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Inner angst and hidden anger

Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column.

I was at the Arsenal home game against Norwich, sitting with Tony the judge and Steve, a long-haired QC. I have a small collection of Arsenal-ticket-holding friends and for most home matches one of them has a spare. They didn’t look like legal eminences, dressed anonymously like most middle-aged football fans. Each had a little rucksack containing their crash helmet, as they’d both come on their bikes. Oh, such modern men.

Five minutes to go and Norwich were one up, so I was keeping awfully quiet, my fingers crossed in my pockets. The crowd was restless but Tony, in his bobble hat and Arsenal scarf, was clapping awkwardly, self-consciously, like a four-year-old watching his own clapping to see he was getting it right. “Arse-nal! Arse-nal,” he was yelling, in time with his clapping.

So sweet, I was thinking, a rather patronising thought that might have crept out, for when his clapping finished he turned to me solemnly, and said he thought fans should help by showing their support, even when things were going badly. “I do dislike people who go to a game and just sit there and moan .” I said nothing, but later, on the way home – Arsenal won 3-1, jammy bastards – I thought, that’s me, spot on. All I ever seem to do is sit there and moan. At Spurs this season, apart from a few euphoric moments such as the last 20 minutes against Man City, I seem to have spent most of my time groaning. Watching England, that is far worse. They make me scream and shout and swear. Clap them when they are down? I’d rather eat up that mouldy mango with things crawling out of it.

What I believe is that the majority of football fans hate their team. We consider our players terrible, the manager useless, the directors half-wits. Not all of the time but the bulk of the time. That’s the nature of being a grown-up football fan. Kids under ten, they tend to be more rosy-eyed – once they have a team, they love everything, unconditionally.

My friend Tony is unusual. Intellectually he is well aware of what is wrong and can discuss it endlessly later, but while sitting there, his support is blind, unconditional. Not me, or most fans. We are raging against the beasts, effing and blinding, predicting worse to come: “We’re gonna get stuffed, oh what the fuck are they doing now, get ’im off, typical bleedin’ Spurs (or Newcastle or Liverpool or Villa or whoever).”

In real life, I am a total optimist, never moan and groan, always hopeful, a cheerful chappie. I hate nobody – apart from one fellow hack who asked for my contacts, without revealing he was doing a rival book, but that was decades ago. “Oh, stop whistling and being so cheerful, Hunt,” the family cry, “just finish up that mango and shurrup”. We know you want to.

So I need football, as most fans do, to get rid of my inner angst and hidden anger, which of course I don’t have, being so cheerful; but they might be there, lurking, oh yes, and might come out one day in more horrible ways, so football provides advance release, the first strikes against future furies.

The office-bound can’t do it at work, scream and shout at their stupid boss. Not much point at meetings saying “fuck off” or demanding the identity of the bastard in black. But at football, we are allowed to yell the most appalling criticisms at young blokes, mostly foreign, mostly naive, only doing their job. Of course it’s unfair and unreasonable and doesn’t help. We know all that.

So it’s brilliant they are so obscenely wellpaid. It compensates them for the abuse they have to take – and gives us another reason to shout at them. So we all win. Hurrah for football.

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 29 April 2013 issue of the New Statesman, What makes us human?

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.