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26 November 2016

When I buy Spurs, I’ll make full use of the “remembrance screens”

Football is a medium, and you can decide what your message is. 

By Hunter Davies

When I am rich, much richer than I am today, I will buy my own Premier League club. There are so many things I want to do with it. I won’t try anything political, or even vaguely political, such as having the lads wear poppies, or the suits at Fifa will be very cross. But you can promote your personal feelings and interests, knowing that trillions of people around the world will be watching.

Which is nice, better than all of that sordid nonsense about buying a club to make money. That was ten years ago. No one buys a club to make money now.

Football is a medium, and you can decide what your message is. Qatar, a country about the size of my back garden, with the climate of a microwave oven, managed to acquire the rights to host the World Cup in 2022. It will be too hot in the stadiums for the fans, yelled the rest of the world. No problem, said the Qataris: the stadiums will be air-conditioned. Brilliant. Qatar has spent all that money with a simple aim: to show what a wonderful, perfect country it is.

The Thai owners at Leicester have done a wonderful job but I wondered what was in it for them – until I watched their home game against West Brom. I went bog-eyed trying to read the flashing messages on the perimeter advertising board. The sentences were so long – just when I was hoping for a noun or a verb, the cameras went back to the action on the pitch. “Leicester City staff and supporters express sympathy for . . .” it would say – then it was gone. In a different part of the ground, the messages started again: “. . . express our sorrow for the death of . . . in remembrance of . . .”

After lying down in front of my TV screen, trying to look up its skirt, I finally got the message. King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand had died. He was aged 88. Jolly sad, though I don’t know how many Leicester fans knew him personally, or were even aware that he existed – but it was a touching gesture.

I remember years ago at Spurs, when Glenn Hoddle was manager, all of the players wore armbands because his auntie had died, or his granny. I might have got that wrong, but I do remember being furious that we were being asked to remember someone I’d never heard of.

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It happens all the time now with fans who have recently died. There is clapping or silence at an appropriate time. A BT Sport commentator the other day said that all our thoughts were now with the family of . . . well, I never caught the fan’s name.

The clubs, owners and managers can force us to share their feelings or opinions, but players can’t do it any longer. There was a short spell when many foreign goal-scorers would lift up their shirt to tell us “I love Jesus”. That has been banned.

Twenty years ago, Robbie Fowler of Liverpool revealed a T-shirt with a slogan supporting the dockers’ strike. I think the FA hanged him after that game. It’s a well-known image, made weller known by Fowler wearing a noseband that day. Yes, a bit of plaster across the bridge of his nose, meant to help with heavy breathing.

Modern owners, when they take over, often fancy changing things, knowing little and caring less about the long traditions of the club. The Malaysian who bought Cardiff City wanted the team to wear red from now on – not blue as the players had worn since 1908 – but got talked out it. Hull City’s owners wanted to change the club’s name to the Tigers. All it took was rioting in the streets to make them change their minds.

So what will I do when I buy Spurs? Obviously, all my children will be directors, just as Donald Trump has given jobs to all his tribe. My youngest granddaughter, Sienna, aged seven, will be manager.

If ever my tortoise is ill, I will demand total silence from all 61,000 people at the new stadium ground in the 40th minute. (Forty is the age of our poor Tortee.) “One minute’s silence for Tortee”: so the big screen will say. Respect, that’s what I’ll expect. When you a buy a big club, you expect respect for all your whims.

This article appears in the 23 Nov 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Blair: out of exile