London is awful, horrible, but the football ain't too bad

I didn't really want to go to see Spurs on Monday evening. The weather was wet and horrible, having to drag myself through north London was even more horrible, and because it was only Derby it was live on the telly, for which I've already paid, so why bother, what's the point? But it was my first game of the season in the flesh - or what passes for flesh - so I had to go, didn't I, no alternative, had to be done.

I always feel like this after five months away in Lakeland. London is so nasty, so brutish, that re-entry is culturally shocking. It's a foreign city, which is refreshing after five months of no black or brown faces, no foreign accents, no ethnic diversity. But at the same time, it is so filthy, so ugly - who wants to go anywhere?

It's a war zone out there, battling in the streets, aggression at every corner, people being horrible to each other. And nothing works, all services having collapsed. I rang my GP in Hampstead - don't ask why - and the first appointment was three weeks away. In Cockermouth, it was three days.

Last week, on starting a new book, I took the Tube to Waterloo, from where I caught the train to Barnstaple. The conditions were third-world. I take that back. Transport in Haiti is at least colourful and artistic, on their hand-painted tap-tap buses. Did Ken Livingstone ever become Mayor of London? Can't remember now, after five months away and no Evening Standard, but that was the rumour. No wonder Tony Blair is rushing round the globe. Anything to get out of this dump.

So that's how I felt when I arrived at White Hart Lane. I bought a programme: bloody hell, it's now £3, up 20 per cent from last season. Then a cup of tea: oh my God, that's now £1.20, also up 20 per cent. Is the service and quality 20 per cent better? Is it heckers, though they have painted the staircases and the lavs.

On the radio last week, I heard one of the new directors of Spurs saying that the club is a world-class brand that they are going to exploit properly - as if this was a new idea. For over 20 years they've been saying it, and doing it, alas. Not very difficult. All it means is launching even more merchandising nonsenses and creating further marketing cobblers.

They'll get away with it as long as Premiership football remains popular with the public. They will squeeze our pips and our bollocks, and we'll pay up, whether it's £850 for a season ticket or £3 for a programme. We're in a cycle where the stupid and the craven get taken to the cleaners. Player power is now so strong that an average team member can demand £20,000 a week, no problem, just tell us where to empty the sacks. The clubs can't answer back to the players, so they take it out on us. Another 20p for a cup of tea? Yes, your worship, your highness, how kind of you to let me in.

I sat down and was convinced that my seat had become 20 per cent smaller since last season. There's no room to move, or to breathe. My son the barrister has been sitting in it while I've been away, so it hasn't been wasted. He rang me on his mobile at half-time during that Man Utd match to scream out the news that Spurs were three goals up. Lucky sod, being there, in my seat, for one of the games of the year, the decade, the century. I rushed in from the garden to switch on Radio 5 Live for the second half. And we all know what happened.

Spurs started well against Derby, making lots of chances, which cheered up the crowd, who began singing: "If you hate Sol Campbell, clap your hands." Most of the crowd did, but I didn't, nor did the man next to me, a retired accountant who always brings his grandson. "I'm too old to hate," I said to him. "I'm too old to stand up," he replied.

Teddy Sheringham has made such a difference. The crowd have quite forgotten how they stood up to hate him when he left Spurs for Man Utd. Now he's back, he seems better than ever. And quicker, which is weird. Perhaps it's in comparison with Poyet, who makes our tortoise look fast. But Poyet played well, as did Ziege, both confident, experienced players whom the younger players need around them.

It was also my first sight of Dean Richards, this season's third new signing. He did OK, solid, no mistakes, and will probably be a more than adequate replacement for Sol. Over the past two years, Sol has been rubbish - well, not quite rubbish, but he didn't progress or develop, going backwards if anything. The crowd still love Rebrov, which surprised me. I hadn't picked that up from match reports or from watching Spurs on television. I think he has been a flop, apart from two or three early games. I'd get shot of him.

Most of all, the crowd loves Glenn. So nice to hear the Spurs manager being cheered by name, unlike this time last season. And he has improved the team. They are more fluent, more creative, more entertaining, even though they are no higher in the league than they were this time last season under wossisname.

It is a better team, and much better to watch. But are they 20 per cent better? Do they justify that extra 20p on a cup of tea and 50p on the programme? Hmm. Hard one, that. But as they won, easily, I came out thinking: I'm glad I went after all.

On the way home, London didn't look quite as menacing and scruffy and awful. It was either the win that did it or a sign that, after just one week, re-entry is complete. My Lakeland eyes have gone, green hills forgotten, pure air evaporated. I've been sucked in, joined the rat race, assumed my London mindset. I'm one of them now.

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.