The fan - Hunter Davies

Match-day hospitality is a nice little earner for yesterday's heroes.

Premiership football began 15 years ago, bringing with it lots of excitements and improvements. Even the donkey in the first-team squad is now likely to become a millionaire. We have all-seater stadia, overpriced glossy programmes and games liable to kick off at really stupid times, but perhaps the Premiership's most distinctive feature is the growth in hospitality.

By hospitality I mean the corporate variety, covering private boxes, suites and dining rooms. It's also reached the lowest divisions, so that any local chancer, sorry plumber or solicitor, can entertain his clients with a nice seat, a free drink and a chance to vote for the donkey as man of the match, who, after the game, will appear at your seat, in person, and bray.

The big attraction, for clubs big and small, is that they can charge an enormous all-in price, about five times the basic seat. And the firms paying can justify the bill as promotion, or gorging, anything really, because no individual actually pays.

Oft have I cussed, at both Spurs and Arsenal, when hospitality guests fall late into their seats, their best suits covered in prawn sandwich stains, badges hanging from their red necks and no idea where they are or who's playing.

Until two weeks ago, I'd never actually been a hospitality guest, which explains why I'm such an expert. Then I got invited to Spurs. The hosping began four hours before kick-off with a pre-match tour, drinks and welcome pack, but I couldn't be fussed with all that, so I arrived just two hours before kick-off - in time for a four-course meal with wine and liqueurs.

I expected that by then it would be full of loud lads already the worse for wear, but it was terribly civilised. Around 200 were seated in an attractive dining room to enjoy an excellent meal.

Martin Chivers, star of Spurs and England in the 1970s, was our host. During the meal he interviewed other stars on stage. A member of the Magic Circle came round the tables and did tricks. Warren Mitchell got up and told Jewish jokes, which is allowed, in fact is compulsory, at Spurs.

Two of the fans have realised the annual derby with Arsenal is being held on Yom Kippur. "What are we going to do?" wails one to the other. "I think we'll have to record it," replies the other. "What?" says his friend, "the whole service . . . ?"

What I wasn't aware of till later was that there were nine other such hospitality dining rooms, all of them with their own host, each a Spurs legend, such as Pat Jennings, Alan Mullery, Martin Peters, Phil Beal, Cliff Jones, John Pratt. I recall Pratt, a whole-hearted player, very helpful to me when I was writing The Glory Game, belting the ball over the North Stand into the Paxton Road. Never thought he'd become a Spurs legend. He is now.

Altogether, at most home games, 3,500 people are enjoying some sort of hospitality at Spurs for prices ranging from £180 to £310 per person, depending on the package and the game.

I sat next to Martin Chivers, who has been doing this gig for more than 15 years. Weekdays, he's business development director of a property maintenance firm. Hosting hospitality is a nice little extra earner for players of his vintage. Until his sudden death, Peter Osgood worked as a match-day host at Chelsea. Charlie George does a similar thing at Arsenal.

Players from the Seventies, and even the Eighties, never made much money and never retired rich, so they are grateful for the work. But as Martin pointed out, the supply of celeb hosts available for football hospitality events will very soon dry up.

First, many of today's stars are foreigners, who will retire to the place of their birth, planning never to walk down seedy old Tottenham High Road ever again. Second, whether Brit or foreigner, they will be too rich to be arsed with all this hospitality nonsense, glad-handing total strangers, telling the same stories and jokes for a measly few quid.

It will be the end of an era as we now know it, and enjoy it. Which I did . . .

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 27 March 2006 issue of the New Statesman, Trident