"Why did the Tottenham riots happen?" Let's all guess

Discussion of the riots is dominated by guesswork, and coloured by the same old agendas.

There's been a riot, I understand. A riot or two. Some local shop-smashing and this and that. And for some dripping wet liberal idiocy reasons -- call me a fool for ever trying to understand things, rather than just shout about them at the top of my voice -- I want to try and work out why it happened. I am just a person, sitting in a not uncomfortable chair, many miles from the sound of breaking glass and the smell of burning car. I know nothing of these things, having grown up in (relatively) leafy suburbia. But I'd like to know.

Is it wrong to want to understand? I can't see rioters from my window, but I should like to get some idea of why this is happening. I can guess. We can all make guesses. But I feel sufficiently distant from these events, in so many ways, that I don't think my guess could be anywhere close to the truth. Yet all I seem to read, and see, and hear, is guesswork. They did it because of this. They did it because of that. They did it because of this, and that. I wonder how many of the guesses are close, and how many are just long-range salvoes to drive the same old agendas.

I'm not going to make the mistake of having an opinion about these things. Having an opinion about these things invariably leads to arguments. If you're on the political left, as I am (although I wonder sometimes), you always run the risk of getting into trouble with others on the left if you try and have an opinion about these things. Particularly if you're not the right kind of person to have an opinion.

You're not allowed to have an opinion if you are one of the educated liberal metropolitan elite, for example. And even though I live on a council estate and am currently on Job Seekers Allowance, I am still very much doomed to be seen as a horrible elitist who patronises the working class, whom I don't understand, whose struggles I shall forever be detached from, in my lofty elitist perch. How dare I try and think about things? And so I try to look as embarrassed as possible when discussing these matters.

If I were on the political right, of course, I have a feeling it'd be absolutely acceptable for me to have a bash at trying to guess these things out. I could quite chirpily make a hundred and a half assumptions, despite not knowing anything about it, and no-one would bat an eyelid. Look at those people, I could say, with a nudge-nudge here and a wink-wink there about their ethnicity, look at those criminals, being criminal because they're criminals. I could point and laugh and say "silly old leftists trying to defend them", cleverly pretending that "try to work out why something is happening, while not condoning it" is exactly the same as "defending". I could even staple on a hasty "Well of course I was brought up in a plastic bag underneath Blackfriars Bridge but I never robbed a pair of trainers from Foot Locker, so I'm just better than them", and it'd be game, set and match.

For me, though, it's the usual hand-wringing struggle. I have no idea why people are rioting. I couldn't possibly tell you, and a great deal of the coverage I'm reading enlightens me so little that I'm often left with more questions than answers. Perhaps the answer is that no-one knows. Perhaps there are some people who know, but we don't hear enough from them to find out for ourselves. It might be something to do with the economy, or something to do with it being August and relatively warm outdoors, or something to do with a feeling of disconnect between young people and their government, or just criminality for criminality's sake -- or it might be none of these things. I can certainly find people telling me what I might want to hear, depending on what that might be.

But as someone who actually wants to be informed, who really wants to know, I am left as ignorant as ever.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Steve Garry
Show Hide image

The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

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 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism