The Etihad Stadium. Photo: Getty
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I’m sorry – there’s no beating the view from the Platinum Box

There is still part of me that hates all this hospitality stuff which every Premiership club now offers.

The invitation was so exciting. Guest of the Arabs to watch Man City at home against Chelsea, match of the weekend, perhaps the season. “Exclusive treatment in the Platinum Executive Box at the Etihad Stadium. VIP guest, three-course meal, complimentary drinks throughout the day.” Hmm, but would there be booze drinks, or just drinks drinks, these Arabs, eh?

With all games these days getting there always hangs over me, which is why I haven’t travelled to an away game for years. Last time I saw Man City at home they were at Maine Road, not the Etihad. What does the name mean anyway? At least the Arabs should be able to tell me.

I was assured that transport was all arranged, these Arabs know how to treat a chap. Would a helicopter pick me up in my garden, or perhaps on the Heath? That would be handy.

No, I had to assemble at 11 on Sunday morning at Euston, where I met my three fellow guests, all hacks, plus a glamorous, bouncy young PR person aged about 13 . . . OK, let’s say 23, as she graduated from Bath University a few months ago.

First shock – we were not travelling first class. Awful how greedy and ungrateful one becomes when one is not paying. Second horror was having to wander round the stadium for ages, unable to find out where to pick up our VIP, platinum blah blah tickets.

After that, it was treats all the way. Platinum turned out to be the best boxes in the main Colin Bell Stand and ours had a dining table properly laid out. On my previous two football freebies, at Wembley and the Emirates, the meal had been a stand-up buffet. This was clarty posh.

There is part of me that hates all this hospitality stuff which every Premiership club now offers. It takes up so much space. Most of the guests have no interest in football, they stuff their faces and they take their seats so late that for 15 minutes after half-time it looks as if part of the stadium has been evacuated. On the other hand, as an occasional invitee, I find myself thinking, brilliant idea, just what clubs need in these hard financial times.

Our hostess was ever so efficient, serving real drinks straight away, then it was a huge antipasto followed by contre-filet of English beef, yum yum. It’s true I get fed at home, and drinks all day, and Mrs Davies never gives me the bill, so kind that way, but freebies somehow always taste different.

I complimented the hostess and made the sort of crass remark I make to foreign minicab drivers: “What did you used to do back home, a brain surgeon?” Turned out that during the week she’s a midwife at Oldham General. A proper, vital job, unlike serving freeloaders.

We were guests of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority – and I must say they didn’t shove the wonders of Abu Dhabi down our jam-packed throats. It was all low-key, relaxed, informal. There were four Arabs there, all quite young, mostly on their mobiles, all a bit reserved – in fact, it was hard to get much out of them, though the one I sat beside during the game did know about football.

“We love you, Sit-eh,” the home fans shouted. I asked him if he understood the words, and he nodded.

“Fook off, Mourinho.”

He wasn’t so sure about that.

I explained they were shouting in a Manchester accent. If you go to Stoke, Leicester or Hull, they all chant “Come on, City”, but if you close your eyes you can tell by the slight differences in pronunciation exactly which city you’re in. Same with “Fook off, Mourinho”. That’s northern. “Fahck off, Mourinho” indicates you are in London or the south-east, but the sentiment is the same.

It ended 1-1, all the excitement coming at the end, and I heard a phrase I’ve never heard sung at a football game before: “There’s only one James Milner.”

The Arabs have owned Man City since 2008, when Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi bought it. Etihad Airways became the sponsor and the stadium was later renamed. And now I know why. Etihad in Arabic means “united”. Bad research, if you ask me. They should have bought the other club. 

Hunter Davies’s latest book, “The Biscuit Girls”, is published by Ebury Press (£6.99)

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 24 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The cult of Boris

Photo: Getty
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Here's something the political class has completely missed about Brexit

As Hillary Clinton could tell them, arguments about trade have a long, long afterlife. 

I frequently hear the same thing at Westminster, regardless of whether or not the person in question voted to leave the European Union or not: that, after March 2019, Brexit will be “over”.

It’s true that on 30 March 2019, the United Kingdom will leave the EU whether the government has reached a deal with the EU27 on its future relationship or not. But as a political issue, Brexit will never be over, regardless of whether it is seen as a success or a failure.

You don’t need to have a crystal ball to know this, you just need to have read a history book, or, failing that, paid any attention to current affairs. The Democratic primaries and presidential election of 2016 hinged, at least in part, on the consequences of the North American Free Trade Association (Nafta). Hillary Clinton defeated a primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, who opposed the deal, and lost to Donald Trump, who also opposed the measure.

Negotiations on Nafta began in 1990 and the agreement was fully ratified by 1993. Economists generally agree that it has, overall, benefited the nations that participate in it. Yet it was still contentious enough to move at least some votes in a presidential election 26 years later.

Even if Brexit turns out to be a tremendous success, which feels like a bold call at this point, not everyone will experience it as one. (A good example of this is the collapse in the value of the pound after Britain’s Leave vote. It has been great news for manufacturers, domestic tourist destinations and businesses who sell to the European Union. It has been bad news for domestic households and businesses who buy from the European Union.)

Bluntly, even a successful Brexit is going to create some losers and an unsuccessful one will create many more. The arguments over it, and the political fissure it creates, will not end on 30 March 2019 or anything like it. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.