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Call yourself a football fan? – Paul Whitehouse

Paul Whitehouse tells WSC about his love for Spurs, the basis of Ron Manager and the first ever pop record he brought

Who did you want to be when you were a kid in the playground?
George Best, Alan Ball. I did play all the time when I was a kid, I wanted to be a footballer more than anything else. I liked the ad hoc games best, playing on concrete.

Did you play at school?
I only made the B team. I was too little, really. I was a winger. I practised a lot with my left foot thinking there’d be a need. And what’s needed now? A left-sided player. I could probably have stepped admirably into that role. Lucky we’ve got Guppy, eh?

You grew up as a Spurs fan?
When I was four, we moved from Wales to Enfield, which was Tottenham heartland, though funnily enough the first game I went to was at Highbury with my dad’s mate, who was an Arsenal fan. I saw the famous Peter Marinello in some European game which they won about 7-1.

Whereabouts did you watch from at White Hart Lane?

East Stand, West Stand. I’ve been in a box a couple of times because you get offered that kind of thing, and that’s really odd, behind a glass screen. To begin with, I used to go in the cage along from the Shelf where people would spit on away fans, though I never used to. I would applaud them.

When did you first meet a player?
Charlie George lived opposite my school in a terraced house which belonged to another Arsenal player, George Armstrong – I saw them talking outside the house one day. So I went up and rang his doorbell and said “Can I have your autograph?”. And he said “Yeah, hold on” and came back with a pen. I met him this year, because we were doing a thing with him for the video – I call him “an overpaid pansy of yesteryear” – and someone asked me to get his autograph for them, so I had to ask him again, nearly 30 years later.

He’s changed quite a bit, especially his hair.
Yes, he’s still got the length but not the depth. But the first player I spoke too as an adult was Rodney Marsh. I said “One pound , please Rod” – actually I probably said “Rodney” at the time – because he parked his car in the forecourt of the garage I worked at in White Hart Lane. He said “There you go” and I said “Thank you very much”.

Who is the worst player you have seen?

It seems a bit cruel to say, really. I’ve seen Ronnie Rosenthal have a few bad games but I’ve also seen him score a hat-trick as a substitute. Anderton used to fall over quite frequently, but he’s got much harder. It’s quite amusing watching Dominguez because he’s so small you can’t really believe he can play. My favourite all time bad player, and it’s a terrible thing to say, would be Gary Sprake, though I don’t know if that’s just because his worst mistakes all happened to be on TV.

What is your favourite game that you have seen?

The FA Cup semi-final in 1991, Spurs beating Arsenal. It was the first Wembley semi and it was just weird to see an utterly silent wall of red. I’d been to other derby matches with friends who were Arsenal fans, telling them to shut up as we were getting annihilated.

A lot of football managers used to talk in that strange accent, trying speak “proper” but not quite getting there. Was the Ron Manager character derived from memories of seeing Alec Stock on TV?

Yes, when I worked at Hackney Council me and a mate used to do impersonations of him all the time. “Enduring image” seemed like the sort of thing he would say and “he took that with aplomb”. No one outside football would ever use a word like “aplomb”.They dug out a clip of him for The Fast Show night and he was great, he said “Well, you know, the goal’s gone in, England are on the march, the bunting’s out isn’t it, the cakes are there...” It’s the empire and all that: “We like Gandhi, as a person, but we’re celebrating England aren’t we?” I love saying “association football” as well.

What one thing do you like best about Spurs?

Well, Tottenham Hotspur is such a great name. I always liked the shirt, with the little cockerel. I love the fact that we’re the “Yids” as well, the fact that we took that on board, and proclaimed it. I liked Pat Jennings, of course with his big hands. “Good hands big man,” as Bob Wilson used to say rather alarmingly. But then he left, the turncoat. It’s extraordinary really, that the only people who are loyal to the club are the fans. No one else – players, managers – really gives a toss, yet there is this overriding belief in loyalty in football, which is cobblers.

Do you still enjoy football as much as you did?

I do love watching it, not Sky particularly, but the amount of coverage. I read something recently that said men who live on their own don’t fare very well. Women do much better, they go out a lot with their friends and have a good time, whereas single men tend to stay in and eat and drink and watch football. I thought, what’s wrong with that? It sounds great. But you could get stuck into that pattern. It depends on where you’re coming from if you think men are failing or not.

Are there are other things around it that you find off-putting?
When you went to a game half the entertainment used to be the crowd, things would be going on one way or another. Like at the Worthington Cup final, when there was trouble on the pitch with Robbie Savage involved, there was this guy standing behind me, who started yelling “Savage, you cheating, long-haired, gypsy Welsh cunt” several times. I had to turn to him and say “Oi, mate, less of the Welsh”. Long-term fans can get very snobby about football. Yes, there are people watching it now who wouldn’t normally watch it, but that’s not a bad thing. So a couple of ponces from Hampstead support Man Utd? Good luck to them.

What is your favourite football memorabilia?

Back Home by the England World Cup squad. It was the first pop record I ever bought and what a thrill it was to see them on Top of the Pops. They were two worlds that should have been kept apart, and, catastrophe, they’ve come together. I had the 1970 World Cup dossier and the Esso coins too. I also had two footballs that I loved, one leather one with the laces, and one with the black hexagonals, the continental one.

The leather ones were dangerous if they got wet...

I experienced the weight of a football in the face once, in fact twice, playing in a Sunday league game. It hit me with a smack right on the point of my nose, then it happened again, and I was off in a strange world that was quite calm and pleasant but had nothing to do with football or gravity.

What one football moment would you like to change?
Gascoigne in 1996, just missing the post in the Euro 96 semi. Or in the 1990 World Cup, Waddle hitting the post in extra time. That was quite Englandy, actually, considering I was born in Wales.

From WSC 154 December 1999. What was happening this month

Comments (1)
Comment by Rodney Marsh 2011-01-29 00:36:14

PW is a genius. I knew Alec Stock personally and Paul's interpretation is absolutely brilliant !


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