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I'm now this mag’s longest-serving columnist, the Arsène Wenger of the NS

If I don't get a commemorative alarm clock in June, I'll be furious.

It was 20 years ago, back in June 1996, that I started writing this column. There have been only four editors in that time, which is a better record than most football managers. I even pre-date – by three months – Arsène Wenger at the Arse. Ian Hargreaves (editor, 1996-98) hired me. He had been the editor of the Independent, for which I’d written lots of stuff, but I had never actually met him. He had no interest in football but it was the summer of the Euros in England. It was thought it might be in all the papers, so better have something.

Gazza was in his pomp in 1996, and in the pub and in the kebab shops, but England got to the semis, beaten 6-5 on penalties by Germany. Gareth Southgate missed his and was never allowed to forget it.

After the Euros, I just carried on. Peter Wilby (1998-2005) took over as editor. He quite liked football and supported Leicester City, whatever happened to them, but he really preferred cricket. I can’t remember much about John Kampfner (2005-2008), apart from him inviting me to lunch, then cancelling.

Jason Cowley arrived in 2008 and is still there, last time I looked under the office table. He’s a football fan, far more knowledgeable than I am, which of course isn’t hard. Shame he supports the Arse but at least he knows when I’m making dopey predictions.

In the old days, there were lots of NS parties, plus lunches with interesting guests. They seem to have stopped, unless I’m not being invited, bastards. I am now the longest-serving NS columnist, oh yes, and if I don’t get an engraved clock in June, or at least some goldfish, I will be spitting.

I write this column on a Sunday, having been to a game on Saturday – Spurs or Arsenal – and watched everything that moves, football-wise, on the telly. Monday to Friday I work on a book. Weekends I do various columns. I watch nothing on telly apart from football. I make notes on every game, just as I make notes on everything I do and think.

The problem with this mag not being seen by most people till Friday is that my totally original, fab observations have either been on every back page all week or, more likely, completely forgotten. Which is why I muck around, writing as much about my domestic life as football, hoping stuff doesn’t date too quickly. I envy the Lezard. He could probably write a whole year’s columns ahead, then go to bed, and nobody would know when he’d done them.

I start a new notebook every season, making two lists. One I call Topics, ideas for possible columns, and the other is called Points, full of daft thoughts, bits and pieces. Now I look back over the 20 years, this is mostly about haircuts. Each week I fret, until I have a topic I think I can spin out.

I don’t think anyone in football actually reads the column. In November 1996 I was very disobliging about Gazza, saying he was “unbalancing the team” and “throwing himself around like a mad cow”. I kept this quiet when I later ghosted his autobiography.

In 2006, I read that Wayne Rooney was being given £5m by HarperCollins for five books covering the rest of his football life. In these very pages I rubbished the notion of a lad of 19 being given all that money. After the column appeared I got a call from HarperCollins saying I was on the shortlist to ghost Wayne’s first book. Brilliant idea, I said, long overdue.

The biggest changes in 20 years have of course been the arrival of all the foreign players, foreign managers, and the obscene salaries. But you know all that. Television – that has seen huge advances. I was always knocking and mocking Sky, Andy Gray and all that lot, forever telling us the Premier League was the best in the world blah blah.

But football on television is so much better: technically amazing, and so much of it. My ambition, when I am even older, is to sit all day drinking Beaujolais and watching football on the telly. Then writing this column. Bliss.

Hunter Davies’s new memoir, “The Co-Op’s Got Bananas!”, is published by Simon & Schuster 

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 05 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred

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On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:


“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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