Sky Sports Premier League coverage. Photo: Ben Radford - Sky Sports/Getty Images
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I never thought it was possible to have too much football

Eleven hours of the beautiful game on one day: is it enough?

Can you be too thin, too rich, too popular, too old, too handsome, too prolific, too lovely? In my long-legged life, I have been all of those things, oh yes. Not always easy.

But can you have too much football? Until yesterday I’d have said no: impossible, it’s the icing on the cherry.

My week totally revolves around football, organising my family, my work, my everything to fit. For example, tonight – Monday – I am going to give a talk to the NUJ Freelance branch at Friends House. Dunno why. I never do such things, but months ago I got an email from someone I don’t know asking nicely if I would. Months ago, you think today will never happen. First I checked to see there were no Prem games on telly tonight. Which is why I said yes.

But at the time I didn’t think I would feel like I do this morning, never having checked what was happening yesterday. I spent a total of 11 – repeat, 11 – hours watching football. Is this the way madness is?

Early doors, I watched Match of the Day, which I’d recorded. I go to bed at ten, so never watch it live, desperately avoiding all scores in order to have virgin, unsullied eyes. I can whizz on and miss all the studio stuff, daft talking points, pointless analysis. I have my own daft, pointless opinions.

At midday there came three live Prem games, one after the other, all on Sky Sports. Often there are days when there is only one live game, alas – then once every few weeks they bludgeon us over the head.

I watched every minute of each, though the moment one was over, I couldn’t remember the score, or who was playing, the time or day, what is the capital of England, who is the Prime Minister, yet I had been concentrating – really hard. Football might not rot the brain but it does deaden the senses.

That took me to 6.30pm and kick-off for the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, hurrah, between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. I didn’t watch the earlier rounds, as they were on Eurosport. By some oversight, it’s the only sports channel in the world I don’t subscribe to. But I’d discovered that the final was on ITV4. Not many people know there is such a channel, lurking away.

It went to extra time and penalties – which Côte d’Ivoire won – so it was precisely 30 seconds to ten o’clock when I collapsed into bed. Oh, you’re still alive, she said. Thought you’d popped it.

A whole day, glued to the football. Thank God for half-time. A chance to take sustenance and go to the lav.

Now, do I need therapy? Is there something lacking in my life? What am I escaping?

Growing up, I wouldn’t do this, as there was no live football on the telly except the Cup final. Instead, we crouched round the family radio, which was connected by a wire to the light socket above the kitchen table (how on earth did we not set fire to the house?), while my little heart pounded, willing on Scotland to beat England. Perhaps my deprived childhood is to blame for my overdosing today. That’ll be five guineas.

I couldn’t do it as a young dad either. Having three kids screaming round the house made it harder to crouch in my room with the door barricaded, though God, I did try. Anyway you didn’t get wall-to-wall TV until twenty years ago when the Prem began.

Now there’s only about five days or five minutes in the middle of August each year when it is impossible to find football on the telly somewhere. Should there be a health warning? To save the vulnerable from themselves. You get barren patches when there’s just one game a day – then suddenly, like yesterday, there’s four live games in a day. What can an addict do?

I could have stayed up even later and watched Barcelona, done 24 hours’ solid football and made the Guinness World Records.

The current sale of Prem games to TV is going to include Friday-night games as well. Brilliant. I’ll be dancing in the street, if I can find the strength, and the street.

Next week – can you have too much sex? A doctor writes ... 

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 13 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Assad vs Isis

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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.