Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers

1. After 1929 a generation leapt leftward. Not today. Socialism has been buried (Guardian)

Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes that Europe has witnessed a remarkable shift to the right since the WWII. The Wall Street crash drove a whole generation leftward but the latest financial crisis has only strengthened the right.

2. How Amnesty chose the wrong poster-boy (Times)

David Aaronovitch argues that Amnesty International's partnership with the former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg and the Muslim group Cageprisoners was a huge misjudgement.

3. Two cheers for the new crying game (Independent)

We should welcome emotional displays such as Alastair Campbell's, writes Steve Richards. They invite voters to consider the human side of politics and the nerve-racking judgements leaders must make.

4. It is too soon for Cameron's Tories to panic (Financial Times)

David Cameron has little to fear from Labour at the election, writes Philip Stephens. The Tories are likely to perform well in the marginals and win a comfortable majority. Cameron's biggest enemy is the incompetence of some of those running his campaign.

5. Tory cuts pave the way for a return to Eighties dole queues (Guardian)

Elsewhere, Polly Toynbee warns that Conservative plans to axe long-term support for the jobless suggest they still think unemployment is a price worth paying.

6. Labour's Puritans should let us live our lives (Financial Times)

Andy Burnham's latest anti-smoking proposals embody the illiberal streak in New Labour, writes Richard Reeves. With its hands full running the economy, the government should abandon its zeal for interfering in personal behaviour.

7. Ukraine is at last throwing off the shackles of the cold war (Independent)

Mary Dejevsky welcomes the way the Ukrainian election was free of outside meddling. Finally, everyone is getting used to the idea of an independent nation.

8. They're all ignoring political climate change (Times)

Rachel Sylvester writes that Labour and the Tories speak the langugage of change, but seem unable to face what that means. David Cameron promises transparency, but not in the case of Lord Ashcroft, and Gordon Brown has failed to support major parliamentary reform.

9. General Election 2010: Trust is in tatters -- and the best we can hope for is transparency (Daily Telegraph)

Mary Riddell says that Cameron's priority appears to be attacking Brown, not constitutional reform. His mockery of Brown's conversion to electoral reform masks the fact that the status quo, which he defends, is worse.

10. A bully and liar who played the system (Times)

Andy Hayman argues that the guilty verdict against Ali Dizaei shows that the police can be less frightened now about dealing with racially sensitive issues.

 

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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