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?

Photo: Getty
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A Fox among the chickens: why chlorinated poultry is about more than what's on your plate

The trade minister thinks we're obsessed with chicken, but it's emblematic of bigger Brexit challenges.

What do EU nationals and chlorinated chickens have in common? Both have involuntarily been co-opted as bargaining chips in Britain’s exit from the European Union. And while their chances of being welcomed across our borders rely on vastly different factors, both are currently being dangled over the heads of those charged with negotiating a Brexit deal.

So how is it that hundreds of thousands of pimpled, plucked carcasses are the more attractive option? More so than a Polish national looking to work hard, pay their taxes and enjoy a life in Britain while contributing to the domestic economy?

Put simply, let the chickens cross the Atlantic, and get a better trade deal with the US – a country currently "led" by a protectionist president who has pledged huge tariffs on numerous imports including steel and cars, both of which are key exports from Britain to the States. However, alongside chickens the US could include the tempting carrot of passporting rights, so at least bankers will be safe. Thank. Goodness. 

British farmers won’t be, however, and that is one of the greatest risks from a flood of "Frankenfoods" washing across the Atlantic. 

For many individuals, the idea of chlorinated chicken is hard to stomach. Why is it done? To help prevent the spread of bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter. Does it work? From 2006-2013 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an average of 15.2 cases of salmonella per 100,000 people in the US (0.015 per cent) – earlier figures showed 0.006 per cent of cases resulted in hospitalisation. In 2013, the EU reported the level at 20.4 cases per 100,000, but figures from the Food Standards Agency showed only 0.003 per cent of UK cases resulted in hospitalisation, half of the US proportion.

Opponents of the practice also argue that washing chickens in chlorine is a safety net for lower hygiene standards and poorer animal welfare earlier along the line, a catch-all cover-up to ensure cheaper production costs. This is strongly denied by governing bodies and farmers alike (and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who reignited the debate) but all in all, it paints an unpalatable picture for those unaccustomed to America’s "big ag" ways.

But for the British farmer, imports of chicken roughly one fifth cheaper than domestic products (coupled with potential tariffs on exports to the EU) will put further pressure on an industry already working to tight margins, in which many participants make more money from soon-to-be-extinct EU subsidies than from agricultural income.

So how can British farmers compete? While technically soon free of EU "red tape" when it comes to welfare, environmental and hygiene regulations, if British farmers want to continue exporting to the EU, they will likely have to continue to comply with its stringent codes of practice. Up to 90 per cent of British beef and lamb exports reportedly go to the EU, while the figure is 70 per cent for pork. 

British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths says that the UK poultry meat industry "stands committed to feeding the nation with nutritious food and any compromise on standards will not be tolerated", adding that it is a "matter of our reputation on the global stage.”

Brexiteer and former environment minister Andrea Leadsom has previously promised she would not lower animal welfare standards to secure new trade deals, but the present situation isn’t yet about moving forward, simply protecting what we already have.

One glimmer of hope may be the frozen food industry that, if exporting to the EU, would be unable to use imported US chicken in its products. This would ensure at least one market for British poultry farmers that wouldn't be at the mercy of depressed prices, resulting from a rushed trade deal cobbled together as an example of how well Britain can thrive outside the EU. 

An indication of quite how far outside the bloc some Brexiteers are aiming comes from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's current "charm" offensive in Australasia. While simultaneously managing to offend Glaswegians, BoJo reaffirmed trading links with the region. Exports to New Zealand are currently worth approximately £1.25bn, with motor vehicles topping the list. Making the return trip, lamb and wine are the biggest imports, so it’s unlikely a robust trade deal in the South Pacific is going to radically improve British farmers’ lives. The same is true of their neighbours – Australia’s imports from Britain are topped by machinery and transport equipment (59 per cent of the total) and manufactured goods (26 per cent). 

Clearly keeping those trade corridors open is important, but it is hard to believe Brexit will provide a much-needed boon for British agriculture through the creation of thus far blocked export channels. Australia and New Zealand don’t need our beef, dairy or poultry. We need theirs.

Long haul exports and imports themselves also pose a bigger, longer term threat to food security through their impact on the environment. While beef and dairy farming is a large contributor to greenhouse gases, good stock management can also help remove atmospheric carbon dioxide. Jet engines cannot, and Britain’s skies are already close to maximum occupancy, with careful planning required to ensure appropriate growth.

Read more: Stephen Bush on why the chlorine chicken row is only the beginning

The global food production genie is out of the bottle, it won’t go back in – nor should it. Global food security relies on diversity, and countries working and trading together. But this needs to be balanced with sustainability – both in terms of supply and the environment. We will never return to the days of all local produce and allotments, but there is a happy medium between freeganism and shipping food produce halfway around the world to prove a point to Michel Barnier. 

If shoppers want a dragon fruit, it will have to be flown in. If they want a chicken, it can be produced down the road. If they want a chlorinated chicken – well, who does?