Usual fare: queues at a pie and mash shop at Upton Park. Photo: Getty
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The tasteful food van made me ponder – have football fans gone soft?

Once Wigan scored, though, it was a different story: the affable familes were suddenly full of hate and fury.

Out of the blue, on the eve of the match, a friend asked if I would like to go to Wembley, he had a spare ticket. Oh no, I do love Wembley, part of our heritage, but I was staying in for a Sky engineer, due between nine and five, possibly.

He was coming to add Sky Plus to my wife’s telly – a facility she had repeatedly said she did not want, she was happy with her ancient analogue set, but I’d got it into my head she must somehow be able to record progs. So far I’d had four engineers – from Curry’s, John Lewis and Sky, each failing – and each time my wife shouted I TOLD YOU I DID NOT WANT IT!

But I’d invested so much time and energy and money, I had to go on, achieve closure, as we say in modern journalism. I rang Sky, gave a sob story about suddenly being offered the Wembley ticket, and they came first thing and sorted it.

I parked as usual across from Finchley Road station, as I’ve done for 50 years, on the Hampstead side, near Freud’s house, knowing he wouldn’t be in, being dead. I feared the parking regulations might have changed since last I went, but I shut my eyes and ran through the underpass, straight on to the Tube, one stop to Wembley Park.

“Glazed Chicken Fillet’s”, said the sign on a van as I walked down Wembley Way. It wasn’t just the punctuation but the retro van, circa 1950s, that attracted my attention, painted vegetarian green, with some tasteful strings of garlic and onions artistically displayed in the front window. Have football fans gone healthy eating? While the driver was serving, I put my hand through the front window. All the veg was plastic. But it looked nice.

The Arsenal fans seemed to be totally outnumbering the Wigan supporters – but the strange thing was, they didn’t have any fave players on the back of their shirts. I spotted more Bergkamp or Henry than any present-day player. None of the Gooner chants mentioned, least of all praised, Manager Wenger. The songs were mainly anti-Spurs. I kept my head down.

Loads of excited kids, because Wembley, even for an FA semi-final, is a happy family outing, all taking pics of each other. Fans want to enjoy themselves, not hating the opposition, just glad to be there. It took me back to the 1966 World Cup, happy days.

My friend Jason was wearing his Arsenal scarf. For his sake, I wanted Arsenal to win and provide a south v north FA Cup final, but I didn’t care, either way. Massive amount of empty seats at the Wigan end, which was a surprise, but every Arsenal seat was taken. And they were loving it, singing their little hearts out. Till Wigan scored . . .

The atmosphere around me totally changed. The affable families, men, women and children, were suddenly full of hate and fury, standing up shouting, f***ing this, c*** that. I was shocked. Not far away, a fierce fistfight broke out – between two Arsenal fans. I could not believe it. Why try to kill each other? Jason, being a man of the world, Arsenal section, explained it would be pro- and anti-Wenger factions. He’s noticed that the hatred of Wenger on the Arsenal websites has become more violent and disturbing, with frequent fights at away games.

Fans have always been volatile, going from love to loathing in the same game, but I think today it has got worse. They feel entitled, paying all that money, their heroes being spoiled multimillionaires, so they are furious when things go wrong, as if they’ve been let down personally, attacked even. So they fight back, usually at the manager.

There’s a theory that football provides a perfect release for the worst of human emotions, that you can scream and swear, let it all out, then go back to being civilised. I’d have asked Sigmund on the way home to explain it better, but he was out . . .

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 14 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Double

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder