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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On the important issues, Louise Casey all too often has little to say

Far from moving the debate on, this new report on integration adds little to the report I commissioned in 2001. 

For 15 years, “numerous government reports on community cohesion and integration have not been implemented with enough force or consistency” concludes Louise Casey’s review of  integration.  The government’s lukewarm response suggests their effort will be as “diluted and muddled” as all the rest.

There’s a deeper reason why governments shy away from the measures that are needed. The report's wealth of data sets out a stark if sometimes contestable picture of a divided society.  But no amount of data can really bring the lives of our fellow citizens to life. As the Brexit vote underlined, this is now a nation divided by class, geography, education, wealth, opportunity and race. Those divisions colour the way we live our lives, the way we see problems in society, the relations we have with others, and our political choices. The report, like many before it, stops short of setting out that reality. It’s easier to pretend that most of us pretty much agree on most things; but just few people don’t agree and they must be the problem. Predictably, much of the early coverage has focussed on the Muslim community and new migrants. If only it were so easy.

According to Casey “in this country, we take poverty, social exclusion, social justice and social mobility seriously” and we do it “across political divides”. Apparently “creating a fair, just society where everyone can prosper and get on” is a cornerstone of British values. Yet for page after page the report chronicles the serial failure of this benign consensus to tackle educational under-performance, and economic and racial disadvantage. If we all agree, how come we haven't done anything about it?

These problems are not certainly easy to solve, but more lip service is paid to tackling them than effort. The practical material issues documented here need addressing, but punches are pulled when hard answers are needed. Given the dramatic impact of mass migration on cohesion, is integration possible while current rates of immigration persist? Can we find the political will to tackle poverty and disadvantage when those who might benefit from the effort are divided against each other by suspicion, race, geography and values? After all, rather than progressive policies producing a cohesive society, social unity is the precondition for the introduction of progressive policies.

We don't actually actually agree on what our “fundamental values” mean in practice. We can all sign up to democracy and the rule of law, but as soon as those are put into practice – see the court case on Article 50 – we are divided. When judges are popularly seen as “enemies of the people” and a vote in an elected parliament as a threat to democracy, in what sense are law and democracy fundamental?

Casey usefully highlights how treating homeless families equally, irrespective of ethnicity and length of residence can create the perception that minorities are being favoured over long standing residents. Our differing views on what is “just” and how “fairness” are defined can tear us apart. Is it fair to favour the newcomer over the indigenous? Is it just to put length of time on the waiting list above housing need? We often don't even acknowledge the legitimacy of other points of view, let alone try to find common ground.

The continual invocation of Britain and British values lends an air of unreality to the report.  Most people in England include British in their identity, but Englishness and English interests are of growing importance. In a worrying development, some areas of England  may be polarising between a white Englishness and an ethnic minority Britishness. Integration won't happen without a shared national story that combines a unifying national identity with the acceptance that we all have more than one identity that matters to us. Ignoring the reality of complex and multiple identities closes off one essential way forward.

None of this means that the criticism of some reactionary and occasionally dangerous ideas and practices in the Muslim community should be ignored and not confronted. But in a country where the established church opposes homosexual relationships and praise for Vladimir Putin's Russia is now mainstream politics it is hard to believe that all our problems can be reduced to the behaviour of a minority of a minority community.

John Denham was a Labour MP from 1992 to 2015, and a Secretary of State 2007 to 2010. He is Director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics at Winchester University