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22 September 2016

It’s time we talked about stadium seating

The Emirates stadium is now like those Belgravia mansions that lie empty. So ungrateful, those Arsenal fans.

By Hunter Davies

A day in the life of a football fan, episode 640.

Last Saturday, I was at my post at midday, in the easy chair with a glass of Pinot Grigio, to watch Celtic-Rangers, the first Old Firm game in ages, since Rangers got demoted to un-glory. They both went like the clappers, but I was mainly studying the crowd in a corner of the stadium.

They were sitting in sections, one whole section wearing green, another orange and another white. How did they do that? Free shirts given out by the club? And for why? Clearly, a representation of the Irish flag. The Orange Order and the wearing of green are parts of Irish culture. Not sure about the white, apart from it being the neutral space between them.

In my boyhood, I watched only Scottish teams, but now, in what’s left of my manhood, I watch English teams, so I turned over the telly at 12.30 for the Manchester battle of the managers. The game was not as manic, but more skilful, though Man United’s big signing, Paul Pogba, did very little. Pogba? Surely that’s an acronym, not his real name? Player Often Good But Awful.

Man City deserved to win, and Kevin De Bruyne was excellent. When he first arrived, I thought he was Prince Harry’s love child. He played well enough, but never seemed part of the team, as if the rest of them didn’t like passing to royalty.

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When the final whistle blew, I was in the street waiting for my son to drive me to Arsenal. Children do have their uses. I’d been invited by a friend, Jason, whose friend Ernest Hecht has seats in the very expensive club part, where you get champagne just for turning up. I had to meet him at Club Entrance West, but couldn’t get my mobile to work. Just been burgled and, among other things, they took my iPhone. I was trying to get hold of him on a borrowed phone that I couldn’t understand. It took me so long, I missed the champagne.

Excellent seats, right behind Arsène Wenger, and right among the intellectual fans moaning about him – should have gone ages ago, doesn’t know what he’s doing, blah, blah. They’ve been chuntering on like this for five years. So ungrateful, Arsenal fans.

Watching Wenger standing there, his face the colour of death, his eyes like our tortoise’s, I realised he must have a poorly back. Throughout the game, both his arms were clutching the pit of his spine. Has he got a slipped disc, or arthritis, or is it being so thin and lanky his body can’t hold itself up? Being thin is greatly overrated.

As ever, the official crowd figure of 59,962 was a nonsense. I could see gaps everywhere. The Emirates is now like those Belgravia mansions that lie empty. Either dodgy money or conspicuous consumption.

When I go to Arsenal, I never get stressed, unlike at Spurs. If Arsenal lose, I smirk secretly to myself. If they win, I’m happy my Arsenal friends are happy. Jason was over the moon. Stopped rubbishing Wenger. For at least ten seconds.

Out into the rain, running down Holloway Road in my shorts and sandals, trying to dial Uber. I do have an account, but couldn’t get it to work. Not just a different phone but I forgot my password. It either has Hunter in it, or Beatles, or Margaret, or Spurs, one of those, but I can never remember which. I managed to get a bus and was home just minutes after the kick-off for my fourth game of the day, Liverpool-Leicester.

Before I went to bed, I set the recorder for Match of the Day, as I never stay up later than five to ten. But on the way home, a friend rushing down our street had said to me: “Good win for Spurs, eh?” The stupid fool. Doesn’t he know I go to enormous lengths not to know the scores until I watch them all on Match of the Day? But a Spurs win, by whatever, that made the day. Even though I wasn’t there.

Hunter Davies’s latest book, “The Beatles Book”, is published by Ebury Press

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This article appears in the 14 Sep 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The fall of the golden generation