Morning call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's newspapers

1. The plot was a flop but a revealing one none the less (Observer)

Andrew Rawnsley says that the first chapter of the long election campagn showed Conservative weakness on policy, while the delay in cabinet ministers coming out in support of Gordon Brown showed their anger with him.

2. Labour's implosion is bad news for us all (Sunday Telegraph)

The paper's leader recaps the failed coup plot, saying that a dying government is bad for the country -- not least the Conservatives, whose policies need to be tested in a proper campaign to gain true public support.

3. Be bold, Gordon Brown, and call an early election (Sunday Times)

The leading article says that calling an early election would show Brown to be a man of courage, expose the Tories as nervous and insecure, and save Labour from a decisive election defeat.

4. Putting wounded Brown out of his misery would be a disaster for the UK (Sunday Mirror)

Meanwhile, at the Mirror, the New Statesman editor, Jason Cowley, gives his verdict on last week, saying that there has never been a coherent plot against Brown.

5. Of course class still matters -- it influences everything that we do (Observer)

Nobody wants to believe that our society is still class-bound, says Will Hutton, but the only way to create a fairer society is to start talking about it. The media must not shut down discussion of private education as "irrelevant".

6. A proper purpose for Chilcot (Independent on Sunday)

The appearance of Alastair Campbell at the Iraq inquiry on Tuesday will be as much a trial for John Chilcot and his colleagues as for the star witness, argues the Indie leading article.

7. Banning the burqa unveils some nasty traits in us (Sunday Times)

India Knight rehearses the arguments for and against the French burqa ban. While there are rational arguments in its favour, the legislation uncomfortably appears to be aimed firmly at one (huge) section of society, based on one skin colour and one religion.

8. Health reform, the states and Medicaid (New York Times)

As part of a series examining the policy changes and politics behind the debate over health-care reform, the NYT editorial explores Medicaid and the deficits that states funding it face.

9. Wind is the revolution needed in this country (Independent on Sunday)

Renewable power is a great environmental and economic opportunity: it could put us out of carbon dependency and into green economic growth.

10. Save the pub or let it die? It's your shout (Sunday Times)

A crackdown on supermarkets advertising cheap alcohol, coupled with lower tax for weaker beer, could turn back the clock and draw people to more civilised drinking -- down the pub, says Charles Clover.

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What David Hockney has to tell us about football

Why the sudden glut of blond footballers? A conversation I had with the artist back in 1966 gave me a clue. . .

In 1966, I went to interview David Hockney at a rather run-down flat in Bayswater, central London. He was 28 and had just won a gold medal at the Royal College of Art.

In his lavatory, I noticed a cut-out photograph from a newspaper of Denis Law scoring a goal. I asked if he was a football fan. He said no, he just liked Denis Law’s thighs.

The sub-editors cut that remark out of the story, to save any gossip or legal problems. In 1966 homosexual activity could still be an offence.

Hockney and a friend had recently been in the United States and had been watching an advert on TV that said “Blondes have more fun”. At two o’clock in the morning, slightly drunk, they both went out, bought some hair dye and became blond. Hockney decided to remain blond from then on, though he has naturally dark hair.

Is it true that blonds have more fun? Lionel Messi presumably thinks so, otherwise why has he greeted this brand-new season with that weird blond hair? We look at his face, his figure, his posture and we know it’s him – then we blink, thinking what the heck, does he realise some joker has been pouring stuff on his head?

He has always been such a staid, old-fashioned-looking lad, never messing around with his hair till now. Neymar, beside him, has gone even blonder, but somehow we expect it of him. He had foony hair even before he left Brazil.

Over here, blonds are popping up all over the shop. Most teams now have a born-again blondie. It must take a fortune for Marouane Fellaini of Man United to brighten up his hair, as he has so much. But it’s already fading. Cheapskate.

Mesut Özil of Arsenal held back, not going the full head, just bits of it, which I suspect is a clue to his wavering, hesitant personality. His colleague Aaron Ramsey has almost the full blond monty. Paul Pogba of Man United has a sort of blond streak, more like a marker pen than a makeover. His colleague Phil Jones has appeared blond, but he seems to have disappeared from the team sheet. Samir Nasri of Man City went startlingly blond, but is on loan to Seville, so we’re not able to enjoy his locks. And Didier Ndong of Sunderland is a striking blond, thanks to gallons of bleach.

Remember the Romanians in the 1998 World Cup? They suddenly appeared blond, every one of them. God, that was brilliant. One of my all-time best World Cup moments, and I was at Wembley in 1966.

So, why do they do it? Well, Hockney was right, in a sense. Not to have more fun – meaning more sex – because top footballers are more than well supplied, but because their normal working lives are on the whole devoid of fun.

They can’t stuff their faces with fast food, drink themselves stupid, stay up all night, take a few silly pills – which is what many of our healthy 25-year-old lads consider a reasonably fun evening. Nor can they spend all their millions on fun hols, such as skiing in the winter, a safari in the spring, or hang-gliding at the weekend. Prem players have to be so boringly sensible these days, or their foreign managers will be screaming at them in their funny foreign accents.

While not on the pitch, or training, which takes up only a few hours a day, the boredom is appalling, endlessly on planes or coaches or in some hotel that could be anywhere.

The only bright spot in the long days is to look in the mirror and think: “Hmm, I wonder what highlights would look like? I’ve done the beard and the tattoos. Now let’s go for blond. Wow, gorgeous.”

They influence each other, being simple souls, so when one dyes his hair, depending on where he is in the macho pecking order, others follow. They put in the day by looking at themselves. Harmless fun. Bless ’em.

But I expect all the faux blonds to have gone by Christmas. Along with Mourinho. I said that to myself the moment he arrived in Manchester, smirking away. Pep will see him off. OK then, let’s say Easter at the latest . . . 

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 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times