Morning Call: pick of the comment

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

1. A principled Europe would not leave Greece to bleed (Guardian)

The economist Joseph Stiglitz says that unless it is one rule for the big and powerful and another for the small, the EU must stand behind the new leadership in Athens. European solidarity and democracy are at stake.

2. The crusades of "virtuous" Tony Blair have come back to haunt us all (Daily Telegraph)

The former PM devised policies that splintered our society, argues Mary Riddell. But, for all his folly, Blair had charisma, weight and a social reform agenda.The Blair-lite approach of David Cameron could be even more damaging.

3. Chilcot is a stage for Labour's psychodrama (Times)

Rachel Sylvester agrees that Blair was both hero and villain for his party. This inquiry is not really about Iraq, but about resolving that split personality.

4. Cut now or cut later: the election decider (Independent)

Surely this time voters won't be able to mouth the lazy cliché that "they're all the same", says Steve Richards. David Cameron and George Osborne's calls for cuts rather than fiscal stimulus point to an excessive attachment to Thatcherite orthodoxy.

5. The time to talk to the Taliban is now (Guardian)

The US wants to see its surge bear fruit before negotiations begin. But the Americans may be unwise to wait, says Ahmed Rashid, who sets out steps that should be taken to make these negotiations possible.

6. Tolerant times (Times)

A study of social attitudes suggests Britain is becoming more liberal. The Times leading article asks whether this could be New Labour's legacy -- ironic, given the government's focus on quantifiable targets.

7. Weak questioning gets answers it deserves (Independent)

Simon Carr is unimpressed by the panel at the Chilcot inquiry. If members are unable to stop politicians regurgitating this drivel, he says, they shouldn't be on the committee.

8. When nations turn into hoarders (Financial Times)

Across the world, major powers are moving to secure access to energy, food and, in some cases, water. Gideon Rachman says that the system of globalised trade and open markets is at risk.

9. In the fight for Labour's soul, this is the day of reckoning (Guardian)

Polly Toynbee discusses electoral reform. Will it be the old tribalists or the dynamic pluralists who carry the day? In the short time before May, Labour can still do one important thing: let people choose a fairer voting system.

10. The Edlington boys are not beyond redemption (Times)

This is a politicised moment for our discussion of the family, says David Aaronovitch. We treat child-raising as a matter of intense privacy for ourselves, but of overt public interest when it comes to others.


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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