How soccer's new rich neglected a grand old man

Two interesting things happened to me at Wembley which I'd like to share. It was going to be Spurs' first time at Wembley for eight years, so when one of my Spurs friends suggested lunch beforehand, I said yeah, why not. We haven't had a lot of fun in recent years.

Normally on match days, I go on my own, since my son left home. I arrive as late as possible, sit on my own, swear and curse on my own, leave the very second the whistle blows, dash for chips, drive home, listening out for Carlisle's result, all on my own. Sad, really. My football following is a solitary pastime, but of course I am surrounded by 33,000 fellow communicants, plus several million in my head, whom I like to think are with me round the globe, not forgetting several billion in the past, who have been there before and whose spirits linger on. Thank you.

Arriving at the Hilton Hotel beside Wembley Stadium at 12.30 I was clearly not going to be alone. Dozens of heavies in dark glasses and flash suits were keeping back the throng. Stretch limos about the length of our street were pulling up, letting out even flashier blokes in flashier suits. The Hilton had apparently been taken over by the Football Hospitality Industry. No one was being allowed in without a ticket. I didn't have one. Richard had mine. All I knew was that our lunch was to be in the International Suite, but I didn't know with whom. I failed to get in by saying I was meeting someone inside. I then retreated, watched for another limo arriving, and walked in behind them, holding up an old envelope.

In the suite were about 100 people, all very overexcited, hugging each other, and that was just the men. I blame these foreign johnnies coming into football. Even the supporters have picked up these pansy ways. Bill Nicholson and Eddie Bailey would certainly not have stood for such emotional nonsense.

It is said that the middle classes are now flocking into football, but this gives the wrong impression. I do have an Arsenal friend who is a judge, and turns up wearing his red bobble hat on match days, but I never hear him shouting. The shouts and accents you hear, at both Arsenal and Spurs, are the new middle class - garage owners, financial traders, people with their own businesses who have done rather well. It's their children who have the traditional middle-class accents. They are cash-rich people, prepared to pay whatever it costs, or whatever ludicrous sum Ken Bates says a season ticket is going to cost, plus all the assorted executive fripperies.

We sat down at tables for a very good three-course tuck-in, with wines and goodies. Richard's wife and son, who is a chef, were there, plus two other families. Jolly nice people, and I enjoyed the chat - but the noise, my dear.

At one end of the room was a giant TV screen showing Aston Villa-Chelsea live. Then as the meal progressed, every table got louder and louder. My head was aching, with the noise, drink and food, and the match seemed to be receding. I began to wonder: where am I? All these years of enjoying football quietly on my own, I had forgotten about this enormous industry linked to every Big Club. At Man Utd, Newcastle, Chelsea, even West Ham, they do this all the time, marathon meals which cost a fortune and last for hours. You end up feeling knackered before the match begins.

It was a relief to get out and be walking into Wembley Stadium. Then came the second interesting thing. As I walked up the concrete steps to turnstile G, I could hear the crowd ahead shouting someone's name. Not Gee-no-la, which I'd heard a million times already. "Billy Nicholson" they were shouting. Spurs' greatest ever manager, creator of the Double-winning team, whom I had been thinking about just before.

By chance, I caught up with him - and introduced myself. I hadn't seen him for 25 years. He's 80 this year and was obviously struggling with the steps. On the step ahead was his daughter, holding his stick. He took my arm and together we got up to the top - where he announced he wanted to go to the lavatory. I said I would take him, as I go on the hour myself, and bring him back to his daughter.

I didn't know which daughter it was, as he has two, but I do remember him telling me, back in l972, that he had cried at his daughter's wedding. When I'd asked him why, he'd replied, "Because I never saw her growing up". He said that was his other daughter, who now lives in the USA.

As we worked our way to the lavatory, I feared he would be knocked over by the crush, but once he was recognised, people stood back, wanted to shake his hand, take his photograph. It was remarkable how loved and admired he clearly is. Football fans don't forget. Tribal memories live on.

He did his best to smile and charm, though desperate for the lavatory. As a dour Yorkshireman, he was rarely seen showing any emotion, though I can see in my mind a tight-lipped smile as he stood in the Spurs dressing room, on his own, after a victory.

Bill gave his whole working life to Spurs, from the age of 16 as a groundstaff boy on £2 a week, as a player, then manager. His name still appears in every Spurs programme. "Club president - W E Nicholson OBE."

So what was he doing struggling up to one of the cheap seats? Why wasn't he with the directors, or in the royal box at least, getting the sort of help and hospitality he deserved? "Oh, they forget things," he said, with a thin smile.

There was a third interesting thing that day. Spurs won. A dreary game, the details of which I've now forgotten.