Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Hunter Davies: New Labour, New Football, and a New Batch of Managerial Sackings

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Hunter Davies: New Labour, New Football, and a New Batch of Managerial Sackings

Article excerpt

New Labour, New Football, and a new batch of managerial sackings

New Football is a bit like new Labour. You chuck out the old order, attract new people from the middle classes, bring in more women, spend more money, work hard on polish and presentation, especially presentation.

New Football has been here a bit longer than new Labour, almost a decade since the changes began, and several elements combined to bring about the revolution: the Taylor report, the Bosman ruling, Sky's millions, clubs going public, vast transfer fees, vast wages.

Out have gone old stadiums with old-fashioned terraces and old-fashioned directors, the butchers and bakers known only in the community. In have come all-seater stadiums, foreign stars and super-rich chairmen who are national figures. But you knew all that. You don't miss much.

It's been mostly for the better, I think, with increased comfort and safety, for those who can afford tickets. It costs a fortune now to follow football, yet attendances are up. Lucky old football. Even more fashionable than new Labour.

The standard of play is also better, with the influx of foreign players having beneficial effects on our horny-handed native toilers. More training, more skill, less gobbing. I keep notes on every match I watch and there's definitely less spitting this season. Awfully well brought up, most of these overseas chaps.

But you knew all that as well. Being on the ball. Being awfully observant.

However, two minor side-effects of all these changes have only just struck me. Then where do I go, who do I know? That's a lie. I'm just off to see Hillary Clinton. Yes, another posh reception. You wait 20 years, then two come along. Both hellish inconvenient. Tone and Cherie chose a Wednesday evening for their bash at No 10, right in the middle of live foot. ball on the telly, and now the First Lady has chosen 3 to 5pm on Sunday afternoon at the US Embassy, bang in the middle of Everton-Southampton. Don't they ever consult the fixture list?

I noticed the first thing during the Italy-Russia game when I realised I was deliberately looking out for Zola, Di Matteo and Ravanelli. OK, so Zola didn't get a game and Ravanelli's now in France, but I know each of them so well, their haircuts, their walks, the shrug of their shoulders, the nature of their frowns and could probably pick out their body parts from a motorway pile-up.

Then Kanchelskis tore down the wing for Russia and at once I recognised that maddening, head-down run from his Manchester days, glorious in flight but so often ending up glaringly useless, wasting the ball, then standing around, looking confused and amazed. I think he's put on a few pounds in weight since he left England. What do you think, Ivy?

The advantage of having so many star foreigners here is that we get to know them intimately, their foibles and fashions, their tricks and trademarks. They become less foreign, one of us. …

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