The Fan: the year in football

Come on, Cameron, get your togs on!

So how have we all done so far? Our brave new managers. Most surprising this season to have so many of our top clubs in the hands of new faces.

Mourinho, the noisiest newcomer, is of course not totally new, but so far has managed only a B+ on his return to Chelsea. Lost his touch, rather, and a lot of hair. Getting cropped short was a mistake, revealing that worrying widow speak, I mean widow’s peak, scuse typing.

Pellegrini at Man City has been quiet and dignified, but he’s not really done that much better, which he should, considering his ace squad of players. Good win against Bayern Munich, though. So, a B+. And his hair is lovely.

Poor old David Moyes at Man United. C+? Who’d have thought that at Christmas they would be languishing nearer the middle than the top? Not really his fault, inheriting some crocks. But surely he should have known that Fellaini was all hair and no heart? Fergie was so smart getting out when he did, knowing that van Persie, with his poor record of injuries, would be bound to fade eventually.

The best of the new managers has been Roberto Martínez – a very creditable A-. He took over at Everton with the same squad Moyes had. We always thought Moyes had held them up: now it could be he was holding them back.

But the top manager is a golden oldie. Rubbished by so many intellectual Gooners last season, now look at him, streaking ahead. Must stop wringing his hands, though. A sure sign of worries. A straight A for Arsène.

Arsenal, however, will have to get a grip on Nicklas Bendtner, or get rid of the grip or whatever he uses to tie up his silly little topknot. Also Santi Cazorla is in danger of exposing his bum: his long baggy shorts seem to get longer and baggier, so low down they are about fall off. Can’t the kit man afford to get shorts that fit him, rather than Mertesacker’s cast-offs?

So, the year in football:

Hair Mentioned in despatches already, but dismissed because, really, what is there to get excited about? Too many tatty Mohicans still cropping up. But a house point to Tim Howard, Everton’s goalie, for his black beard, which set off his baldy heed magnificently – though it did look totally phoney. Pity he’s shaved it off.

Cutaway collars Now we’re talking top football fashion. Hope you’ve been spotting them, on managerial necks all over the shop. I wonder if Charles Tyrwhitt has been handing out free samples? Which would be clever, as managerial close-ups have never been so close up.

David Moyes has worn a really dramatic one all season – could this be a symbol of him being constricted? So have Alan Pardew of Newcastle, Malky Mackay at Cardiff and Pellegrini at Man City. Their wives must be well pleased, so much smarter than sweatshirts and trackie bottoms, but it does make them look like dodgy City bond traders.

Euphemisms A mealy-mouthed phrase has crept in this season: “He’s better than that.” All it means is that he’s playing shite.

Clichés “In transition”. Used by commentators to cover Moyes’s poor performance at Man United, Bendtner’s stupid barnet, André Villas-Boas’s seven new useless players. Polite words, they hope, to save them from being thumped.

Image 1 That photo of the German players sitting quietly on the Tube going to Wembley to stuff England. The Tube, mein Gott: English players wouldn’t recognise one if it emerged out of their back passage. So sensible, the Germans, organised, practical and, most of all, humble. Shows on the pitch and in real life.

Image 2 Still lodged in my mind is a TV shot of Prince William sitting in the stand watching Aston Villa, his fave team. He was wearing specs – exactly the same kind I use for watching football – and fiddling with them, just as I do.

But it was his clothes that struck me – his nondescript zip-up, padded jacket and Villa scarf, looking just like, well, most Villa fans. Or football fans generally in winter. Oh, you can’t say football isn’t an equalising force for good.

So what about Dave Cam? I thought he was a Villa fan? Come on, Cameron, get your togs on.

Speaker Yes, Mr Speaker himself. Now we’re talking top celebs. On 23 November, at the Emirates for Arsenal-Southampton, I spotted John Bercow sitting behind me with his Arsenal scarf and what I took to be his young son. He was sitting down, even at half-time, so I couldn’t properly check his height. Must have been him. Or a doppelgänger.

Names A huge welcome to Kévin Théophile-Catherine, who signed for Cardiff this season from Rennes. Great name, great guy. Shame we haven’t heard more of him, or his full name. More names I do like it when Liverpool manage to have (Jon) Flanagan and (Joe) Allen performing together, after all these years.

Almost as good will be Spurs-West Ham when it’s (Aaron) Lennon against (George) McCartney and the old rivalry resumes.

Luis Suárez Liverpool’s best player, whom we’re going to hear a lot more of at the World Cup, alas, when Uruguay take England to the cleaners. I can’t see England beating Italy or Costa Rica either in their group games. So they’ll be back home early doors, and away from that frightful heat and humidity, which Dear Roy so kindly warned us was his worst nightmare. What was he thinking of? Our lads have fragile enough minds without scaring the shit out of them before they kick the first ball.

But back to Suárez. Did you know he has a daughter called Delfina? Which is an anagram of, wait for it . . . Anfield. Neat, huh?


Jose Mourinho, manager of Chelsea, gestures during an FA Cup match between Derby County and Chelsea at iPro Stadium on 5 January 5 2014. Photo: 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 19 December 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Triple Issue

Steve Garry
Show Hide image

The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

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 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism