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

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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.