Entourage too small? Joe Hart and Wayne Rooney at a World Cup press conference, 21 June. Photo: Getty
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Next time, let’s give our lads their own hair stylists and some major surgery

And of course give up all training or playing for five weeks before their first game, perhaps even have some major surgery, spend some time in a wheelchair, like Luis Suárez.

When I wake up in the night, for about five minutes I just lie there, trying to work out where I am, which house I am in, where is the lavatory, who am I, what am I. Leaving chalk marks on the floor, that often helps to locate the lavvie; but for some time I am still dozy and dopey.

For two nights after England’s exit, I woke up dead wide awake, all senses alert – and with one thought in my tiny mind: ENGLAND IS OUT. I suppose it must have been lurking there, in my semi-conscious sleeping mind, and crashed right to the fore once I opened my eyes. I then groaned loudly, and tried but failed to turn over and go back to sleep. Pathetic, or what.

Yet I always tell myself it is football that I follow, which matters most, rather than individual teams such as Spurs, Carlisle United or England, so in theory I can just relax, lie back and enjoy. But it is hard, so dreadfully hard. I feel let down, furious, when England do so badly.

There’s pleasure in seeing Uruguay do well, a country with a population of only three million, or in cheering on the likes of Chile and Costa Rica, most of whose players I’d never heard of before this World Cup, who tried so hard, were so brave and committed, who have played above themselves.

England played below themselves. Where they should be is of course not very high, and not one of their players would get picked for any of the Top Ten teams – but they failed even to be mediocre. Much smaller, so-called less favoured nations are doing better, exceeding themselves, and are exciting to watch. Unlike England.

Why was that? Not good enough, is the obvious answer, but many believe it is because Our Lads are spoiled. Lauded and lavishly rewarded in the Premiership, egos flattered, lives pampered, they feel entitled – as many do in this modern age.

Inside their heads, they gave us their best, are furious at the suggestion they did not try – but, watching them, it was clear they could not raise their game. And they got found out for the lumps they are. So sad.

Look, will you just get over it, said my wife. I expect a small boy to react like you, taking it so personally, but not someone of your age, especially not one who has just got this OBE thing, so grow up.

Gazza’s spell-check

Yes, that was a surprise, but it didn’t make up for England’s defeat. You aren’t going to accept it? she said. I said: certainly, I should get at least 1,000 words out of it. “Services to Literature”, so it said, which made them all laugh in our house. Wasn’t ghosting Rooney’s autobiography a work of high art? And Gazza’s book was highly literate, if not literary, thanks to Gazza personally correcting my spelling and punctuation. Next stop, Nobel Prize, oh yes.

Jimmy in the tartan tammy

Back to Ingerland. Obviously next time they should not have to scrape along with only 72 back-up staff in the FA’s entourage. This time they included a turf specialist, cook, psychiatrist, nutritionist, dieticians and video geeks, plus coaches, physios and blazers. I hope next time they won’t penny-pinch and will let each of the 23 players have his own hair stylist, financial adviser and brand manager. It’s only fair.

And of course give up all training or playing for five weeks before their first game, perhaps even have some major surgery, spend some time in a wheelchair, as did Luis Suárez.

And ignore all hot weather acclimatisation. In their second game, where they played even worse than in their first, they were in São Paulo, where it’s temperate, and still they could hardly work up a sweat or knock themselves out, like Algeria or Korea.

Ah well, it’s given a lot of fun to a lot of fans around the world, seeing England fall flat on its smug face. No wonder that lone Scottish fan, in his tartan tammy and waving a saltire as England went down, was such a global hit on the internet. The whole world got the joke.

It also means that when Costa Rica play England in their final, pointless group game on Tuesday – the result of which yous will all know by now – they will be able to field their B team, amateur players from their Conference League, perhaps even their girlfriends and grannies. And probably still stuff us. If, of course, Our Lads manage a scoreless draw, I’ll be dancing in the fields.

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 25 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Who was Franz Ferdinand?

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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