Show Hide image

A happy day – at Spurs with my son, a win and a sweet pink sticker

Taking my son to the match on Boxing Day was going down memory lane. But who can afford season tickets for all the family these days?

I went to Spurs on Boxing Day with my son James. That’s not his real name. Back in the last century I used to do a column in Punch called Father’s Day. It was the idea of Alan Coren, the editor, that a dad should write about his family, as a change from all the women chuntering on about their Little Treasures.

I made the mistake of naming my Little Treasures and giving their real ages. I did myself out of a job in the end, as they grew up and left home. My children became furious when teachers started making sarky remarks in the corridor. So for a while my son became James.

I have such happy memories of taking James to Spurs. It’s what dads do, in the urban myths. It never happened in my childhood. My dad loved football but throughout my childhood he was an invalid, bedridden with MS. So he never took me nowhere.

James was a slow reader, but following Spurs seemed to concentrate his brain. I always maintained it was through Spurs programmes that he eventually learned to read. We would find him asleep in bed, a programme still over his face. Ah, bless.

So going with him on Boxing Day was going down memory lane. Looking around the West Stand, I saw loads of families, as it always used to be, though who can afford season tickets for all the family these days?

Here was a burly man three rows ahead continually bellowing abuse at the Spurs players. “TOO MUCH XMAS PUDDING!” He clearly believed that if he shouted enough times we might find it even vaguely amusing.

At almost every football ground there is a Mr Shouter. Someone who yells constantly, out of all proportion to what is happening. You wonder if he does it at home, or if football is his release. Following football, after all, is therapy. I remember one at Highbury who kept it up the whole game, going red in the face, until restrained by other supporters. Then the fists started flying.

Yes, I did go to Highbury for many years, had half a season ticket, buying it from another dad when his son was away at college. James never forgave me, accusing me of putting money into the pocket of the scum. Are you calling my friend scum? It goes to Arsenal in the end, he would reply.

That’s the problem of indoctrinating children – they take it to extremes. His support for Spurs has always been total. Me, I moan about them as much as I praise them, but then I did not acquire them from birth. I chose them deliberately. We moved into this house, equidistant between Highbury and White Hart Lane, in 1963. I wanted a local team. Spurs were playing better football. On the way to Glory.

It is chaos at White Hart Lane at present. The new stadium is going up – or down, as all the work seems underground. Then because of the terrorism in Paris, with the Stade de France nearly being blown up, they’re doubling security at Premier grounds.

My little rucksack, which I have taken to matches for decades, had to be searched. I expected my metal Thermos to be confiscated. The security staff didn’t even open it. Just slapped on a sweet little pink sticker saying “Bag searched”, which also had on it the words “Tottenham Hotspur” and their cockerel logo. I was well pleased. I immediately unstuck it carefully. It is now in my drawer of Spurs memorabilia. Memory of a happy day.

Which it was. Spurs won 3-0 against Norwich. Even better, teams above and around them got beaten. Best of all, Arsenal got stuffed 4-0. Ha ha.

Late in the game, Spurs brought on Tom Carroll, who looks about 13, a lad from their academy. Mr Shouter immediately got to his feet. “GERRIM OFF. CARROLL IS SHIT!” He bellowed this several times. Ten minutes later, Carroll scored a brilliant goal, with his left foot, miles out. The stadium exploded. Except for Mr Shouter, who remained seated. For about twenty rows around him the fans stood up, pointing and laughing, singing and chanting: “TOM CARROLL, HE’S ONE OF OUR OWN.”

So yes, ’twas a grand Boxing Day treat. For a father and a son . . . 

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 07 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The God issue

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Hopes of an anti-Brexit party are illusory, but Remainers have a new plan to stay in the EU

Stopping Brexit may prove an impossible task. Remainers are looking to the "Article 49 strategy": reapplying for EU membership. 

The Remain campaign lost in the country, but it won by a landslide in parliament. On 23 June 2016, more than two-thirds of MPs voted for EU membership. Ever since the referendum, the possibility that parliament could thwart withdrawal, or at least soften it, has loomed.

Theresa May called an early general election in the hope of securing a majority large enough to neutralise revanchist Remainers. When she was denied a mandate, many proclaimed that “hard Brexit” had been defeated. Yet two months after the Conservatives’ electoral humbling, it appears, as May once remarked, that “nothing has changed”. The government remains committed not merely to leaving the EU but to leaving the single market and the customs union. Even a promise to mimic the arrangements of the customs union during a transition period is consistent with May’s pre-election Lancaster House speech.

EU supporters once drew consolation from the disunity of their opponents. While Leavers have united around several defining aims, however, the Remainers are split. Those who campaigned reluctantly for EU membership, such as May and Jeremy Corbyn, have become de facto Brexiteers. Others are demanding a “soft Brexit” – defined as continued single market membership – or at least a soft transition.

Still more propose a second referendum, perhaps championed by a new centrist party (“the Democrats” is the name suggested by James Chapman, an energetic former aide to George Osborne and the Brexit Secretary, David Davis). Others predict that an economic cataclysm will force the government to rethink.

Faced with this increasingly bewildering menu of options, the average voter still chooses Brexit as their main course. Though Leave’s referendum victory was narrow (52-48), its support base has since widened. Polling has consistently shown that around two-thirds of voters believe that the UK has a duty to leave the EU, regardless of their original preference.

A majority of Remain supporters, as a recent London School of Economics study confirmed, favour greater controls over EU immigration. The opposition of a significant number of Labour and Tory MPs to “soft Brexit” largely rests on this.

Remainers usually retort – as the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, put it – “No one voted to become poorer.” Polls show that, as well as immigration control, voters want to retain the economic benefits of EU membership. The problem is not merely that some politicians wish to have their cake and eat it, but that most of the public does, too.

For Remainers, the imperative now is to avoid an economic catastrophe. This begins by preventing a “cliff-edge” Brexit, under which the UK crashes out on 29 March 2019 without a deal. Though the Leave vote did not trigger a swift recession, a reversion to World Trade Organisation trading terms almost certainly would. Although David Davis publicly maintains that a new EU trade deal could swiftly be agreed, he is said to have privately forecast a time span of five years (the 2016 EU-Canada agreement took seven). A transition period of three years – concluded in time for the 2022 general election – would leave the UK with two further years in the wilderness without a deal.

A coalition of Labour MPs who dislike free movement and those who dislike free markets has prevented the party endorsing “soft Brexit”. Yet the Remainers in the party, backed by 80 per cent of grass-roots members, are encouraged by a recent shift in the leadership’s position. Although Corbyn, a Bennite Eurosceptic, vowed that the UK would leave the single market, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have refused to rule out continued membership.

A group of Remainers from all parties met in the Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s office before recess, and they are hopeful that parliament will force the government to commit to a meaningful transition period, including single market membership. But they have no intention of dissolving tribal loyalties and uniting under one banner. A year after George Osborne first pitched the idea of a new party to Labour MPs, it has gained little traction. “All it would do is weaken Labour,” the former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis, a past Social Democratic Party member, told me. “The only way we can defeat hard Brexit is to have a strong Labour Party.”

In this febrile era, few Remainers dismiss the possibility of a second referendum. Yet most are wary of running ahead of public opinion. “It would simply be too risky,” a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Thoughtful Remainers, however, are discussing an alternative strategy. Rather than staging a premature referendum in 2018-19, they advocate waiting until the UK has concluded a trade deal with the EU. At this point, voters would be offered a choice between the new agreement and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be history. The proviso is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms, rather than the standard ones (ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). Some MPs suggest agreeing a ten-year “grace period” in which Britain can achieve this deal – a formidable challenge, but not an impossible one.

First, though, the Remainers must secure a soft transition. If the UK rips itself from the EU’s institutions in 2019, there will be no life raft back to safe territory. The initial aim is one of damage limitation. But like the Leavers before them, the wise Remainers are playing a long game.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear