Tim Sherwood. Photo: Getty
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The Fan: Tottenham's new manager Tim Sherwood has to be seen to be believed

Back in the press box again.

When I gave up being a staff journalist, oh, many years ago now, I didn’t miss having to go to an office every day, listening to boring people boring on, but there was one thing I did miss: the lunches.

When I gave up doing match reports, I didn’t miss having to send off 750 words the moment the final whistle blew; that always hung over me, ruining the pleasure of watching the game. A free ticket, drinks and pies at half-time were nice – but the only thing I really missed was the press conferences.

These are not to be confused with the post-match interviews you see on the telly after the game. They take place in a titchy cupboard plastered with ads for the sponsors. The manager gets asked two banal questions: how do you think it went and what did you say at half-time?

Post-match press conferences are theatrical events, with rows of packed seats and hacks from all over the world, determined to get in their questions. The manager sits on a dais, the club press officer beside him, supposedly to keep order. These are press conferences not seen on TV, from which the manager storms out, or where he says something stupid that haunts him for the rest of the week.

They came in when the Prem began 20 years ago. Before that, it was all pretty much ad hoc. Hacks would wait in the car park after the game, hoping to accost any player or manager stupid enough to hang about. Higher-profile managers would invite the chosen few into their offices, the ones they thought they could trust.

I remember doing a match report at Upton Park when Ron Greenwood was manager, which means it must have been in the early 1970s. I followed the chosen few into Ron’s office and was given a glass of whisky. Before Ron could sit in his chair, Jimmy Hill of the BBC had grabbed his seat, put his feet up on Ron’s desk and proceeded to give us his views on the game. Another time, at Aston Villa, when Ron Atkinson was the manager (so that must have been in the early 1990s), we trooped into his office and all got champagne.

The other day, for the first time in a few years, I got a ticket for the press box at Spurs. Usually I don’t bother to apply for one – the bureaucracy is so time-consuming and you have to prove your publication has millions of pounds in personal liability insurance in case you knock over someone’s laptop and it kills the star striker. But it was the north London derby: Spurs v Arsenal. I wanted to see Tim Sherwood, the new Tottenham manager, in the flesh.

The press box is now double the size it was when I last went. On the left of the tunnel sit the print journalists. On the right are the internet people. Don’t ask me what they do. You sit right behind the two team benches, which gives wonderful immediacy – see the hairs on their arms, smell the embrocation – but there are now so many of them (coaches, medics, physios, video geeks) you can hardly see the pitch.

Wenger was the first into the press theatre, looking even more professorial than usual, his suit jacket off, revealing a woolly cardy, his hands clasped in front of him. He carefully deflected a question about his striker Bendtner, recently accused of being drunk and naughty in Denmark, saying he had yet to talk to him.

Tim Sherwood was wearing dinky brown suede boots, which I hadn’t noticed on the bench. He also had on what the Indie and Guardian described the next day as a “gilet” but to me was a waistcoat, which he had thrown off at one point in disgust.

He started off praising his team but was soon revealing his real feelings: he had been dealt a bad hand and could name only two players he thought were good (Adebayor and Lloris). “Others might play for their national teams but they might not be my cup of tea . . .”

All afternoon, after Arsenal’s early goal, their fans had been singing Sherwood’s name. “He comes from Borehamwood, he ain’t no fucking good.” They could be spot on.

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 19 March 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Russia's Revenge

Photo: Getty
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The Conservative-DUP deal is great news for the DUP, but bad news for Theresa May

The DUP has secured a 10 per cent increase in Northern Ireland's budget in return for propping up the Prime Minister.

Well, that’s that then. Theresa May has reached an accord with the Democratic Unionist Party to keep herself in office. Among the items: the triple lock on pensions will remain in place, and the winter fuel allowance will not be means-tested across the United Kingdom. In addition, the DUP have bagged an extra £1bn of spending for Northern Ireland, which will go on schools, hospitals and roads. That’s more than a five per cent increase in Northern Ireland’s budget, which in 2016-7 was just £9.8bn.

The most politically significant item will be the extension of the military covenant – the government’s agreement to look after veterans of war and their families – to Northern Ireland. Although the price tag is small, extending priority access to healthcare to veterans is particularly contentious in Northern Ireland, where they have served not just overseas but in Northern Ireland itself. Sensitivities about the role of the Armed Forces in the Troubles were why the Labour government of Tony Blair did not include Northern Ireland in the covenant in 2000, when elements of it were first codified.

It gives an opportunity for the SNP…

Gina Miller, whose court judgement successfully forced the government into holding a vote on triggering Article 50, has claimed that an increase in spending in Northern Ireland will automatically entail spending increases in Wales and Scotland thanks to the Barnett formula. This allocates funding for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland based on spending in England or on GB-wide schemes.

However, this is incorrect. The Barnett formula has no legal force, and, in any case, is calculated using England as a baseline. However, that won’t stop the SNP MPs making political hay with the issue, particularly as “the Vow” – the last minute promise by the three Unionist party leaders during the 2014 independence referendum – promised to codify the formula. They will argue this breaks the spirit, if not the letter of the vow. 

…and Welsh Labour

However, the SNP will have a direct opponent in Wales. The Welsh Labour party has long argued that the Barnett formula, devised in 1978, gives too little to Wales. They will take the accord with Northern Ireland as an opportunity to argue that the formula should be ripped up and renegotiated.

It risks toxifying the Tories further

The DUP’s socially conservative positions, though they put them on the same side as their voters, are anathema to many voters in England, Scotland and Wales. Although the DUP’s positions on abortion and equal marriage will not be brought to bear on rUK, the association could leave a bad taste in the mouth for voters considering a Conservative vote next time. Added to that, the bumper increase in spending in Northern Ireland will make it even harder to win support for continuing cuts in the rest of the United Kingdom.

All of which is moot if the Conservatives U-Turn on austerity

Of course, all of these problems will fade if the Conservatives further loosen their deficit target, as they did last year. Turning on the spending taps in England, Scotland and Wales is probably their last, best chance of turning around the grim political picture.

It’s a remarkable coup for Arlene Foster

The agreement, which ticks a number of boxes for the DUP, caps off an astonishing reversal of fortunes for the DUP’s leader, Arlene Foster. The significant increase in spending in Northern Ireland – equivalent to the budget of the entirety of the United Kingdom going up by £70bn over two years  – is only the biggest ticket item. The extension of the military covenant to Northern Ireland appeals to two longstanding aims of the DUP. The first is to end “Northern Ireland exceptionalism” wherever possible, and the second is the red meat to their voters in offering better treatment to veterans.

It feels like a lifetime ago when you remember that in March 2017, Foster was a weakened figure having led the DUP into its worst election result since the creation of the devolved assembly at Stormont.

The election result, in which the DUP took the lion’s share of Westminster seats in Northern Ireland, is part of that. But so too are the series of canny moves made by Foster in the aftermath of her March disappointment. By attending Martin McGuinness’s funeral and striking a more consensual note on some issues, she has helped shed some of the blame for the collapse of power-sharing, and proven herself to be a tricky negotiator.

Conservatives are hoping it will be plain sailing for them, and the DUP from now on should take note. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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