Magazine article The Spectator

Our Man in the Car Park Contemplates the Grotes Queries of 'The Beautiful Game'

Magazine article The Spectator

Our Man in the Car Park Contemplates the Grotes Queries of 'The Beautiful Game'

Article excerpt

A dark hour imprisoned in a gridlocked multi-storey car park close to Old Trafford on a home-match evening gave me an opportunity to ponder what was once called 'the beautiful game'. I was a Chelsea fan in my youth - the heroic era of Cooke, Wilkins and Droy - but I'm irritated by the modern fashion for corporate chiefs to declare their club allegiances in the interest of looking blokeish. I'm prepared to accept that the governor of the Bank of England has a lifelong passion for Aston Villa, on the basis that no one would make that claim to impress, but - to take two examples I stumbled across this week - who really cares that the chief executives of Standard Chartered, Peter Sands, and the advertising agency M&C Saatchi, David Kershaw, are devotees of what Kershaw refers to in his official bio as 'the mighty Arsenal'?

So I'm not a natural supporter of the Red Knights, the consortium led by Jim O'Neill of Goldman Sachs, financier Keith Harris and hedge-fund player Paul Marshall, who are trying to wrest control of Manchester United from the Glazer family. That's not to say I'm in sympathy with the rebarbative Florida resident Malcolm Glazer and his sons: among the few facts known about Glazer pere when he first expressed interest in the club in 2003 were that he had never set foot in Manchester and didn't like sports, and that a US judge had once described him as 'a snake in sheep's clothing'. He has loaded the club with debt and alienated its loyal fans, but it has picked up plenty of trophies under his ownership and there's no obvious reason why a coterie of super-rich City types should be more in tune with the diehards in the stands. Frankly, the whole game - motley owners, overpaid and oversexed players, dodgy agents, financial shenanigans - has become a grotesque circus of greed.

I'd rather be incarcerated in a concrete car park than have anything to do with it.

Housebuilders are back

The leap of the FTSE 100 share index to its highest level since the depths of the banking crisis is not a reliable reflection of anything other than the febrile nature of investor sentiment and some better-than-expected US job-loss figures. But it's cheering nevertheless, coming as it does alongside some indicators that really might turn out to be the first daffodils of spring.

On the shopping front, John Lewis was expected to report bumper profits this week (and bumper bonuses for employee-partners) on the strength of strong sales at Waitrose, where the recession-busting 'Essentials' grocery range has been a big success. More importantly, British manufacturers have been reporting healthy increases in production, exports and new orders: of course there are still big uncertainties in the sector, including an uptick in inflation in factory-gate prices, but all this is encouraging for the regeneration of British industry and the return of normality to the British high street.

And the news item that particularly caught my eye was the profit figure for Persimmon, the northern housebuilder.

Persimmon made £78 million in 2009, compared to a loss of £780 million in 2008 - a dramatic turnaround that chiefly reflects revaluations of its land holdings. The company was founded by Duncan Davidson, an Ampleforth-educated former army officer whose grandfather was the Duke of Norfolk and who served as a pageboy at the Queen's coronation. …

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