I am in love with Jeffrey Schlupp. I like writing his name down. Photo: Getty
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Hunter Davies’ Half-Season Awards

Cheer up, Stevie! Go, Schlupp! And Pearson, don’t come down from the stands.

Stand by your beds for the Half-Season Awards, plus groans, moans.

Still with us Every back-page clever clogs had Alan Pardew of Newcastle down for the chop just half an hour ago. Now look at him, the saviour of Tyneside. For the next half-hour anyway. And Louis van Gaal, his demise looked imminent. Now Man United could win the League,
if their boring but fortunate run of play continues.

Also doing good Great season, early doors, for Southampton, West Ham, Swansea – but are they cute enough to keep it up to the end?

Cliché of the season “Cute”, according to all the commentators, no longer means “cuddly” and “appealing” but suggests an inner wickedness – an ability to do wrong and get away with it, to have the other player sent off, to con the ref, all of these qualities considered admirable in football, finance, politics, most things, really.

More clichés “Stepping up to the plate, going down to the wire”. Sounds like a contortionist. Some early spottings but the torrent won’t start until about Easter.

Sad face Steven Gerrard has always looked tired, older than his years, even when things were going well. Liverpool is now out of Europe, his career nearing its end, and yet he has won so much. Cheer up, Stevie. At least you are not playing for Spurs or Carlisle United, the two teams I have always supported. About which I don’t really want to talk. Next!

Sad body Oh, I feel so sorry for Yaya Touré. When he is not on the ball, he lumbers around the pitch looking for somewhere to go, to rest his aching, weary, old limbs. I know just how he feels. I wonder if, when in a sitting position, he says aloud, “One, two, three,” before eventually forcing himself up? My family hates it when I do that. But, my goodness, when he’s on the ball, you should see him zip around. What a worker, what energy and drive still at his age. Just like moi, actually.

Philosophical quote of the season “I just wonder how many goals he would have scored if he had scored more goals” – Michael Owen, speaking on BT Sport.

Haircut of the season For the first time in 18 years there has been no outright winner. Mad haircuts have gone out – pineapples and bird’s nests have disappeared. They are all roughly short back and sides with old-fashioned partings, the only novelty being the positioning of the partings and, oh, gel, loads of gel. Girls, girls, do try harder.

Most improved players Bony of Swansea has done good. Harry Kane of Spurs is trying hard. Connor Wickham of Sunderland shows promising signs of not being a total lump. Bolasie of Palace looks cute.

Going backwards Raheem Sterling of Liverpool, so exciting last season, seems
to be marking time. Ditto another promising youngster, Adnan Januzaj at Man United. Of the senior players who were doing well, Gary Cahill is looking dodgy and Joe Hart of Man City and England is not quite as good as he used to believe he was.

Manager alarm I do hope Nigel Pearson of Leicester does not give up sitting high in the stands. So sensible, so cool. Yes, his team is doing so badly. Is there a connection? I am sure there isn’t. I think. Can’t believe there is. Possibly. Maybe.

Schlupp Please don’t let Leicester go down. I am in love with Jeffrey Schlupp. I like writing his name down, then rolling it round my chops.

Striking images I can still see Mourinho’s lovely smile when Chelsea went two down against Newcastle – a beatific, angelic, rueful smile. But why? They went on to their first defeat of the season. Was he pleased the stress of it all was over?

Really nice image Wayne earning his 100th cap for England, bringing his two little boys on to the pitch. Klay, the younger, had “Klay” on the back of his England shirt while Kai, the elder, had “Daddy 100”. Coleen’s face was a study. Bless.

Worrying image All those gaps in the Aston Villa home crowd. Always a bad sign when fans who have paid for the season don’t bother to turn up, even just to boo. At least at Spurs there are no gaps yet. Booing does keep you warm.

Pointing Definitely on the increase. What you do when you have done something really, really stupid – such as let their star man run rings round you, give away a petty foul on the edge of the penalty area, balloon a clearance – is immediately turn round and point. Doesn’t matter where, or at whom. The very act of violent, agitated, imperious, pointless pointing is enough. Then you move on.

Barclays They are still at it, with their banal perimeter advertising, trying to personalise it the way politicians do. “Thank you, Joe Bloggs, for your passion for Swansea. You are the true spirit of the game.” The names at each ground always sound real but are they? Have the people been paid? Can they sue? Oh, I do hope so.

Crowd action During the Spurs-Partizan Belgrade home game, an intruder got on the pitch. The security men lumbered on, stumbled about, while the intruder ran rings round them and the crowd cheered. It happened twice again, by which time the players and ref – who suspended the game for a while – were getting really pissed off. Was it political or just pranksters? One was taking selfies, which suggested the latter. It was the best action and entertainment of the game. Perhaps all season . . .

Hunter Davies’s latest book is “The Beatles Lyrics: the Unseen Story Behind Their Music” (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £25)

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 19 December 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Issue 2014

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Keir Starmer MP: Choosing ideological purity before power is a dereliction of duty

The former director of public prosecutions believes getting involved with Brexit negotiations is crucial. 

 

Three weeks after Brexit, Keir Starmer held a public meeting in his London constituency of Holborn and St Pancras. “We had hundreds turning up,” he remembered. “The town hall was absolutely packed - it was standing room only and we had to turn people away. We haven’t had a public meeting of that size for some time.”

When it comes to Brexit, Starmer is an obvious Labour asset. Director of public prosecutions from 2008 to 2013, he has the legal background to properly scrutinise an EU deal. His time spent as a shadow immigration minister means he understands some of the thorniest problems facing negotiators.

But instead, the MP finds himself on the shadow back benches.

“My decision to resign was driven by Jeremy’s decision on the referendum,” he told The Staggers. “I was particularly troubled by his suggestion that we should invoke Article 50 straight away, and start the exit process [Corbyn has since backtracked on this suggestion]. 

“That is not for me a question of left-right politics. When he said that, I felt he was in fundamentally a different place from me in terms of how we fight for the future of our country.”

Starmer is not a man to enjoy life in opposition, and he has little time for airy promises. “Jeremy talks of dealing with inequality and housing projects, and a fairer society - all of which I would agree,” he said. “What I haven’t seen is the emergence of detailed policy that would get us to these places.”

He also gives purists in the party short shrift. “I would reject wholeheartedly any notion of a Labour Party that is not committed to returning to power at the first opportunity,” he said. “Of course that needs to be principled power. But standing on the sidelines looking for the purest ideology is a dereliction of the duty for any Labour member.”

Starmer believes Labour should be joining Scottish and Northern Irish leaders in trying to influence Brexit negotiations. He sees the time before invoking Article 50, the EU exit button, as crucial. 

Nevertheless, the man named after the Scottish founder of Labour, Keir Hardie, is pessimistic about the future of the UK. 

“It is going to be increasingly difficult to resist a further referendum in Scotland,” he said. “It will be increasingly difficult to keep Scotland as a part of the UK. I hope that doesn’t happen, but everyone knows David Cameron has put that at risk.”

Starmer may be a London MP, but he follows events in the rest of the country closely. While still in his shadow cabinet post, he embarked on a countrywide tour to learn more about attitudes to immigration.  

He condemns the increase in racist attacks post-Brexit as “despicable”, but insists there is “a world of difference” between these and genuine concerns about resources. “If you lose your job because there has been an influx of labour from another country, that is a legitimate cause for concern.”

He is equally scathing about the Government’s net migration cap. “If immigration is simply seen as a numbers game, nobody will ever win that debate,” he said. “The question should be: what is it we want to achieve?

“What do we expect of those who are arriving? What is the basic deal?”

In January, Starmer visited the informal camps in Calais and Dunkirk. “What I saw in Calais was appalling,” he said. “It is an hour from London. 

“To see families and children in freezing, squalid conditions without any real hope of a positive outcome was enough to make anybody think: ‘This is not the way to solve the refugee crisis.’”

The new PM, Theresa May, built her reputation on a rigid asylum policy, but Starmer believes a strong opposition can still force change. “If you take the Syrian resettlement scheme, that started life as a scheme for victims of sexual violence,” he said. “When pushed, it became a scheme for 20,000 Syrians but not if they reached Europe. When pushed, the Government accepted the case for some unaccompanied children in Europe to come to this country. 

“Labour needs to keep pushing.”

For now, though, Labour is divided. Starmer has been tipped as a future leader before, in 2015, but declined to run because of a lack of political experience. One year and a Brexit on, he certainly has some of that under his belt. But he rules himself out of the current leadership challenge: “I am 100 per cent behind Owen.” What will he do if Jeremy Corbyn wins? “Let’s cross each bridge when we come to it.”

Starmer is clear, though, that Labour can only win an election if it comes up with a more ambitious project, an economy with purpose. And the Brexit negotiations provide an opportunity. “We have to ask ourselves,” he said. “Do we simply want a series of trade agreements, the more the merrier? Or do we want deals that achieve certain ends? It is a moment to recast the future.”