Glenn's hair, Gazza's twitch: football needs things to mock

I hope Howard Wilkinson stays in the job long enough for us to get to know and love his mannerisms and habits. I mean love in the sense of smiling at them the moment we spot them, enjoying it when he opens his mouth and is Howard Wilkinson, doing and saying the things Howard Wilkinson says and does.

Everything Hoddle did, his cliches, his grammar, his hair, his jaw, his mannerisms and affectations, became so familiar. We felt at home with him, like someone in our own family. You knew him with his back to the camera, could recognise his voice blind.

At the moment, Howard hasn't given us enough for us to go on to make caricatures of him in our mind's eye. There was a long shot of him in the crowd last week and I jumped up, my face pressed to the screen, saying who, where, which one, gerraway, that's not him, oh yeah, that's his thin face, his grizzled hair. With Glenn, I knew his whole wardrobe.

I'm still getting to grips with Wilko's quizzical look. It could be him thinking slowly, or thinking quick to hold back the remark he really wants to make. As an older, more experienced personage, he will probably give less away. Hoddle grew up and was formed with us, by us, and in the end gave everything away.

Television, of course, magnifies every mannerism, every blackhead, but on the terraces, even in crowds of 40,000, we fans have always been able to identify the habits of our heroes. There's a bloke in front of me at Spurs who, the minute Darren Anderton saunters over to take a corner, is up on his feet, mimicking what dear Darren is about to do - ie, push back his floppy public-school hair with his foppy little fingers. The bloke himself is almost bald, another reason I always smile.

We know Dwight Yorke is smiling, even with his back to us, though I have a theory that it's not just his lovely, happy, smiling Tobagan nature, but his teeth. They are too big for his jaw. That's why you can always see them.

John Gregory, we know what he's going to do the moment he hits the touchline. His fingers will be in his mouth, whistling like mad. I spent years of my boyhood longing to be able to whistle like that. It seemed so manly, proved you weren't a girl's blouse. My mother did try to help me when no one was looking, carefully arranging my fingers, but I still couldn't do it. Does it run in families, or can you be taught?

I like watching goalkeepers who spit on their hands whenever they are about to take a goal-kick. For a penalty or a corner you would expect that, as their hands will be needed, but taking a goal-kick does not involve hands. It's a habit, something they can't help and are probably unaware of, like Darren when he's being a flopsy bunny.

I have a list of snot-blowers somewhere, and a graph of the incidents of snot-blowing. My researches show that it tends to take place after a missed chance, indicating that it is not a rush of snot but a nervous habit, a displacement activity, meant to cover the embarrassment of a missed chance.

We know the excitable players, like Ian Wright, who are all emotion, but I'm more fascinated by the emotionless ones who rarely smile, like Bergkamp, Anelka and Paul Scholes. Are they like that at home, in private? Anelka, from what I hear, is just as miserable off the pitch as on. What struck me about Man Utd's new young defender Wes Brown was his lack of expression. You expect a young newcomer to be nervous, but his look was blank and pale, as if all emotions had been drained. Andy Cole has gone through most of his playing life looking really moany and miserable, but now he's been in scoring form you often see his little teeth. Or is it the influence of Yorke beside him?

Gazza, in his early days, really did have a twitch. Watching him playing, close up, you could see his head shake, his eyes roll and I used to think, dear God, he's about to have a fit, or a stroke, let's hope we score before he starts frothing at the mouth or hits somebody. I think it was simply a case of hyperactivity, a spring wound up, ready to explode, which of course it often did. He is rarely hyper these days, and most of his activity is at walking pace, but you can still spot Gazza from 100 yards away.

On the management side, Big Ron is a case study in himself, a whole bookshelf of habits and mannerisms and speech patterns, most of which I suspect he has copied or perfected by watching himself on television, having been told, Ron, you are a character, Ron you are a one, Ron, do us your Big Ron imitation.

Brian Clough had even more mannerisms and he, too, became a caricature of himself. Big Ron took several years to be Big Ron, and in his early managerial life appeared to have very little personality, but Cloughie was a one-off from the beginning, even in his playing days.

Has Howard Wilkinson got the job, however temporarily, because of his lack of mannerisms and strangeness, because he seems dry and boring and sensible, not off with the fairies like Glenn? That often happens when appointing new managers, just as it happens when appointing new popes, new party leaders, new headteachers. You go for someone not like the old one, who doesn't have the same faults and weaknesses. Or so you think. One of Glenn's big attractions when got the job was that he wasn't Terry Venables. Little did we know what was to emerge.

However long we have with Howard, I do hope he reveals something of himself soon, which we can mock and jump upon. I'm sure he will. We'll need all the amusement and entertainment we can get as England struggle to get to the European finals.

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 12 February 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Kick out the image-makers