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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Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.