Irish approve the Lisbon Treaty the Conservatives must not seek to renegotiate it:

[T}o provoke a row over a boring institutional treaty, which virtually everyone else has already agreed to, would be folly, grand scale. Indeed, if Messrs Cameron and Hague do hang on to Lisbon as one of their battles, it would raise serious doubts about their fitness for government.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Show Hide image

All the Premiership teams are competing to see who’s got the biggest stadium

It’s not just a financial, but a macho thing – the big clubs want to show off that they have a whopper.

Here in NW5, where we live noisily and fashionably, we are roughly equidistant from Arsenal and Spurs. We bought the house in 1963 for £5,000, which I mention constantly, to make everyone in the street pig sick. Back in 1963, we lived quietly and unfashionably; in fact, we could easily have been living in Loughton, Essex. Now it’s all changed. As have White Hart Lane and Highbury.

Both grounds are a few metres further away from us than they once were, or they will be when White Hart Lane is finished. The new stadium is a few metres to the north, while the Emirates is a few metres to the east.

Why am I saying metres? Like all football fans, I say a near-miss on goal was inches wide, a slow striker is a yard off his pace, and a ball player can turn on a sixpence. That’s more like it.

White Hart Lane, when finished, will hold 61,000 – a thousand more than the Emirates, har har. Meanwhile, Man City is still expanding, and will also hold about 60,000 by the time Pep Guardiola is into his stride. Chelsea will be next, when they get themselves sorted. So will Liverpool.

Man United’s Old Trafford can now hold over 75,000. Fair makes you proud to be alive at this time and enjoying the wonders of the Prem.

Then, of course, we have the New Wembley, architecturally wonderful, striking and stunning, a beacon of beauty for miles around. As they all are, these brave new stadiums. (No one says “stadia” in real life.)

The old stadiums, built between the wars, many of them by the Scottish architect Archibald Leitch (1865-1939), were also seen as wonders of the time, and all of them held far more than their modern counterparts. The record crowd at White Hart Lane was in 1938, when 75,038 came to see Spurs play Sunderland. Arsenal’s record at Highbury was also against Sunderland – in 1935, with 73,295. Wembley, which today can hold 90,000, had an official figure of 126,000 for the first Cup Final in 1923, but the true figure was at least 150,000, because so many broke in.

Back in 1901, when the Cup Final was held at Crystal Palace between Spurs and Sheffield United, there was a crowd of 110,820. Looking at old photos of the Crystal Palace finals, a lot of the ground seems to have been a grassy mound. Hard to believe fans could see.

Between the wars, thanks to Leitch, big clubs did have proper covered stands. Most fans stood on huge open concrete terraces, which remained till the 1990s. There were metal barriers, which were supposed to hold back sudden surges, but rarely did, so if you were caught in a surge, you were swept away or you fell over. Kids were hoisted over the adults’ heads and plonked at the front.

Getting refreshments was almost impossible, unless you caught the eye of a peanut seller who’d lob you a paper bag of Percy Dalton’s. Getting out for a pee was just as hard. You often came home with the back of your trousers soaked.

I used to be an expert on crowds as a lad. Rubbish on identifying a Spitfire from a Hurricane, but shit hot on match gates at Hampden Park and Ibrox. Answer: well over 100,000. Today’s new stadiums will never hold as many, but will cost trillions more. The money is coming from the £8bn that the Prem is getting from TV for three years.

You’d imagine that, with all this money flooding in, the clubs would be kinder to their fans, but no, they’re lashing out, and not just on new stadiums, but players and wages, directors and agents. Hence, so they say, they are having to put up ticket prices, causing protest campaigns at Arsenal and Liverpool. Arsène at Arsenal has admitted that he couldn’t afford to buy while the Emirates was being built. Pochettino is saying much the same at Spurs.

It’s not just a financial, but a macho thing – the big clubs want to show off that they have a whopper. In the end, only rich fans will be able to attend these supergrounds. Chelsea plans to have a private swimming pool under each new box, plus a wine cellar. Just like our street, really . . . 

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 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle