Creature comforts

The best bit about Wembley's dreary final was press hospitality

There were 500 media persons at Wembley for the Cup final last Saturday, so many that for the first time ever they didn't send out press tickets but made you use a computer. God, what a faff, especially for someone who works on a steam-driven Amstrad PCW. You had to log on, shake it all about, give passwords, special numbers, to see some gibberish on a screen that had to be printed out and taken with you, plus a passport. It wasn't like this in 1923.

No, I didn't actually make that game, but I was there in 1966 for the World Cup final. Still got the ticket. I also have my dead sheep from the Auto Windscreens final, or whatever it was called, in 1997. Not a real sheep, a plastic one, which we Carlisle United fans blew up and waved to show our loyalties. Mine was rubbish and collapsed the minute I blew it up. It was like waving a plastic pancake.

London's quality, the nobs and snobs, have always been very superior about Cup final fans, especially from the north. I have a copy in my football collection of the Graphic for 29 April 1911, in which Sir Philip Gibbs describes their arrival: "A horde of northern barbarians invaded London on Saturday, strolling in their big boots up Bond Street, staring under the peaks of their cloth caps, giving an unintelligent glance or two, like savages, they went stupidly about."

Footer fans are now today's quality. You have to be, to afford a £95 seat and a £10 programme. And we're awfully sophisticated. During the pre-match ceremonies, the Man United fans booed and hissed when Ian St John was paraded around. At the Chelsea end, they shouted abuse at Denis Law. And no fans listened while Prince William gave his speech. Doesn't he look strange. Turned overnight from a handsome boy into his grandad Phil.

In the press room I talked to Simon Barnes of the Times, our most literary football writer. He has long grey hair in a ponytail and was wearing a linen suit that looked as if he'd slept in it. "It was a problem, coming up from the country wondering what to wear. This morning I was at Lords for the Test, now this, and tonight I'm going to Athens." "On hols?" I asked. "No," he said. "There's a little football game involving Liverpool." I felt a right fool.

The press facilities are brilliant, so much space and comfort. The seats move back and forward and we all had our little TV monitor that showed us the controversial incidents - such as the ball that crossed the Chelsea goal line. Oh yes it did. They didn't show it on the big screens for fear of unsettling the natives.

We also got goody bags - a black holdall from the sponsors to carry laptops (whatever they are). I kept every little thing, as I always do, even my Wembley paper cup. If only I had been at that first 1923 final, and kept the programme. Ten years ago I was offered one for £100. I turned it down, saying nah, it's only worth £90. Today they fetch £1,000.

Afterwards, we all trooped into the 200-seater press conference theatre, where José was on top form. "My dog is in Portugal, so the city of London is safe and secure." He argued that Chelsea "deserved this happiness", which was pushing it, as both sides were jaded. "Beforehand I asked my players, 'Do you want to enjoy the game, or enjoy after the game?' They said after the game, so we decided to control it."

Making it a pretty dreary match, alas, but the new Wembley is spectacular. An experience in itself. See you next season . . .

"The Beatles, Football and Me" is published by Headline Review (£7.99). Hunter Davies returns in the autumn

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 28 May 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Gaza: The jailed state

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.