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The sound of silence from the Sun

Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column.

I got a call from the Sun (namedropper!) asking me if I would comment on Liam Ridgewell. You what? You mean that journeyman West Brom fullback? What has he done? Something stupid like growing a moustache? If so, sorry, got nothing to say about moustaches, boring, boring, boring.

I sometimes get rung, number 1,001 on the ring-round list, when certain topics crop up, such as football, the Beatles or the Lake District, and they can’t find anyone else to give a glib comment, even though I would of course prefer to talk about the suffragettes, London Tube maps, or First World War silks.

No, this is really stupid, in fact appalling, said the posh female voice. You can tell it’s a tabloid by their expensive accents. When I was a proper hack, going out on stories in the old Fleet Street, the tabloids were always the smartest-dressed – pinstripes, immaculate shoes – whereas the broadsheets, such as the Guardian, employed tramps, judging by their scruffy clobber.

Today, reporters never go outside, never go anywhere, poor petals, stuck inside staring at their screens, so on the phone the tabloids have to distinguish themselves by their accents, which are always clipped and expensive. And I am sure totally real. To get a job on a national paper these days, of any sort, you have to have been to public school, a jolly good university and come from a jolly good family. How else can they pay for a postgrad year in Cardiff and survive months, if not years, of unpaid internships?

She explained that they had a photo of Ridgewell sitting on the lav wiping his bum with £20 notes – would I comment?

I could see what was coming – tut-tut journalism. You get away with running this sort of story if you can hang some quotes round it, ideally from Prince Charles, or failing that a rent-a-quote MP saying This Really Is Appalling. The Daily Mail is a master of this art.

I burst out laughing the moment she finished giving me the full details. I might even have said brilliant, well done Liam, but of course she wanted a proper, considered tut-tut quote that they could use, not a silly snigger, which is pretty hard to write down, even with Cardiff-trained expensive shorthand.

“I am surprised by the £20 notes,” I said slowly, going at dictation speed.

“West Brom have been on a good run recently, so Liam must have picked up some win bonuses. So why is he not using £50 notes?” I could hear the noise of quotes not being written, just a low sigh. So I began again.

“It is clearly an existential, nihilistic gesture, picked up from the philosophical tweets of Joey Barton. He is criticising today’s capitalist, materialist, moneygrabbing society in which we have to live, showing it is a nonsense – and if you need a better quote with longer words, I suggest you try Will Self.”

Bully for them

And then I hung up. Obviously what she wanted me to say was that it is disgusting, when ordinary people are scrimping and saving to live, and can’t afford today’s exorbitant match prices, that a stupid overpaid footballer who gets £20,000 a week is insulting ordinary, hard-working folk by . . . blah blah blah.

In the night, I thought of a much wittier response, what my reaction should have been to being asked about footballer wiping his arse with £20 notes. “Goodness, entry to the Bullingdon Club is getting easier and easier . . .”

I smiled myself to sleep. But then blow me, when I woke up, the Sunwas on the phone again, this time a young man with an equally fruity accent, asking the same question. I never realised it was such a mega-story. So I gave him my smart remark about the Bullingdon. And again I could hear the silence.

Had he heard of the Bullingdon? Of course, he said, clipped and offhand, as if I might have assumed he was from some provincial uni. In that case, I explained, I honestly was not bothered about Ridgewell’s gesture – just the sort of stupid, adolescent jape young posh men have been doing for centuries, such as sitting around the JCR setting light to their farts or at gaudies pouring champagne over each other’s heads and willies. You must expect some over-privileged, over-indulged working-class young men to be equally gross, now that some of them have the money. They’ll learn.

I was going to send one of my downstairs staff to buy the Sun the next day, but I never did, as I am pretty sure none of my quotes made it in. But they haven’t been wasted. Thanks for listening . . .

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 17 December 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Will Europe ever go to war again?