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

A pro-union march in 2014. Photo: Getty
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The legacy of sectarianism is still poisoning the air of Scotland

Ruth Davidson has reinstated two Stirling councillors who posted anti-Catholic and racist messages on social media. That this kind of cretinous guff still goes on in my hometown in 2017 raises my hackles.

Kenny Dalglish was a bluenose: as a boy in the mid-60s, he and his father would make the short journey to Ibrox to cheer on Rangers, then Scotland’s most successful team. With the football allegiance came a cultural one, too. Or, probably, the other way round.

Wee Kenny could play a bit, obviously, and dreamed that his beloved Gers would sign him up. But, as Richard T Kelly writes in Keegan and Dalglish, his enjoyable new double biography of the two footballing greats, "Rangers had a certain preference for big lads, or else lads with an obvious turn of pace; and Dalglish, despite his promise, had neither of those easy attributes."

Rangers’ loss was Celtic’s gain, but it took some effort. The former, writes Kelly, "was the club of the Queen, the Union, Scotland’s Protestant majority… founded by Freemasons and members of the Orange Order, strongly tied to the shipyards of Govan. Glasgow Celtic was the team of Irish Catholic patriots, revolutionary Fenians and Home Rulers, begun as a charitable organisation… a means to bolster the faith and keep the flock out of the clutches of Protestant soup kitchens. It was going to be a serious step across a threshold for Dalglish to accept the overtures of Celtic."

In the end, Jock Stein dispatched his number two, the unhelpfully named Sean Fallon, to meet the young starlet’s family. "Fallon entered a domestic environment he felt to be 'a bit tense' -  a Rangers house, a lion’s den, if you will. Fallon even picked up the sense that Bill [Dalglish’s father] might rather his son pursue [an] apprenticeship in joinery."

The deal was done ("My dream was to become a professional footballer – the location was just a detail," Dalglish would later say) and the most gifted player Scotland has ever produced went on to make his reputation kitted out in green and white stripes rather than royal blue -  a quirk of those difficult times for which those of us classed as Fenian bastards rather than Orange bastards will be forever grateful.

Growing up in west and central Scotland, it was hard to avoid being designated as one type of bastard or the other, even if you supported a team outwith the Old Firm or had no interest in football at all. Thanks to 19th century immigration, the terrible religio-political divide of Ulster was the dominant cultural force even in Stirling, the town around 25 miles from Glasgow where I grew up and where I now live again. If you went to the Catholic school, as I did, you were a Fenian; if you went to the Proddy (officially, non-demominational) school, you were a Hun. You mostly hung around with your own, and youthful animosity and occasional violence was largely directed across the religious barricades. We knew the IRA slogans and the words to the Irish rebel songs; they had the UVF and the Red Hand of Ulster. We went to the Cubs, they went to the Boys’ Brigade. We got used to the Orange Walks delivering an extra-loud thump on the drums as they passed the chapel inside which we were performing our obligatory Sunday observance.

At the time – around the early and mid 80s – such pursuit of identity might not have been much more than a juvenile game, but it was part of something more serious. It was still the case that Catholics were unemployable in significant Scottish industries – "which school did you got to, son?" was the killer interview question if your answer began with "Saint". This included the media: in the late 90s, when I joined the Daily Record – the "Daily Ranger" to Celtic fans (its Sunday sister, the Sunday Mail, was known to Rangers fans as the "Sunday Liam") – vestiges of this prejudice, and the anecdotes that proved it, were still in the air.

The climate is undoubtedly better now. Secularisation has played its part - my own daughters attend non-denominational schools – even if, as the sportswriter Simon Kuper has observed, many are "not about to give up their ancient traditions just because they no longer believe in God". The peace process in Northern Ireland and important gestures such as the late public friendship between Ian Paisley Sr and Martin McGuinness have made a difference. And I suppose the collapse of Rangers as a footballing force, amid financial corruption that saw them dumped into the bottom tier of Scottish football, helped.

But the sensitivity remains. The 2014 Scottish independence referendum broke down in part across tribal lines, with many Celtic supporters, once Labour, now SNP, loudly backing a Yes vote, while Rangers fans were on the No side. The prospect of Brexit creating a significant border between the north and south of Ireland, which could inflame recently and shallowly buried tensions, makes one shudder. And even locally, the old enmities continue to raise their grubby heads. Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Tories, is currently taking flak for allowing the reinstatement of two Stirling councillors who had posted anti-Catholic and racist messages on social media prior to their election. The pair have apologised and agreed to take part in diversity training, but I confess that this kind of cretinous guff still goes on in my hometown in 2017 raises my hackles. The rawness remains.

That this is so was brought to me a few years ago when I filed a column containing the word ‘sectarianism’ to a Scottish newspaper. Though the context had nothing to do with Catholic/Protestant or Celtic/Rangers, the editor asked me to remove it. "It’ll be deliberately misunderstood by one side or the other, and probably both," he said. "It’s not worth the hassle. In Scotland I’m afraid it never is."

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland).