20 MAY 1995, Page 9



Ten years ago this month, 39 people died in the Heysel Stadium disaster. It is true that a group of English fans were cul- pable; it is also true that since then right- wing followers of the English national team have been involved in all kinds of disturb- ing incidents, most notably in Dublin earli- er this year. It does not follow from this, however, that every single English man, woman and child who travels to watch their team play in a major game on the Conti- nent is likely to commit an act of extreme violence. Last week, I travelled with 20,000 peaceable Arsenal fans to Paris to see Arsenal lose in the final of the European Cup-Winners' Cup, and merely by doing so provoked the wrath of the notorious French riot police. We were body-searched, admission to the stadium was only grudg- ingly and belatedly granted (with the result that a terrifying crush developed in the streets outside), and permission to leave the ground at the end was refused for 45 minutes. Inevitably and predictably, a very small and very stupid section of the Arsenal support did respond — the cynics amongst us wondered whether this had been the police's idea all along — with the result that batons were wielded and CS gas canis- ters were hurled. Even after all these indig- nities, and the shocking last-minute defeat, there were signs of good humour in the Arsenal camp, some of it obviously left over from VE-Day: each offending French official was greeted with an impromptu chorus (to the tune of 'She'll be Coming Round the Mountain when She Comes') of 'If it Wasn't for the British You'd be Krauts'. Bafflingly, no gratitude was shown by any of them.

erwards we had a rather curious gastronomic experience in the only bar we Could find that would admit a dozen English football fans at one o'clock in the morning. Our pizzas (we were merely fol- lowing our host's recommendation) consist- ed of blackened anchovies welded onto a grey and intimidatingly solid base; in both appearance and aroma they were reminis- cent of Cornish rock encrusted with sun- dried Torrey Canyon oil. The crepes were, unhappily, less successful: even the accom- panying chocolate sauce could not disguise the fact that they were green with mould. One or two of our party tucked in regard- less, possibly because the fungus was the nearest thing to a vegetable that the estab- lishment offered, but the rest of us took the very unBritish step of complaining. In a manic Gummerish show of bravado, the proprietor started cramming the crepes into his mouth — presumably to demon- strate that our meal was not actually going to kill us, although this, we felt, was beside the point — but he eventually conceded that they were not as fresh as they might have been, and deducted them from the bill.' A slice of pizza and a couple of beers thus came to a very Parisian 18 quid a head. Presumably, like every other establishment in Paris, the bar had been awarded at least one Michelin star, but I'm not at all sure whether it warranted it.

Iwas lucky enough to attend two major sporting occasions last week. The other, the Crafty Craft race, takes place on a canal in Kintbury, Berkshire, annually, and is a con- test between any number of home-made boats, not all of which inspire total confi- dence in their canalworthiness. Like pretty well everything that happens in this country nowadays, it was a celebration of British eccentricity: men and women sit on barrels, converted bicycles, tea-trays, baked-bean tins, etc., and paddle through freezing water at a drowning snail's pace while onlookers jeer and pelt them with water bombs. I watched the race with my sister and brother-in-law, the writer Robert Har- ris, who live in Kintbury and exerted their enormous local influence to swing me a ticket for the event; and as writers are wont to do, Robert (who has just completed his latest book) and I began to see echoes of our plight in the faltering, progress of the hapless participants: leaky, ramshackle ves- sels piloted by mad people, jeering onlook- ers dumping on them from a great height. If only the organisers of the Crafty Craft race had launched the event with a glass of warm white wine and a bowl of peanuts in a dodgy club sonewHere, the whole thing would have been a perfect metaphor for the literary process.

Ihave just finished reading an extraordi- nary memoir by Richard Rayner, author of the excellent Los Angeles without a Map, entitled The Blue Suit. It is, the publishers promise, in the tradition of Blake Morri- son's wonderful And When Did You Last See Your Father? It is true that The Blue Suit is, like Blake's book, of a confessional nature. But I am beginning to wonder whether all this male confessional stuff is getting out of hand. Rayner owns up to shoplifting first editions from Cambridge bookshops when he was at university subscribers to Granta, which extracted The Blue Suit, will already know that much, and the Granta extract prompted one of the vic- tims to send Rayner an invoice — but Rayner also recalls burgling his neighbour's house, pinching cheque books and cheque cards from his college mates, and forging their signatures in London banks. All this seems to be above and beyond the call of male confessional duty, and it is difficult to work out exactly what sort of response Rayner is expecting, either from the police (he was never apprehended for any of these crimes) or from his readers. It didn't strike any chords with me, and if I had stolen money or valuables from my friends and neighbours, I am almost sure that I'd remember. 'He touches truths many of us would rather not acknowledge,' says the blurb on the back of my proof copy hope- fully, but having read the book, I still have no idea what these 'truths' might be, beyond the tun that if you have some- thing, anything, to confess, however shame- ful, a publisher will give you an advance to do so.