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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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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