The Fan

Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column.

New Statesman
Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column appears weekly in the New Statesman magazine.

If any 1913 football fans were to come back today, they would be able to enjoy the game, admire the speed and skills, and would understand when a goal was scored, for the object and most of the rules are much the same. But the language, my dears, the language – how could he or she cope?

Note I said she – not just to keep in with all the she persons in my house and hereabouts but because if you look at photos of 1913 footer crowds you can spot quite a few females. There were also ladies’ teams, comprised of poshos before the war, then taken over once the war began by working-class women who poured into the munition factories, forming their own factory teams.

So, for the sake of any fan from 1913 reading this, here is a quick guide to understanding modern football terms, which commentators use when discussing a talking point.

Talking point. No need to worry about this phrase. It’s virtually meaningless. Refers to a piddling incident that can be spun out and analysed for, well, sometimes days, or till the next Talking Point comes along.

Striker. The term for a 2013 centre forward. Also refers to the player whose job it is to deal with him when he has missed another sitter.

In the hole. Modern pitches are so brilliant, so perfect, so immaculate, but imperfections can emerge: a deep gash appears into which your expensive foreign striker can suddenly disappear.

Deep lying striker. When he falls into said hole and doesn’t reappear in the game.

Creative midfielder. Player who recites poetry while playing, or works on his latest watercolour. Usually left-footed. And foreign.

False number nine. We refer to a striker as a number nine, but a false one is someone in the nightclub who tells every dyed blonde that yeah, he plays for West Ham, honest, straight up, but they don’t realise the truth till they wake up and he has gone, taking their handbag.

Stopper. Usually the biggest player, whose job is to take care of the dyed blonde’s boyfriend while the rest of the team does the business.

Handbags. Refers to an incident which appeared violent, involving writhing on the ground, foreheads pressed together, but in which no contact has taken place.

Germans. Superhuman football race, not to be confused with Prussians, who were superhuman military.

An extra man in midfield. What a desperate coach does when the ref is not looking, hoping he won’t notice.

Hairdryer. All today’s players have their personal groomer whose job at half-time is to rearrange their features in the dressing room.

Warming the bench. Often done with the said hairdryer. Sweeper. Junior player whose job it is to collect up the earrings, hairbands, jars of gel, unused condoms.

Row Z. Mythical place from whence no ball returns or even arrives.

Overlapping full-backs. Defensive players who lie on top of each other without touching, otherwise it will be all round the dressing room.

It’s a big ask. Does not refer to a Scottish player, as in Big Eck, but is a form of throatclearing, accompanied by head-shaking and lip-biting, in reply to such questions as “Do you expect a point today/surely your expensive striker will get a shot on target/can you say a few words to camera”.

Scottish players. No longer exist.

Metatarsal. Recently discovered part of human foot.

Group of Death. Any football competition in which England has to play countries or even lumps of rock in the ocean with a population over 131.