Saturday 24 February 2024

A potted history of potty grudges.

 It’s been three months and seventeen days since I last read The Guardian. Not bad, even if I do say so myself. I was a five- articles-a-day man -  often sneaking out from the family to click on a sixth - but I’ve subscribed to a patch-up publication to help with the withdrawals and haven’t lapsed.

This is the sort of thing that happens, they say, as you approach 50 and edge closer to retirement; the lean away from the Left and the twist to the Right. The gradual, then bitter opposition to immigrants and Trans rights. The new sympathy for those poor, put-upon millionaire Tories. The sudden need to put too much milk in tea. Some of this is nonsense of course: no one is edging closer to retirement these days. 

No, it’s nothing personal against The Guardian, I have long been waging vendettas against a range of newspapers, television programmes, sporting tournaments; some for personal reasons, some credible. I was in my twenties when I finally quit The Sun for good. I think I’d had at least one other go at walking away until, one day in 2002, sitting in my work canteen, I seethed inwardly at the final straw and then folded up my printed copy and pushed it aside. What was it, you ask, that finally brought me to the light: the objectification of women? The shameless terminology used to describe other nations? the continued championing of Kelvin ‘The Truth’ McKenzie? A belated realisation that I was feeding in daily to Rupert Murdoch’s evil empire? Was it all four of those compelling factors? No, I was outraged by the negative reporting of Arsenal’s 1-1 away draw at Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League. 

Without going into details (Arsenal went down to 10 men in the second half when Ray Parlour received the second of two questionable yellow cards, allowing The Sun reporter to go on about the club’s disciplinary record under Arsene Wenger rather than praise the team for hanging on to their 1-0 lead until the very last minute, and not mention at all an unpunished foul just before the equaliser on Robert Pires that almost certainly stopped a second goal for the Gunners), my mind was made up for me, it wasn’t even a decision anymore, but suitably for a matter involving The Sun, a no-brainer. 

I moved on to The Evening Standard, less maverick maybe, but a safe pair of hands - although it’s availability wasn’t always reliable, sometimes bringing disappointment when the shop near my work hadn’t received delivery of the afternoon/evening’s editions by the time of my lunch break. On one occasion, I went up to the girl behind the counter and clumsily asked “Do you have any Standard’s?” Hopefully she’d noted my regular purchase of the paper and didn’t take offence. 

I know that I read the Standard for at least five years, as I recall the time that they too, nearly lost my custom after the 2007 League Cup Final. My favourite columnist was Matthew Norman, who though was a Spurs fan and made clear his issues with Wenger, was professional and skilled enough not to let it cloud his output (although of course I don’t know know what was edited out.) But then one day he wasn’t (in my view) and I refused to buy his paper for three days. A part of me believed (as apparently it does now) that my amnesty had shown them who was boss around here. When I handed my pennies to the girl at the shop on day 4, I was half expecting to read an apology.

I only stopped reading The Standard later that year when the first of my three children came along. My son’s arrival coincided with many things being dropped from my life, and reading a newspaper was one. There simply wasn’t the room to bring something else into the house among the sterilised bottles and nappies and baby wipes, or the time with all the baby signing and the existential angst. 

I would, though, live to turn my back on another publication. The existence of something called the internet allowed newspapers to be read online, and somewhere along the way I found The Guardian, or more accurately The Guardian football section, bringing me excellent feature writers twinned with a morality that chimed with mine, and no doubt further educated it. For 13 years - or 3 World Cups/European Championships - I’d found my home. Of course there were wobbles here and there, but the addiction or habit had forged a strong foothold. 

Until that November of 2023. 

What on earth could I have found so offensive in the inoffensive? The judgement of an Arsenal match, you wonder. My, aren’t I so predictable? The Guardian itself may have played a part in the betrayal I felt. I’d learned through them the horrors evident in repressive Qatar and Saudi Arabia. So in the aftermath of Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat at Newcastle that carried three acts of injustice in the goal alone, I was in no mood, even as late as the Wednesday following the Saturday match, when one of the regular columns criticised Mikel Arteta’s criticism of the referee/VAR. I was self-aware enough to understand that this column often cited “tin-hatted fans”, and that my subsequent Ferguson/Redknapp-like strop amounted to such a slur. But as Arsenal prepare to face Newcastle today in the return fixture at The…in North London, I am almost proud that my pettiness has lasted so long. 

Back in my GCSE year, I woke up to the sounds of Radio 1 DJ Simon Mayo, who unlike fellow Spurs fan Matthew Norman, wasn’t restrained in sharing his feelings on Arsenal, regularly fitting a Tony Adams donkey noise into the breakfast show and slating George Graham’s team even as they raced to the title that 90-91 season while Tottenham plunged further into financial irregularity and mid-table. I kept listening because my self-esteem was low enough to invite respect for Mayo to the point that I hung around waiting for his validation. The one time he said anything nice about Arsenal, the morning after their 3-0 win over champions Liverpool, I went in to school with the proverbial spring in my step. How sad. After that it was normal service resumed, and I even listened the Monday morning after Spurs beat Arsenal 3-1 in the first ever Wembley FA Cup semi-final and Mayo had Gary Lineker on as a guest. 

Mayo was also horrible to the listeners who phoned in to play the breakfast show games, and the sadly late Dianne Oxberry, the lone voice of reason and warmth alongside Mayo and the man-child news reader Rod McKenzie, ticked him off for being sarcastic and disrespectful. My dad chuckled at the “jumped up, little…” though Mum, distant from football and level-headed, considered my choice of Mayo as my ‘one free kill’ a waste because he was “so insignificant.” I am comfortable now, recalling Mayo’s laughably prudish lecture on Top of The Pops right after the Divinyls performance of I Touch Myself, and I smirk at his righteous indignation when rebuking Danish actor Sofie Grabol for unknowingly swearing on one of his more recent shows. I didn’t listen to it but read Grabol’s recollection in an interview. Mayo is not so much Alan Partridge, more Dave Clifton. A dosser and a dwad. 

I don’t know what the alternatives were, Radio 2 wasn’t then what it is now - and maybe I should have just got up out of bed - but the me now wouldn’t give Mayo one breath. Nowadays, because of that internet thing, you can find lots of people feeling how you are feeling about your team and the people who hate them. I pretty much use Arseblog as a counselling service. I don’t go anywhere near the danger zones of Sky Sports and Talksport FM. I did, though, expect better of The Guardian/a small part of its football section. 

So when, hot on the heels of the St James’ Park fallout, a rival comes along to offer me a cut-price deal, I will happily move on and take my custom elsewhere. I have a right not to agree with the man who is not agreeing with the manager of my team, and just as I take umbrage with that freedom of speech, I will activate my freedom of movement. Before Saudi Arabia come for it. 

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