I am in love with Jeffrey Schlupp. I like writing his name down. Photo: Getty
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Hunter Davies’ Half-Season Awards

Cheer up, Stevie! Go, Schlupp! And Pearson, don’t come down from the stands.

Stand by your beds for the Half-Season Awards, plus groans, moans.

Still with us Every back-page clever clogs had Alan Pardew of Newcastle down for the chop just half an hour ago. Now look at him, the saviour of Tyneside. For the next half-hour anyway. And Louis van Gaal, his demise looked imminent. Now Man United could win the League,
if their boring but fortunate run of play continues.

Also doing good Great season, early doors, for Southampton, West Ham, Swansea – but are they cute enough to keep it up to the end?

Cliché of the season “Cute”, according to all the commentators, no longer means “cuddly” and “appealing” but suggests an inner wickedness – an ability to do wrong and get away with it, to have the other player sent off, to con the ref, all of these qualities considered admirable in football, finance, politics, most things, really.

More clichés “Stepping up to the plate, going down to the wire”. Sounds like a contortionist. Some early spottings but the torrent won’t start until about Easter.

Sad face Steven Gerrard has always looked tired, older than his years, even when things were going well. Liverpool is now out of Europe, his career nearing its end, and yet he has won so much. Cheer up, Stevie. At least you are not playing for Spurs or Carlisle United, the two teams I have always supported. About which I don’t really want to talk. Next!

Sad body Oh, I feel so sorry for Yaya Touré. When he is not on the ball, he lumbers around the pitch looking for somewhere to go, to rest his aching, weary, old limbs. I know just how he feels. I wonder if, when in a sitting position, he says aloud, “One, two, three,” before eventually forcing himself up? My family hates it when I do that. But, my goodness, when he’s on the ball, you should see him zip around. What a worker, what energy and drive still at his age. Just like moi, actually.

Philosophical quote of the season “I just wonder how many goals he would have scored if he had scored more goals” – Michael Owen, speaking on BT Sport.

Haircut of the season For the first time in 18 years there has been no outright winner. Mad haircuts have gone out – pineapples and bird’s nests have disappeared. They are all roughly short back and sides with old-fashioned partings, the only novelty being the positioning of the partings and, oh, gel, loads of gel. Girls, girls, do try harder.

Most improved players Bony of Swansea has done good. Harry Kane of Spurs is trying hard. Connor Wickham of Sunderland shows promising signs of not being a total lump. Bolasie of Palace looks cute.

Going backwards Raheem Sterling of Liverpool, so exciting last season, seems
to be marking time. Ditto another promising youngster, Adnan Januzaj at Man United. Of the senior players who were doing well, Gary Cahill is looking dodgy and Joe Hart of Man City and England is not quite as good as he used to believe he was.

Manager alarm I do hope Nigel Pearson of Leicester does not give up sitting high in the stands. So sensible, so cool. Yes, his team is doing so badly. Is there a connection? I am sure there isn’t. I think. Can’t believe there is. Possibly. Maybe.

Schlupp Please don’t let Leicester go down. I am in love with Jeffrey Schlupp. I like writing his name down, then rolling it round my chops.

Striking images I can still see Mourinho’s lovely smile when Chelsea went two down against Newcastle – a beatific, angelic, rueful smile. But why? They went on to their first defeat of the season. Was he pleased the stress of it all was over?

Really nice image Wayne earning his 100th cap for England, bringing his two little boys on to the pitch. Klay, the younger, had “Klay” on the back of his England shirt while Kai, the elder, had “Daddy 100”. Coleen’s face was a study. Bless.

Worrying image All those gaps in the Aston Villa home crowd. Always a bad sign when fans who have paid for the season don’t bother to turn up, even just to boo. At least at Spurs there are no gaps yet. Booing does keep you warm.

Pointing Definitely on the increase. What you do when you have done something really, really stupid – such as let their star man run rings round you, give away a petty foul on the edge of the penalty area, balloon a clearance – is immediately turn round and point. Doesn’t matter where, or at whom. The very act of violent, agitated, imperious, pointless pointing is enough. Then you move on.

Barclays They are still at it, with their banal perimeter advertising, trying to personalise it the way politicians do. “Thank you, Joe Bloggs, for your passion for Swansea. You are the true spirit of the game.” The names at each ground always sound real but are they? Have the people been paid? Can they sue? Oh, I do hope so.

Crowd action During the Spurs-Partizan Belgrade home game, an intruder got on the pitch. The security men lumbered on, stumbled about, while the intruder ran rings round them and the crowd cheered. It happened twice again, by which time the players and ref – who suspended the game for a while – were getting really pissed off. Was it political or just pranksters? One was taking selfies, which suggested the latter. It was the best action and entertainment of the game. Perhaps all season . . .

Hunter Davies’s latest book is “The Beatles Lyrics: the Unseen Story Behind Their Music” (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £25)

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 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Issue 2014

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era