The Etihad Stadium. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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

Show Hide image

How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496