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

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

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