Not one **** goal, as they wouldn't have said in 1934

I've just got back from a derby game between Arsenal and Spurs. Which I was really looking forward to. Turned out pretty boring, really, and my mind kept wandering all the time, back to the description of another derby game by a well-known writer. Here's a few sentences from it. See if you can name the author. "But for all that it was a good match, clean and fast and exciting . . . nearly everything possible has been done to spoil this game: the heavy financial interests; the absurd transfer and player selling systems; the lack of birth or residential qualifications for the players; the absurd publicity given to every feature of it by the press; the monstrous partisanship of the crowds."

All sounds fairly contemporary, but it's not. So try to guess the year as well. The match he was watching was between Notts Forest and Notts County. That's a clue, of sorts.

It could well have been written about today's match, which was fast and clean, surprisingly clean for a derby. I've seen Arsenal-Spurs games where they've been kicking lumps out of each other even before the kick-off.

The heavy financial interests, we know all about them, and the absurd publicity. As for the lack of birth qualifications, the writer was struck by the apparent anomaly, to him, of Nottingham players coming from London, Liverpool and Scotland. He should have been living at this hour. Oops, that's another clue. Now you know the writer is dead.

The monstrous partisanship of the crowd was very evident at Arsenal. And gave me a lot of pleasure. I enjoy rival supporters slagging each other off. Today, the Arsenal crowd spent a lot of time singing "Arsene Wenger", which they don't usually do. Not because he's not popular, which he is, but because his personality is low key, academic, unemotional, not the sort of person to sing about, especially at this stage in the season. But the singing was subtle. The Arsenal fans were trying to tempt the Spurs fans into replying by singing "George Graham". But they didn't fall for it. They still haven't taken George to their hearts. Not yet. Not without some sort of achievement.

If they had shouted his name, it would have led to the loudest jeers of the afternoon from the Arsenal crowd. Instead, they had to be content with some low boos when his name was read out before the match. I think George can handle that. "Stand up if you hate Tottenham." That went on all afternoon, as one would expect. I don't mind that either. Better than thumping each other. Just in case, the police were out in force, the largest number of coppers I have seen for several years. Took me back to Spurs-Arsenal games of the seventies when there were pitched battles in the surrounding streets, running fights, near riots. It's a sign of how much football has changed, with our bright new stadia, filled only with people who can afford the prices and who don't, on the whole, go for a punch-up. Not of the physical variety.

While walking to the ground, I didn't spot any Spurs fans. Even inside, you had to know where to look for them, or listen for them. They had left behind their Spurs scarves and repro shirts. All colours were being hidden. Not a rattle in sight. Oops. That's another clue.

It was only towards the end that I spotted a Spurs banner being pulled out of a pocket and hastily waved in the air, just for a few seconds, when we got a corner. Sorry, when Spurs got a corner.

All through the game I had to keep shtum, trying not to give away my Spurs affiliation while sitting amid the Arsenal season ticket holders. What I do in these circumstances is politely clap a good bit of play, from either side, but sit still if either scores a goal. Fat chance. It was a goalless draw, typical anti-climactic local derby.

Why is it called a derby by the way? The term goes back to the 19th century and is now used all over the football world, regardless of the language. The city of Derby, unlike London, Glasgow, Liverpool, Nottingham and elsewhere, never had two rival football clubs. I assume it must therefore come from the Derby, the big horse race. A big football match became known as a derby match. I think. Haven't got the time to look up exact derivations and references in my football library.

Not when I'm sitting here, looking at that description of a Notts Forest- Notts County match. The two clubs have not been in the same division for some years, so that was a hint that the match was not exactly up to date.

The writer himself didn't come from Nottingham. He was passing through, on a journey through England. That's the final clue.

Yes, it was J B Priestley in his 1934 book, English Journey, getting a taste of a very English event.

One of the other things which intrigued him about the game was that he found himself sitting behind two middle-aged women. He clearly had not expected to find any women at a football match. The two women kept up a running commentary. "Nay Bob, you ought to ha' let 'Erbert 'ave it," one shouted. "Nay Tom, don't stand still," said the other.

Priestley guessed they might have been related to one of the players. "For they were in possession of Christian names and used them freely in giving advice."

I didn't quote that bit earlier on. You would have known at once it wasn't contemporary. We all use the Christian names of players today. And anyway a Christian name like 'Erbert isn't very common. And today, advice from the crowd, female or male, would have included some choicer language. Swearing, as we call it. Priestley would not have quoted that, not in the 1930s.

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 20 November 1998 issue of the New Statesman, A prejudice as American as apple pie

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Q&A: What are tax credits and how do they work?

All you need to know about the government's plan to cut tax credits.

What are tax credits?

Tax credits are payments made regularly by the state into bank accounts to support families with children, or those who are in low-paid jobs. There are two types of tax credit: the working tax credit and the child tax credit.

What are they for?

To redistribute income to those less able to get by, or to provide for their children, on what they earn.

Are they similar to tax relief?

No. They don’t have much to do with tax. They’re more of a welfare thing. You don’t need to be a taxpayer to receive tax credits. It’s just that, unlike other benefits, they are based on the tax year and paid via the tax office.

Who is eligible?

Anyone aged over 16 (for child tax credits) and over 25 (for working tax credits) who normally lives in the UK can apply for them, depending on their income, the hours they work, whether they have a disability, and whether they pay for childcare.

What are their circumstances?

The more you earn, the less you are likely to receive. Single claimants must work at least 16 hours a week. Let’s take a full-time worker: if you work at least 30 hours a week, you are generally eligible for working tax credits if you earn less than £13,253 a year (if you’re single and don’t have children), or less than £18,023 (jointly as part of a couple without children but working at least 30 hours a week).

And for families?

A family with children and an income below about £32,200 can claim child tax credit. It used to be that the more children you have, the more you are eligible to receive – but George Osborne in his most recent Budget has limited child tax credit to two children.

How much money do you receive?

Again, this depends on your circumstances. The basic payment for a single claimant, or a joint claim by a couple, of working tax credits is £1,940 for the tax year. You can then receive extra, depending on your circumstances. For example, single parents can receive up to an additional £2,010, on top of the basic £1,940 payment; people who work more than 30 hours a week can receive up to an extra £810; and disabled workers up to £2,970. The average award of tax credit is £6,340 per year. Child tax credit claimants get £545 per year as a flat payment, plus £2,780 per child.

How many people claim tax credits?

About 4.5m people – the vast majority of these people (around 4m) have children.

How much does it cost the taxpayer?

The estimation is that they will cost the government £30bn in April 2015/16. That’s around 14 per cent of the £220bn welfare budget, which the Tories have pledged to cut by £12bn.

Who introduced this system?

New Labour. Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor, developed tax credits in his first term. The system as we know it was established in April 2003.

Why did they do this?

To lift working people out of poverty, and to remove the disincentives to work believed to have been inculcated by welfare. The tax credit system made it more attractive for people depending on benefits to work, and gave those in low-paid jobs a helping hand.

Did it work?

Yes. Tax credits’ biggest achievement was lifting a record number of children out of poverty since the war. The proportion of children living below the poverty line fell from 35 per cent in 1998/9 to 19 per cent in 2012/13.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s a bit of a weird system in that it lets companies pay wages that are too low to live on without the state supplementing them. Many also criticise tax credits for allowing the minimum wage – also brought in by New Labour – to stagnate (ie. not keep up with the rate of inflation). David Cameron has called the system of taxing low earners and then handing them some money back via tax credits a “ridiculous merry-go-round”.

Then it’s a good thing to scrap them?

It would be fine if all those low earners and families struggling to get by would be given support in place of tax credits – a living wage, for example.

And that’s why the Tories are introducing a living wage...

That’s what they call it. But it’s not. The Chancellor announced in his most recent Budget a new minimum wage of £7.20 an hour for over-25s, rising to £9 by 2020. He called this the “national living wage” – it’s not, because the current living wage (which is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, and currently non-compulsory) is already £9.15 in London and £7.85 in the rest of the country.

Will people be better off?

No. Quite the reverse. The IFS has said this slightly higher national minimum wage will not compensate working families who will be subjected to tax credit cuts; it is arithmetically impossible. The IFS director, Paul Johnson, commented: “Unequivocally, tax credit recipients in work will be made worse off by the measures in the Budget on average.” It has been calculated that 3.2m low-paid workers will have their pay packets cut by an average of £1,350 a year.

Could the government change its policy to avoid this?

The Prime Minister and his frontbenchers have been pretty stubborn about pushing on with the plan. In spite of criticism from all angles – the IFS, campaigners, Labour, The Sun – Cameron has ruled out a review of the policy in the Autumn Statement, which is on 25 November. But there is an alternative. The chair of parliament’s Work & Pensions Select Committee and Labour MP Frank Field has proposed what he calls a “cost neutral” tweak to the tax credit cuts.

How would this alternative work?

Currently, if your income is less than £6,420, you will receive the maximum amount of tax credits. That threshold is called the gross income threshold. Field wants to introduce a second gross income threshold of £13,100 (what you earn if you work 35 hours a week on minimum wage). Those earning a salary between those two thresholds would have their tax credits reduced at a slower rate on whatever they earn above £6,420 up to £13,100. The percentage of what you earn above the basic threshold that is deducted from your tax credits is called the taper rate, and it is currently at 41 per cent. In contrast to this plan, the Tories want to halve the income threshold to £3,850 a year and increase the taper rate to 48 per cent once you hit that threshold, which basically means you lose more tax credits, faster, the more you earn.

When will the tax credit cuts come in?

They will be imposed from April next year, barring a u-turn.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.