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 end of loyalty: why are we still surprised when politicians betray each other?

There was Labour’s attempted coup, now the cabinet is in civil war. Have British politicians always been so openly disloyal?

Politicians have always had a reputation for backstabbing, but recently Westminster has been a battleground of back, front and side-stabbing in all parties. The shadow cabinet trying to oust Jeremy Corbyn after the EU referendum; Michael Gove abandoning Boris Johnson to make his own Tory leadership bid; and now Johnson himself derailing Theresa May’s set-piece Brexit speech with his Telegraph essay on the subject – and rumours of a resignation threat.

On the surface, it seems Brexit has given politicians licence to flout cabinet collective responsibility – the convention that binds our ministers to showing a united front on government policy.

The doctrine of cabinet collective responsibility was outlined in the Ministerial Code in the early Nineties, but it became a convention in the late 19th century “the way in which we talk about it still today, in terms of people failing to adhere to it”, says the Institute for Government’s Dr Cath Haddon, an expert in the constitutional issues of Whitehall.

It even goes back earlier than that, when the cabinet would have to bond in the face of a more powerful monarch.

But are we witnessing the end of this convention? It looks like we could be living in a new age of disloyalty. After all, the shadow cabinet was allowed to say what it liked about its leader over nearly two years, and Johnson is still in a job.

An unfaithful history

“I think it’s nothing new,” says Michael Cockerell, who has been making political documentaries and profiles for the BBC since the Seventies. “If you think back in time to Julius Caesar and all the rest of it, this loyalty to the leader is not something that automatically happens or has been normal both in history and modern democracies – there have always been rebels, always been ambitious figures who all work out exactly how far they can go.”

He says the situation with Johnson reminds him of Tony Benn, who was an outspoken cabinet secretary under Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan in 1974-79. “He knew exactly how far he could push it without being sacked, because of the old thing about having him inside the tent pissing out, rather than outside the tent, pissing in.”

Cockerell believes that Johnson, like past cabinet rebels, knows “how far” he can go in defying May because she’s in a precarious position.

“Often if a prime minister is weak, that’s when the ambitious members of the cabinet can parade their disloyalty while still claiming they’re still being loyal,” he says. “Most people who are disloyal always profess their loyalty.”

The peer and former Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell, who has been in politics since the early Seventies, also believes “it’s always been like this” in terms of disloyalty in British politics.

He gives Wilson’s governments as a past example. “There was a fair amount of disloyalty within the cabinet,” he says. “I remember it being suggested by someone that the cabinet meetings were often very, very quiet because people were so busy writing down things that they could put into print sometime later.”

“Fast-forward to John Major and the ‘bastards’,” he says, recalling the former Conservative prime minister’s battle with trouble-making Eurosceptic cabinet members in 1993.

Dr Haddon adds the examples of Margaret Thatcher being brought down by her cabinet (and tackling the “wets and dries” in her early years as PM), and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s teams briefing against each other.

She believes “nothing changes” regarding disloyalty because of the way British government works. “The UK system really provokes this sort of situation,” she says of Johnson. “Because we have empowered secretaries of state, we have a sort of federalist structure, and then we have the prime minister in the position of primus inter pares [first among equals].”

The idea of the prime minister being a fully empowered leader in control of a team is a “modern concept”, according to Dr Haddon. “If you go back into the nineteenth century, ministers were very much heads of their own little fiefdoms. We’ve always had this system that has enabled ministers to effectively have their own take, their own position in their particular roles, and able to speak publicly on their perspective.”

She says the same happens in the shadow cabinet because of the nature of opposition in the UK. Shadow ministers don’t receive tailored funding for their work, and are therefore “often very much reliant upon their own team” to develop policy proposals, “so they become quite autonomous”.

How disloyalty has changed

However, disloyalty plays out differently in modern politics. Campbell points out that with politics developing in real time online and through 24-hour news, there is a far greater journalistic focus on disloyalty. “Previously it would’ve been in the Sunday papers, now you get it 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he says.

Dr Haddon believes pronouncements of disloyalty are more “overt” than they were because of the way we communicate on social media. Platforms like Twitter discourage the “coded messages” of past disloyal cabinet secretaries, and show infighting more starkly.

“There is this immediacy of reaction,” she says. “And that it’s constrained to 140 characters leads people to ever more brief, succinct declarations of their position. We are also living through a period in which, dare I say, hyperbole and strength of position are only exaggerated by that medium. There’s something in that which is very different.”

And even though British political history is littered with attempted coups, betrayals and outspoken ministers – particularly over Europe – there is a sense that the rulebook has been thrown out recently, perhaps as Brexit has defied the status quo.

Collective responsibility and the idea of the prime minister as primus inter pares are conventions, and conventions can be moulded or dropped completely.

“The constitution is open for discussion now to an extent that I can’t remember,” says Campbell. “You’ve got arguments about independence, constitutional arguments which arise out of Brexit, if we leave. In those circumstances, it’s perhaps not surprising that the constitutional convention about cabinet responsibility comes under strain as well.

“If you’ve got a constitution that depends upon the observance of convention, then of course it’s much easier to depart from these if you choose,” he adds. “And in the present, febrile atmosphere of constitutional change, maybe it’s hardly surprising that what is thought to be a centrepiece is simply being disregarded.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.