Fluoro feet: Ghanaian players sport colourful boots during a World Cup training session, 18 June. Photo: Getty
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Bright boots, shaving foam, dodgy slogans and nice teeth . . . What a World Cup that was

For about ten years, the back pages of football magazines have featured coloured boots. I thought they would never catch on – but blow me, they’re everywhere now!

Boots Don’t you love ’em? So cute, so colourful, brightening up the whole of the World Cup. Every player, and I have studied them at a distance of three inches from the screen during the 40 live matches I’ve watched so far, is wearing gay boots, I mean gaily coloured. Pink, red, blue-green, sometimes spotty, sometimes with diamonds, some like Neymar’s – coloured snakeskin. One or two even wore odd boots, each a different colour. I suppose that helps. No need for their mums to write on them “Left” and “Right”.

For about ten years now, the back pages of FourFourTwo, that excellent football magazine, have featured coloured boots. I’ve skipped over them, thinking they will never catch on, not in those poncey colours, at poncey prices – £159 for Adidas’s F50 Adizero Predator LZ or Nike’s Hypervenom Phantom – but blow me, such boots are now everywhere. You’ll have to wear sunglasses when going to Prem games next season.

So why don’t you see many on your local pitch? The mud, for a start, which doesn’t exist in the Prem. When you play on a normal park pitch, all boots soon get cacky. And you don’t have anyone to clean them. Also the Prem stars get them free, which means they go for the fanciest.

Rodríguez Is he the surprise star of the World Cup? So many of the back pages have been saying. Can’t say I’d been aware of him, till now. I think it’s partly because he plays for Colombia, and we all love plucky underdogs. He has a nice smile, nice teeth, but best of all is his nice first name – James. So, got a lot going for him.

Advertising This has kept me so happy late at night when I’ve been trying to keep my eyes open. Listerine? Wasn’t that the stuff to soak your feet in, or a mouthwash? I remember bottles of it from my boyhood when we used it for, well, probably drinking till the pubs opened. I thought it was long gone. But there it is, on all the WC perimeter ads. Along with really stupid, pointless slogans such as “All in or nothing”. What the feck does that mean? “Be Moved”, that’s another one I’ve failed to understand. Is it for Pickfords? “See more detail”: that sounds suggestive, but suggesting what? I assume they’re slogans dreamt up by the main sponsors, such as Adidas and Sony, who are so up their own bum they believe we must already know which product is being promoted.

Shirts Have you noticed any player taking off his top in uncontrolled orgasmic joy when he’s scored? Nor me. Yet it happens all the time in the Prem. A boy just can’t help himself. At home, they don’t mind taking a yellow card for the team – they’ll be off to another club soon enough – but at the World Cup they’re on a global stage and a stupid, show-off yellow will be remembered and held against them in their country as long as they live.

Innovations Hard to think of many, apart from refs spraying shaving soap – new to us in Europe but not in South America. The refs’ uniform, with the stripe down the back, making them look like a filleted fish, I hadn’t seen that before. The TV coverage has been obsessed with overhead shots, just ’cos they’d had rigged up that expensive roving camera. It makes the players look like ants, with funny sticky-out walks. They should have put their money into cameras that can compensate for half the pitch being in shadow. That does annoy me. Close-ups of pretty girls in the crowd, very old hat, and very sexist, which I love when they see themselves. On the pitch, no new tactics or formations. Free-kicks seem to have got worse. Goalies have been made to look better than they are – but a handful have been terrific. Perhaps it was because of this year’s World Cup ball. It is too round.

Likes Gosh, there have been so many. I soon got over England’s humiliating exit, though I’d longed to see banners such as “Rotherham Till I Die” make it to the knockout stage. The crowds – they’ve been wonderful, yes, mainly white and middle class, plump and well fed, but so happy, pleased to be there. Louis van Gaal of Holland – I’ve liked him making notes during games. Strange, that, when he’s now leaving to join Man United.

And I will be leaving this space until September. Do look at the first letter of each item to read my final sad word . . . 

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 08 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The end of the red-top era?

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Labour is launching a stealthy Scottish comeback - thanks to Jeremy Corbyn and the Daily Mail

The Scottish Labour strategy is paying off - and hard evidence that it works may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017

When I suggested to a senior Scottish Labour figure earlier this year that the party was a car crash, he rejected my assertion.

“We’re past that,” he said gloomily. “Now we’re the burnt-out wreck in a field that no-one even notices anymore.”

And yet, just as the election campaign has seen Jeremy Corbyn transformed from an outdated jalopy into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang magically soaring in the polls, Scottish Labour is beginning to look roadworthy again.

And it’s all down to two apparently contradictory forces – Corbyn and The Daily Mail.

Kezia Dugdale’s decision to hire Alan Roden, then the Scottish Daily Mail’s political editor, as her spin doctor in chief last summer was said to have lost her some party members. It may win her some new members of parliament just nine months later.

Roden’s undoubted nose for a story and nous in driving the news agenda, learned in his years at the Mail, has seen Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly forced to defend her government record on health and education in recent weeks, even though her Holyrood administration is not up for election next month.

On ITV’s leaders debate she confessed that, despite 10 years in power, the Scottish education system is in need of some attention. And a few days later she was taken to task during a BBC debate involving the Scottish leaders by a nurse who told her she had to visit a food bank to get by. The subsequent SNP attempt to smear that nurse was a pathetic mis-step by the party that suggested their media operation had gone awry.

It’s not the Tories putting Sturgeon on the defence. They, like the SNP, are happy to contend the general election on constitutional issues in the hope of corralling the unionist vote or even just the votes of those that don’t yet want a second independence referendum. It is Labour who are spotting the opportunities and maximising them.

However, that would not be enough alone. For although folk like Dugdale as a person – as evidenced in Lord Ashcroft’s latest polling - she lacks the policy chops to build on that. Witness her dopey proposal ahead of the last Holyrood election to raise income tax.

Dugdale may be a self-confessed Blairite but what’s powering Scottish Labour just now is Jeremy Corbyn’s more left-wing policy platform.

For as Brexit has dropped down the agenda at this election, and bread and butter stuff like health and education has moved centre stage, Scots are seeing that for all the SNP’s left wing rhetoric, after 10 years in power in Holyrood, there’s not a lot of progressive policy to show for it.

Corbyn’s manifesto, even though huge chunks of it won’t apply in Scotland, is progressive. The evidence is anecdotal at the moment, but it seems some Scots voters find it more attractive than the timid managerialism of the SNP. This is particularly the case with another independence referendum looking very unlikely before the 2020s, on either the nationalists' or the Conservatives' timetable.

Evidence that the Scottish Labour strategy has worked may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017. The polls, albeit with small sample sizes so best approached with caution, have Ian Murray streets ahead in the battle to defend Edinburgh South. There’s a lot of optimism in East Lothian where Labour won the council earlier in May and MSP Iain Gray increased his majority at the Scottish election last year. Labour have chosen their local candidate well in local teacher Martin Whitfield, and if the unionist vote swings behind him he could overhaul sitting MP George Kerevan’s 7,000 majority. (As we learned in 2015, apparently safe majorities mean nothing in the face of larger electoral forces). In East Renfrewshire, Labour's Blair McDougall, the man who led Better Together in 2014, can out-unionist the Tory candidate.

But, while in April, it was suggested that these three seats would be the sole focus of the Scottish Labour campaign, that attitude has changed after the local elections. Labour lost Glasgow but did not implode. In chunks of their former west of Scotland heartlands there was signs of life.

Mhairi Black’s a media darling, but her reputation as a local MP rather than a local celebrity is not great. Labour would love to unseat her, in what would be a huge upset, or perhaps more realistically go after Gavin Newlands in the neighbouring Paisley seat.

They are also sniffing Glasgow East. With Natalie McGarry’s stint as MP ending in tears – a police investigation, voting in her wedding dress and fainting in the chamber sums up her two years in Westminster – Labour ought to be in with a chance in the deprived neighbourhoods of Glasgow’s east end.

Labour in Scotland doesn’t feel like such a wreck anymore. Alan Roden’s Daily Mail-honed media nous has grabbed attention. Corbyn’s progressive policies have put fuel in the tank.

After polling day, the party will be able to fit all its Scottish MPs comfortably in a small hatchback, compared to the double decker bus necessary just a few years back.

But this general election could give the party the necessary shove to get on to the long road back.

James Millar is a political journalist and founder of the Political Yeti's Politics Podcast. He is co-author of The Gender Agenda, which will be published July 21 by Jessica Kingsley Publishing.

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