I like the odd player sticking two fingers up at his club

Some years ago, I went up to Manchester with a TV film crew to interview George Best. They were all very excited that he had agreed. We got to his house early, as arranged, but there was no sign of him. We went to see if he was at training - no luck. We tried a fashion shop he owned and went round his favourite pubs - still no sign. I rang the producer of the series, John Birt, in London and told him we were packing up. He said no, stay on, wait till the nightclubs open.

The next day, it was the same thing: we trailed around looking for Best who, again, failed to turn up at training. We got him in the end, but what I remember is the disintegration of the crew. They were all chummy 24 hours earlier, but hanging around led to rows, huffs and fury. They were livid with Best: a disgrace, what a way to behave, treating us and Manchester United like that, typical of modern footballers, the overpaid oafs.

In those days, a TV crew usually consisted of eight people - a director, PA, interviewer, researcher, cameraman and assistant, sound man, sparks. The technical people were well paid, it seemed to me, with strong unions, so I didn't know why they were so upset by players' wages, which in the 1960s were modest - roughly double that of a working man or a good cameraman.

My reaction was amusement. Good for Best, I kept saying; that's the way to treat these coaches and trainers, put them in their place, most of them are brutes. And that's how to treat us. TV folk fancied themselves in those days, and still do. When filming, they expect people to stand aside, keep hushed, look on in awe as if they were doing brain surgery. Crews are now two-man and wages for ordinary TV workers are piddling. Thousands of media graduates are willing to do it all for nothing.

When I came home, I scribbled some notes, thinking that I'd turn the experience into a TV play - the collapse of a happy crew, waiting for some celeb who never comes. (I did write a TV play in the 1960s, a BBC Wednesday Play. Oh, they were very good.) Then I forgot it.

So what is my reaction to Carlos Tévez, you ask? Same thing: amusement. The best laughs have been at the expense of the self-righteous columnists and football experts who say he is a disgrace, should be ashamed of himself, has ruined football as we know it and taken the soul out of a beautiful game - the Independent's headline. Let's kick him out of football, then hang him.

The back pages, tabloids and broadsheets love working themselves up as moral arbiters when a player transgresses, because, of course, they're all such virtuous fellers themselves.

Losing streak

As I watched the match on TV, my feeling was that Man City's manager, Roberto Mancini, was being stupid. When you are 2-0 down and playing rubbish, why take off Edin Džeko, your main striker, and put on a defensive player, Nigel de Jong? Tévez, your best chance of a goal, had already warmed up. It seemed illogical and defeatist.

Mancini said later that he was going to put Tévez on next but Tévez refused - though he maintains that all he was doing was refusing to warm up again. It was clear insubordination. A disgrace to football, so Graeme Souness intoned. Off with his head!

The difference between now and 40-odd years ago is that the players today are multimillionaires, and are so powerful that they can do almost whatever they like - which ex-players hate and which makes the scribblers envious. All the same, I still quite like the odd player sticking two fingers up at his club, going his own way, refusing to be cowed.

Clubs try to browbeat players from the age of eight, dictate to them in every way, interested in only one aspect of their life, chucking on the scrapheap those who don't fit the pattern.

In this incident, I think Mancini was partly to blame: how he handled it, not making his plans clear, as if deliberately trying to humiliate Tévez.
Both Mancini and Tévez will lose in the end. Football will humiliate them. Mancini will lose too many games, or the dressing room. Very soon, Tévez will be too old, too injured. Then it will be out, out, out, with no mercy shown.

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 10 October 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The next great depression

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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.