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“Football’s supposed to entertain the working classes, not impoverish them”

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From your debut in Made in Britain, to the present day and Lie to Me, there’s always been references to West Ham in your work. Are you a fan of the club?

No, its more a gesture to my mate Ray Winston. I’m not a fan myself. We couldn’t afford to go to the matches when I was a boy, and even then, I followed Man Utd. I grew up with the genius of George Best, he was my idol.

Are there any players like him today?

I don’t know. I was talking to Ken Loach about it the other day. He was saying that, in the last European Cup final, he was supporting Bayern over Chelsea because he thinks they’re a more democratic club, that it’s more about the fans, the people. But the rock-n-roll side of things… football is a lucrative business now. It’s not so much the price of tickets to get into the ground that I find shocking but the TV subscriptions, it’s just crazy. Football should be on free-to-air TV. That would burst the bubble. Plus then, there’s the ad-boards round the sides of the pitch and all the rest of it, it’s repulsive. What Manchester City have done is obscene, there’s no other word for it. They grind the organ, crank it up to reel in the fans so they buy the shirt, buy the season ticket… but hold on; football is supposed to entertain the working classes not impoverish them!

Is there anyone, or anything, that makes you feel differently about the state of football today?

What Alan Pardew is doing at Newcastle is clever. He’s brought in Cissé, Ba and best of all, Ben Arfa. Cissé’s scored some great goals sure but Ben Arfa… not only is he great to watch but he’s also got that something special, a secret weapon. It’s been amusing watching how defenders have tried to deal with him; first off they kind of let him do what he wanted, because they didn’t know what he could do, then they started to get tight on him, then started to double up on him, and now they’ve ended up just deciding to foul him, he’s that good. I get the feeling he’s developing into a whole other kind of player. Newcastle have got to keep hold of him.

Besides Ben Arfa, do you have an interest in French football?

I was in France in ’98 for the semi-final against Croatia. A fantastic memory. And I was back there in 2010, during the famous bus episode. That really shocked me, it was unbelievable.

You live in the USA, what about MLS?

I took my kids to see LA Galaxy play, to the old stadium in Pasadena. It’s a good thing, the MLS. It’s gonna take some time to really take off, but culturally, I think it’s a good thing for America. It’ll force them to open themselves up.

This interview was originally published in So Foot #98 in Summer 2012 and was conducted by Brieux Férot.

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