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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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.