Poetry or Music Need Youth, but Management or Medicine Don't
Davies, Hunter, New Statesman (1996)
In Mustique last month, I had a drink with Felix Dennis at his house, and he said something that has hung around in my mind ever since. We were not talking football, although he does own Man Utd, but talking about magazines, of which he owns many in the UK and the USA. Hold on, did I say he owns Man Utd? Yes, he does. His house in Mustique is called Mandalay, formerly owned by David Bowie, and has a full-time staff of 16. They have their own football team, Mandalay United, Man Utd for short. Now can I get on? I was saying to him there should be a proper, glossy magazine for oldies, for the over-fifties. After all, we own the world, run the world. There are 19 million of us in the UK today - a figure that will double in the next 30 years. Our disposable income is 30 per cent higher than the under-fifties. Most new cars are bought by us, most of the expensive holidays; we have more than 80 percent of the national wealth. Yet do the media give a damn about us? Do they heckers. Television and radio are obsessed b y youth, and so are the newspapers. If I see another page of rubbish in the Indy about pop records I've never heard of, I'll scream.
Felix just sighed and ordered one of his staff to get us more drinks. Don't tell me, he said. I've looked at proposals for years, but there's not a chance. You won't get advertising unless you say your readers will be under 40. Bloody hell, isn't that appalling, isn't that prejudiced, isn't that stupid, isn't that short-sighted? So hurrah for Bobby, Fergie and Graham and to the boards of Newcastle, Man Utd and Villa for seeing sense and having managers aged 68, 60 and 57.
If you're old enough, you're good enough. So they say. Age should not enter into it. So they also say. It's true about people in activities that depend on individuals and on energy and enthusiasm. And also in the creative world. Poets, writers, artists and composers, on the whole, are better when younger. They rarely see or admit this to themselves, as they think they are improving with age, unaware they are repeating themselves, marking time, getting out of date. "The brisk intemperance of youth", as Edward Gibbon remarked. That's what's wanted in most physical and creative occupations.
But not in man management. A football manager, like a lawyer, GP, teacher or social worker, improves with age. You see the same tricks, strokes, ailments, nasty problems, dodgy characters recurring. First time round, you can get it wrong, get conned, but next time, you are ready, can read it better, deal with it better.
I can never understand why British football clubs so often promote a player over night into management, just because he's been a famous, popular, successful player. How can they possibly cope? In Europe, it mostly can't happen, as you have to have the Latin, the coaching badges. …