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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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