Football and feminism

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote once: ‘There is nothing I hate more than a masculine man.’

Could feminism be a cause of England’s rubbishness at football? Greg Dyke, the chairman of the FA, did say there could be a number of reasons.

However, he seemed to suggest the main problem was that the Premiership was full of foreigners. Only 32 per cent of the starting line-ups last season were native English horny-handed sons of Albion. Not Albion Rovers, the Scottish team from Coatbridge, currently in the Scottish League Two, but Albion meaning England, as in “perfidious Albion”, though Albion, from the Greek, originally referred to our whole island. We’ll start again.

English players are a minority in their own major league: no argument there. But this is a result, not a cause, of the problem. It clearly limits Roy Hodgson when picking 11 English lads who can kick straight, and mostly to each other, but in the 1970s and 1980s, before the Premiership, the vast majority of our players were English – and did it help us win anything? Did it buggery.

So is it the Prem managers? Only five are English, so why should they care about encouraging young English talent if it’s cheaper and easier to buy someone half decent from eastern Europe, rather than east Essex?

Or the coaches? They’re supposed to spot local lads while they’re still in nappies, then knock them into shape. Again, the facts indicate there’s a problem. We have just 1,161 licensed coaches in England, compared to 12,720 in Spain and 5,500 in Germany. Something’s wrong here.

And yet for 20 years, since the Prem began, our coaching and academy system has been overhauled every three years; millions have been poured in; state-of-the-art training grounds have been built; we have more video suites than Hollywood and coaches with badges coming out of their arses. And where has all this got us? Exactly.

Coaching methods go in and out of fashion. They follow someone, or some system that seems to have cracked it, till it no longer works. Coaching methods are hard to transfer from one country or even one club to another. What works with one person might not work with another. You can’t bottle it, or even describe it. But it has to be done. Raw talent can’t be allowed to lie there, playing with itself. Oh, it’s all such a mystery.

Our Prem players are paid millions, even the cloggers, so you would think simple economics would play a part in these hard times –more, not fewer, young players should be coming through. The obvious explanation: lack of talent.

These things go in cycles. Look at Belgium, with a population of only 11 million, producing excellent players, running away with their World Cup group. Greece, also a country of 11 million, won the Euro 2004 and Denmark, which is even smaller, with a population of five and a half million, won it in 1992. For England, population 53 million: nada since 1966. Our time must come, I constantly tell myself.

What if the real reason is that our players don’t want to win? The handful who do come through get carried away with their flash cars, convinced they’ve made it. But when the knocks come, they are unwilling to fight harder, as Gareth Bale did. Spoiled, our modern youth, convinced that they’re owed a living.

More men watched The Great British Bake Off on telly than watched Arsenal against Fenerbahçe – 1.92 million as against 1.72 million. It’s a victory for feminism, so my wife immediately declared. Not sure about her logic but it’s awfully worrying.

It was, though, a very boring game, with the result never in doubt.

“Don’t forget,” she added, “Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote once: ‘There is nothing I hate more than a masculine man.’”

It used to be thought pretty sissy when I were a lad, blokes cooking, pinnies flapping. Now they’re all at it. My son and my son-inlaw both do the cooking in their families. Foony people.

Instead of being out in the street playing football under the lamp posts till bedtime, as I was, as nature intended, our soppy new generation is either in the kitchen or slumped in front of the telly watching other men cooking.

Greg, you’ll have to get a grip.

Is England rubbish at football? Image: Getty

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 16 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Syria: The deadly stalemate

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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