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

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“We can’t do this again”: Labour conference reactions to Jeremy Corbyn’s second victory

Overjoyed members, determined allies and concerned MPs are divided on how to unite.

“I tell you what, I want to know who those 193,229 people are.” This was the reaction of one Labour member a few rows from the front of the stage, following the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory at the Labour party conference. She was referring to support received by his defeated contender, Owen Smith, who won 38.2 per cent of the vote (to Corbyn’s 61.8 per cent).

But it’s this focus on the leader’s critics – so vehement among many (and there are a lot of them) of his fans – that many politicians, of either side, who were watching his victory speech in the conference hall want to put an end to.

“It’s about unity and bringing us all together – I think that’s what has to come out of this,” says shadow cabinet member and MP for Edmonton Kate Osamor. “It shouldn’t be about the figures, and how many votes, and his percentage, because that will just cause more animosity.”

Osamor, who is supportive of Corbyn’s leadership, is not alone in urging her colleagues who resigned from the shadow cabinet to “remember the door is never shut”.

Shadow minister and member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) Jon Ashworth – not a Corbyn loyalist, but focusing on making the shadow cabinet work together – shares the sentiment.

Standing pensively in front of the now-empty stage, he tells me he backs shadow cabinet elections (though not for every post) – a change to party rules that has not yet been decided by the NEC. “[It] would be a good way of bringing people back,” he says. “I’ve been involved in discussions behind the scenes this week and I hope we can get some resolution on the issue.”

He adds: “Jeremy’s won, he has to recognise a number of people didn’t vote for him, so we’ve got to unite.”

The former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, another MP on the NEC, is sitting in the audience, looking over some documents. She warns that “it’s impossible to tell” whether those who resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet would be willing to return, and is concerned about talent being wasted.

“We have a lot of excellent people in the party; there are new people now in the shadow cabinet who have had a chance to show their mettle but you need experience as well as ability,” she says.

Beckett, who has urged Corbyn to stand down in the past, hopes “everybody’s listening” to his call for unity, but questions how that will be achieved.

“How much bad blood there is among people who were told that there was plotting [against Corbyn], it’s impossible to tell, but obviously that doesn’t make for a very good atmosphere,” she says. “But Jeremy says we’ll wipe the slate clean, so let’s hope everybody will wipe the slate clean.”

It doesn’t look that way yet. Socialist veteran Dennis Skinner is prowling around the party conference space outside the hall, barking with glee about Corbyn’s defeated foes. “He’s trebled the membership,” he cries. “A figure that Blair, Brown and Prescott could only dream about. On average there’s more than a thousand of them [new members] in every constituency. Right-wing members of the parliamentary Labour party need to get on board!”

A call that may go unheeded, with fervent Corbyn allies and critics alike already straying from the unity message. The shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon is reminding the PLP that, “Jeremy’s won by a bigger margin this time”, and telling journalists after the speech that he is “relaxed” about how the shadow cabinet is recruited (not a rallying cry for shadow cabinet elections).

“If Jeremy wants to hold out an olive branch to the PLP, work with MPs more closely, he has to look very seriously at that [shadow cabinet elections]; it’s gone to the NEC but no decision has been made,” says Louise Ellman, the Liverpool MP and transport committee chair who has been critical of Corbyn’s leadership. “That might not be the only way. I think he has to find a way of working with MPs, because we’re all elected by millions of people – the general public – and he seems to dismiss that.”

“If he sees it [his victory] as an endorsement of how he’s been operating up until now, the problems which led to the election being called will remain,” Ellman warns. “If we’re going to be a credible party of government, we’ve got to reach out to the general electorate. He didn’t say anything about that in his speech, but I hope that perhaps now he might feel more confident to be able to change direction.”

Corbyn may have called for cooperation, but his increased mandate (up from his last stonking victory with 59.5 per cent of the vote) is the starkest illustration yet of the gulf between his popularity in Parliament and among members.

The fact that one attempt at a ceasefire in the party’s civil war – by allowing MPs to vote for some shadow cabinet posts – is in contention suggests this gulf is in danger of increasing.

And then where could the party be this time next year? As Osamor warns: “We should not be looking at our differences, because when we do that, we end up thinking it’s a good thing to spend our summer having another contest. And we can’t. We can’t do this again.”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.