The Fan: Why I'd rather interview Silvia Neid than Arsène Wenger

Wenger is so miserable, he's beginning to make W H Auden look positively baby-faced. The manager of the German women’s team seems like she has a lot more to say.

Look out for Roy Hodgson pulling up his trousers during the England game against the mighty men of Montenegro this coming Friday (11 October). I think I know the reason.
 
He’s not fat but at his age, 66, he has acquired a little beer belly. Not seen it –we use separate bathrooms – but I assume he has. You have to take some things on trust, such as the oft-repeated line that he speaks five languages.
 
Not heard any of them but I presume this is because in his long-legged career he has managed clubs in Sweden, Italy, Denmark and Switzerland, as well as England. Obviously, he must have picked up the local languages, as footballers do, being so awfully adaptable.
 
I base the theory about his belly on my own dear tum, which just seems to gave arrived with age and lodged itself there. While standing on the touchline, Roy’s belt slowly slips below his belly line, which of course is more comfy, but then he suddenly realises, worries that his shirt will pop out – perhaps even his belly – so he has to howk it up. This is an action that usually coincides with something frustrating happening on the pitch. Do look out for it.
 
All managers look worried, if not terrified but then we all look pretty miserable in repose, when caught unguarded, not having put on our face to the world. Without doubt, Wenger is the most miserable-looking manager of them all. Those lines, those frowns. He is beginning to make W H Auden look positively baby-faced. Remember him?
 
Auden was the first famous person I ever used a tape recorder to interview. In the Sixties, I was sent to see him at a house in St John’s Wood where he was staying with Stephen Spender. I had a sealed envelope to hand over to Auden, given to me by Leonard Russell, the literary editor of the Sunday Times (who was married to Dilys Powell, the paper’s film critic). I looked in it, of course, and inside there were 30 crisp £1 notes. Once Auden opened the envelope and stuffed it in his pocket, he lost all interest in me or the interview.
 
Meanwhile I was fussing about with the tape recorder, which I had never used before – an early Grundig, about the size of a Mini- Minor. The interview was rubbish and never appeared. I blamed it on the tape recorder and never used one again, which was silly. Oh, if only I had used one during those 18 months I spent with the Beatles, it would have been gold dust.
 
I bet interviewing miserable old Arsène would be just as unproductive as Auden, no fun at all.
 
The manager I would really like to interview is Silvia Neid, manager of the German women’s team. She is gorgeous, sorry, I mean a stunning football manager, and has won everything possible, including the World Cup. When the German women are playing, I can’t take my eyes off her, she is so cool, clipped, controlled, cempt . . . sorry, I mean kempt – getting lost with all these Cs. She has this sideways look, the slightest hint of a smile, though it might be a sneer or a snarl kept under leash. She could be Kate Moss’s more interesting big sister.
 
There is another woman on the football benches these days who I am fascinated by, very different from the immaculate, highly groomed Silvia. It’s the smallish, darkhaired, slender young woman who comes on in a tracksuit when a Chelsea player is injured. She does so quietly, without any fuss, so you don’t realise at first she is there at all, or that she’s a woman.
 
There are now one or two women chief executives of football clubs but I don’t I think I had ever seen a woman physio, which is what I took her to be, coming on to the pitch to administer to male footballers, tending to their flesh. I imagined all the dressing-room banter she must have to put up with.
 
Now I look her up on the Chelsea website, I see she is the first-team doctor – Eva Carneiro. She was born in Gibraltar of British-Spanish parents, trained as a doctor at Nottingham University, and has worked with Olympic athletes and women footballers.
 
Like Silvia, Eva strikes you as an utter professional. Who would never have a beer belly or fuss about piddling things like her belt slipping . . . 
Silvia Neid, manager of the German women's team. Image: Getty

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 07 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The last days of Nelson Mandela

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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war