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?

Felipe Araujo
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Manchester's Muslim community under siege: "We are part of the fabric of this nation"

As the investigation into last week's bombing continues, familiar media narratives about Islam conflict with the city's support for its Muslim population.

“You guys only come when something like this happens,” said one of the worshippers at Manchester's Victoria Park Mosque, visibly annoyed at the unusual commotion. Four days after the attack that killed 22 people, this congregation, along with many others around the city, is under a microscope.

During Friday prayers, some of the world’s media came looking for answers. On the eve of Ramadan, the dark shadow of terrorism looms large over most mosques in Manchester and beyond.

“People who do this kind of thing are no Muslims,” one man tells me.

It’s a routine that has become all too familiar to mosque goers in the immediate aftermath of a major terror attack. In spite of reassurances from authorities and the government, Muslims in this city of 600,000 feel under siege. 

“The media likes to portray us as an add-on, an addition to society,” Imam Irfan Christi tells me. “I would like to remind people that in World War I and World War II Muslims fought for this nation. We are part of the fabric of this great nation that we are.”

On Wednesday, soon after it was revealed the perpetrator of last Monday’s attack, Salman Ramadan Abedi, worshipped at the Manchester Islamic Centre in the affluent area of Didsbury, the centre was under police guard, with very few people allowed in. Outside, with the media was impatiently waiting, a young man was giving interviews to whoever was interested.

“Tell me, what is the difference between a British plane dropping bombs on a school in Syria and a young man going into a concert and blowing himself up,” he asked rhetorically. “Do you support terrorists, then?” one female reporter retorted. 

When mosque officials finally came out, they read from a written statement. No questions were allowed. 

“Some media reports have reported that the bomber worked at the Manchester Islamic Centre. This is not true,” said the director of the centre’s trustees, Mohammad el-Khayat. “We express concern that a very small section of the media are manufacturing stories.”

Annoyed by the lack of information and under pressure from pushy editors, eager for a sexy headline, the desperation on the reporters’ faces was visible. They wanted something, from anyone, who had  even if a flimsy connection to the local Muslim community or the mosque. 

Two of them turned to me. With curly hair and black skin, in their heads I was the perfect fit for what a Muslim was supposed to look like.

"Excuse me, mate, are you from the mosque, can I ask you a couple of questions,” they asked. “What about?,” I said. "Well, you are a Muslim, right?" I laughed. The reporter walked away.

At the Victoria Park Mosque on Friday, Imam Christi dedicated a large portion of his sermon condemning last Monday’s tragedy. But he was also forced to once again defend his religion and its followers, saying Islam is about peace and that nowhere in the Koran it says Muslims should pursue jihad.

“The Koran has come to cure people. It has come to guide people. It has come to give harmony in society,” he said. “And yet that same Koran is being described as blood thirsty? Yet that same Koran is being abused to justify terror and violence. Who de we take our Islam from?”

In spite of opening its doors to the world’s media, mosques in Britain’s major cities know they can do very little to change a narrative they believe discriminates against Muslims. They seem to feel that the very presence of reporters in these places every time a terror attack happens reveals an agenda.

Despite this, on the streets of Manchester it has proved difficult to find anyone who had a bad thing to say about Islam and the city’s Muslim community. Messages of unity were visible all over town. One taxi driver, a white working-class British man, warned me to not believe anything I read in the media.

“Half of my friends are British Muslims,” he said even before asked. “ These people that say Islam is about terrorism have no idea what they are talking about.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.

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