Amazon has finally got behind the scenes at Man City. I did the same with Spurs 40 years ago

I conned – sorry, talked – my way in, persuading the chairman that the manager had agreed, and vice versa.


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Forty six years ago I spent a year with Tottenham Hotspur and wrote a book about it. I rather conned – sorry, talked – my way in, persuading the chairman that the manager, Bill Nicholson, had agreed, and persuading Bill that the chairman had agreed. In fact I had no agreement or any contract with anyone at the club.

In those days, none of the players had an agent, lawyer, accountant, security guard, all of which are commonplace today. I just gave them my word that each could read and check the bit in the book about themselves, and that I would spilt proceeds with the first-team pool. My agent went spare when he heard. It meant he had to divide every piddling bit of income 19 ways.

During that season,1971-72, I trained with them – wearing a training top, going in the showers, going on runs. I went into the dressing room before, during and after games, and sat on the bench during the game itself. Looking back, I still can’t believe I got away with it. I thought I might get ejected a few times, when there was a half-time row – Bill Nicholson shouting at Martin Chivers. I feared he might turn on me, looking for a scapegoat, and say get out. But I hung on.

I did lots of surveys with the first team, working out questions with the help of a lecturer friend from LSE – not just on football but their social, political and domestic life. I went to their houses, got invited to their parties, and have remained friends with several of the players .

We sold the US and the Scandinavian rights to the book and it is still in print today in the UK and the US. I glow with pride whenever The Glory Game gets listed in the top ten best ever sporting books. Though usually these lists are compiled by friends of mine.

The personalities, stresses and pressures of being in a top professional sporting club have not really changed, but everything else has been transformed.

Players live in gated mansions, train in high-security training grounds, surrounded by suits protecting their privacy and fortunes. Fans can’t get near them. Journalists can’t grab them in the car park for a word after a game. The few interviews they give are heavily controlled, usually related to a lucrative advertising campaign, a rubbish video, or to a charity, which have to be featured prominently.

Over the decades, hacks have asked me how they can get in and do such a book. I reply, forget it. Football has totally changed. Academics in sport science departments write regularly from universities around the world asking if they can reproduce my surveys. I say, fine. Lift what you want. Then they say that they are planning to ask similar questions to top sportsmen in their country. I say, good luck with that, knowing they have bugger-all chance.

I have always assumed that The Glory Game will be a period piece.

 Yet the global passion for football is greater than it has ever been – generating billions, watched by trillions. Surely the world would be even more fascinated today by what goes on in a top football club. If only they could see inside.

 Go to Spain or Portugal, pick up their sporting papers, and every day of the week there is mass saturation of the most minor, staggeringly boring details of what they think is happening in their top clubs. In the UK there are daily football sections, and acres devoted on Saturday and Sunday. There seems to be an incredible appetite for football trivia, for any insight into the lives of our heroes.

Now, at long last, it looks as if this hunger is going to be sated. No, not by a hack like me. But by the TV cameras.

Man City have agreed a deal with Amazon for a behind-the- scenes multi-part documentary series, to be shown in more than 200 countries. In Italy, Juventus have a similar deal with Netflix. These new subscription-based commercial  TV makers have tapped into a worldwide market – and have billions to bribe, sorry  persuade, normally secretive football clubs to open  up. Money talks. When I did it, all it took was cheek. 

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 appears in the 22 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia