BT Sport is the most annoying thing so far this season

Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column

“You. You are. You are football. You. Thank you.”

(William McGoogle, official provider of bollocks for Barclays Premier League hoardings)

These pointless perimeter advertisements that Barclays now insists on flashing at all Premiership grounds are so irritating. I do wish football pitches would stick to sensible, simple advertising slogans such as the one at Swansea: “Are your leaves blocking your gutters? Gutterblock.” Although it could be a code whose meaning I am missing.

But the most annoying thing so far this season is BT Sport. We are still in the Lake District, so I tried to order it just for one month. It took for ever, cost a fortune, and then they cut it off. Said I had to start again, cancel the first payment, start a new one. Gawd, I was screaming! Their coverage is shite. They have only the rubbish games. And few of them.

Thank goodness for Sky. They do try so hard. Having at last given up their mantra of the past 20 years – “Best League in the World, Best Players in the World, Best Clubs in Europe blah blah” – which has been so patently untrue for two seasons, they have a new one.

A ball went out of play, both sides claimed it was their throw-in, the linesman gave it one way and the cameras proved it was the correct decision. “We do have the best assistants in the world,” purred the Sky commentator.

“You want football. We got football. Loads of footballers.”

(Carlos Kickaball Jr, official supplier of expensive players you’ve never heard of, all much the same, for Tottenham Hotspur FC)

Lots of new things to welcome, including new managers. Yes, I know, José Mourinho is an old manager, but he has returned, in old clothing – charity-shop pullies, by the look of it. Get a grip, José.

Manuel Pellegrini at Man City has already made his mark with that gorgeous hair, so thick, so lush, so very Seventies.

Jamie Carragher is a welcome recruit to the studio. Glad he turned down the offer of elocution lessons. That Scouse accent is so thick you could roll it out and carpet the hallway.

 New away strip for Aston Villa, sort of old-fashioned quarters, like what Blackburn Rovers used to wear.

Spurs’ new shirt, nice neck, very Chariots of Fire – but yet another shirt sponsor with incomprehensible letters. What does AIA stand for? Were those the only letters of the alphabet they had left lying around from last season’s sponsor?

“You Pay. You Are Fans. You Pay Most, You Arsenal Fans. Thank You.”

(Carlos Kickaball Sr, official provider of free transfers to Arsenal FC)

Well, it paid off against Spurs, not spending money on new players. All of whom seem to be foreign – and so many with beards. The reason English players are also growing them is obvious: they want to look foreign, otherwise they won’t get picked. Or be noticed on the bench.

Paul Ince’s neck – what has happened to it? He did have one when he played for Man United. Fortunately his son Tom has a fine, slim one. Keep an eye on it in the dressing room, Tom. I do like Wayne when he’s had a good clean shave and looks smooth and glowing, none of this stubble nonsense. It gets reflected in his smooth play. The only trouble is, he’s beginning to look like Mussolini’s lovechild.

That stupid plinth that’s plonked down at the side of the pitch from whence the referee has to pluck the ball as he walks past. What is the point? Presumably yet more advertising opportunities. The hordes of official partners, suppliers and providers of services which every Premier Club now has will be able to buy space and see themselves credited.

“You. You Make This Column. You Fans.”

(Reader’s Digest, official provider of clichés for The Fan

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 09 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Britain alone

Ellie Foreman-Peck for New Statesman
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How Rome's new mayor Virginia Raggi is leading a normality revolution

The first female Roman mayor has promised an end to posturing public figures.

The Ottavia area of Rome, on the northern periphery of the Italian capital, is a part of the city that tourists rarely visit. In a sense, this is the real Rome, with problems that are typical of the rot that most residents have to put up with every day. It is a jumble of decaying concrete eyesores from the 1950s and 1960s – the legacy of rapid economic development and Mafia corruption – surrounded by parks where drug deals go down, and piles of refuse that sit uncollected for days.

It was here that the young mother of a newborn baby – who after her marriage had resettled in the area from the middle-class Roman neighbourhood where she was raised – started to become interested in politics. Seven years later, Virginia Raggi has been elected as Rome’s first female mayor and, having just turned 38, its youngest mayor ever. She is a symbol of change in Italy after two years of rule by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, another young leader, which have left millions of Italians disenchanted. Her rise is a sign that the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, led by the comedian Beppe Grillo, may be coming of age after years as a protest vehicle.

Raggi not only won the run-off on 19 June but did so by the biggest margin in the history of Roman mayoral elections, trouncing the candidate whom Renzi supported by a ratio of 67:33.

Her story begins far from the glamour of the Capitoline Hill, on the dreary streets of Ottavia, where she pushed her baby boy, Matteo, in his pram and was forced to weave in and out of traffic, walk along “non-existent” footpaths where cars were double- or triple-parked, and negotiate the perils of abandoned municipal parks. “Rage at seeing my splendid city reduced to an undignified state” is what pushed her into politics, she writes on her website. It was a path that led to her unlikely victory as mayor of Rome (a post equal in importance in Italy to the mayor of London in the UK and a launchpad for campaigns to become prime minister).

Raggi, who was a lawyer before she became a politician, grew up largely indifferent to politics. When she became a parent, she joined neighbourhood committees and volunteer groups and started to press for sustainable organic farming and decent public transport. In 2011, disillusioned by the centre left after years of voting for Renzi’s Democratic Party (she comes from a family of progressive intellectuals), Raggi joined the Five Star Movement, having been dragged to its meetings by her husband, a radio technician.

Her rise was rapid. She ran in 2013 as a Five Star candidate for Rome’s 48-member city council and picked up one of the movement’s three seats (she received 1,525 votes; her husband also ran but failed to make it on to the council, with only 132 votes). When the former Rome mayor Ignazio Marino, an ally of Renzi, resigned after an expenses scandal, Raggi – already the Five Star Movement’s spokesperson for Rome – stepped forward as a candidate in the party’s primaries.

She defeated four rivals in the online balloting in February. It is a startling tale in an age of unlikely political narratives, reflecting a global pandemic of dissatisfaction with mainstream politics. Italy’s Panorama magazine described her election, perhaps with a touch of hyperbole, as “a cultural revolution without precedent”.

There is a paradox at the heart of the upheaval that Raggi has caused. In Italy’s sordid and grimly entertaining political landscape – with its tales of the former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s “bunga bunga” parties, as well as Grillo’s clownish antics – the most surprising thing about the new mayor is that she seems normal. Raggi calls her campaign the “revolution of normality” – refreshing, perhaps, for Italians tired of posturing public figures. Inevitably the subject of Italian chatter for her fetching looks, Raggi comes across, above all, as serious, low-key, articulate and compassionate. She is selling policy over persona.

There have been shadows over her ascent. Her Rome law firm has past associations with Berlusconi’s long-time right-hand man Cesare Previti – a convicted criminal – and Raggi launched her legal career as an apprentice in Previti’s office. She has vehemently denounced whispers that she may be a double agent for Berlusconi’s centre-right party, Forza Italia.

Graver doubts arise from concerns that she may turn out to be a pawn of her anti-establishment party’s own establishment, in the form of Grillo. And because of the city’s Gordian knot of vested interests, being the mayor of Rome is in many ways a tougher job than being the prime minister of Italy. It has been a poisoned chalice for many an ambitious leader.

Yet the truth is that, even for Italians, Raggi remains a mystery – and that opens up intriguing possibilities. She may turn out to be a blank canvas on to which Romans, of both the left and the right, can project their hopes and frustrations. If she succeeds in steering her own course, however, she could position herself as a viable alternative to Renzi. Recent opinion polls indicate that the Five Star Movement may have edged past his Democrats and become Italy’s most popular party, with about 28 per cent of the nation’s support.

It is worth considering that Renzi rose to national prominence as the mayor of Florence – a city whose political significance pales in comparison with that of Rome – and went on to become prime minister. Could Raggi do the same?

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue