The award for worst sox goes to Villa's Jack Grealish (R). Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images
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Worst sox, duelling aeroplanes and the pull of the affluent south: it’s the year in football again

Next season, I hope for the return of gigantic sideboards, like what George Best and Malcolm Macdonald used to have.

It’s that time of the year when it’s that time of the year, so here goes . . .

Hats off for Chelsea
But come on, if they’re so brilliant, running away with the League, what does that say about the League? And most of all what does it say about the performance of Chelsea when it mattered, ie, in Europe? They were useless against a moderate PSG team who played most of the game with a man down. The rest of England’s so-called Premier giants were equally feckless and got knocked out early doors. Shame on them.

England in the World Cup
Yes, I know that was last summer, but I’m still in mourning.

Best fun
So let’s all cheer ourselves up again by remembering Dave the Aston Villa supporter telling us that his team was, er, now I do know this, no don’t remind me, yes, West Ham. Best laugh of the season.

Most Worrying Trend
The haves and have-nots in English football are now reflecting real life in England. It’s not just the foreign money that has put Chelsea and Arsenal where they are but their geographical position. Bournemouth and Watford coming up is another sign of the affluent southern influence – historically small clubs that are now benefiting through the pull of the south.

Poor old Newcastle and Sunderland, old megaclubs with massive crowds, can no longer attract decent players or managers. Who wants to go there? Not any foreign players who have a choice. Or their wives. They look at the map, never having heard of Newcastle or Sunderland, or Bournemouth and Watford, but notice that the latter are near London. They’re only passing through for a few years, so being near London is a huge attraction. Bugger the north. Sad.

Best Quote from a Manager
“Listen, lads, basically you’re shit. Try and enjoy the game. You’re probably going to get beaten. But just enjoy being shit” – Roy Keane at Sunderland, remembered by Danny Higginbotham in his memoirs.

Best Quote from a Hack
Barney Ronay in the Observer on Man United’s Falcao: “Performing a well-groomed variation on the basic idea of standing around quite close to some other people playing football.”

Best Quote from a Commentator
John Motson has been allowed a few of the more boring Match of the Day games this season, the 0-0 ones kept to the end, but he’s been on sparkling form. “It’s gone for a throw-in!!! No, it’s stayed in play!!!!! Goodness me . . .”

Fave Player
Chelsea’s Eden Hazard won the Player of the Year award but I preferred watching Sánchez of Arsenal – always in the game, always energetic and hopeful, running his little heart out. Even though I always want both Chelsea and Arsenal to lose.

Worst Sox
Jack Grealish of Aston Villa has had a fine season, coming good in the second half despite wearing his socks at half-mast. I bet coaches have been screaming at him all his life. Pull your bloody socks up, it’s bloody dangerous, we don’t play football that way. He reminds me of Just William, so I always smile when I see him.

Harry Kane
Was the Young Footballer of the Year, one of our own, so hurrah for Harry. But at the end he faded, just as Eriksen did. Hard luck for them being in such a mediocre team.

Plane-spotting at Liverpool
Their own fans hired a plane, which pulled a banner saying “Rodgers Out Rafa In”, while at Newcastle rival supporters, from Sunderland, had a plane pulling a banner mocking the Magpies.

We’ll soon have a game where both home and away supporters have hired a plane with a suitably rude banner. It could end in a dogfight over the pitch, planes looping the loop, dive-bombing, trying to damage the rival – just like the Luftwaffe did during the war, creating a cunning knife-edge on the tip of their wings which cut the cables on our barrage balloons. Could prove a better spectacle than watching the game down on the pitch.

Best Play
[Scene one] Van Gaal arrives, breath of fresh air, saviour of Man United, what a record, just look at what he’s done. [Scene two] What a mistake, doesn’t know what he’s doing, nor does anyone else, so arrogant, with his awful red face. [Scene three] Our saviour, why did we not trust him, he does have a plan and goodness, he’s handsome. [Scene four] Er, the jury is out.

Really Handsome Manager
Eddie Howe of Bournemouth, so young, so handsome, so yummy – and English. How often do those four things happen all at once?

Best Hair
No awards this season, so disappointing, why can’t someone do something really stupid? Next season, I hope for the return of gigantic sideboards, like what George Best and Malcolm Macdonald used to have.

Surprise of the Season
Seeing Emile Heskey still alive and playing for Bolton. Could have sworn he was in a home.

Delight of the Season
Carlisle United surviving in League Two. For another season, anyway.

What we’ve learned this season That Queen of the South is the only football team mentioned in the Bible. (“The Queen of the South shall rise up . . .” Matthew 12:42.)

Adverts Burnley has graced the Premiership with a large advert that says “CWR Scaffolds – For the Perfect Erection”. They will be missed.

Next Season
Will Bale return? Tragic, his loss of confidence and form. Will we even notice if he does?

Meanwhile, I’m off to Loweswater for the summer. Back in September.

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 14 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory triumph

Photo: Getty
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Leader: History is not written in stone

Statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political.

When a mishmash of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Trump supporters and private militias gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August – a rally that ended in the death of a counter-protester – the ostensible reason was the city’s proposal to remove a statue of a man named Robert E Lee.

Lee was a Confederate general who surrendered to Ulysses S Grant at the Appomattox Court House in 1865, in one of the last battles of the American Civil War – a war fought to ensure that Southern whites could continue to benefit from the forced, unpaid labour of black bodies. He died five years later. It might therefore seem surprising that the contested statue of him in Virginia was not commissioned until 1917.

That knowledge, however, is vital to understanding the current debate over such statues. When the “alt-right” – many of whom have been revealed as merely old-fashioned white supremacists – talk about rewriting history, they speak as if history were an objective record arising from an organic process. However, as the American journalist Vann R Newkirk II wrote on 22 August, “obelisks don’t grow from the soil, and stone men and iron horses are never built without purpose”. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that few Confederate statues were commissioned immediately after the end of the war; instead, they arose in reaction to advances such as the foundation of the NAACP in 1909 and the desegregation of schools in the 1950s and 1960s. These monuments represent not history but backlash.

That means these statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political. They were designed to promote the “Lost Cause” version of the Civil War, in which the conflict was driven by states’ rights rather than slavery. A similar rhetorical sleight of hand can be seen in the modern desire to keep them in place. The alt-right is unwilling to say that it wishes to retain monuments to white supremacy; instead, it claims to object to “history being rewritten”.

It seems trite to say: that is inevitable. Our understanding of the past is perpetually evolving and the hero of one era becomes a pariah in the next. Feminism, anti-colonialism, “people’s history” – all of these movements have questioned who we celebrate and whose stories we tell.

Across the world, statues have become the focus for this debate because they are visible, accessible and shape our experience of public space. There are currently 11 statues in Parliament Square – all of them male. (The suffragist Millicent Fawcett will join them soon, after a campaign led by Caroline Criado-Perez.) When a carving of a disabled artist, Alison Lapper, appeared on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, its sculptor, Marc Quinn, acknowledged its significance. “This square celebrates the courage of men in battle,” he said. “Alison’s life is a struggle to overcome much greater difficulties than many of the men we celebrate and commemorate here.”

There are valid reasons to keep statues to figures we would now rather forget. But we should acknowledge this is not a neutral choice. Tearing down our history, looking it in the face, trying to ignore it or render it unexceptional – all of these are political acts. 

The Brexit delusion

After the UK triggered Article 50 in March, the Brexiteers liked to boast that leaving the European Union would prove a simple task. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, claimed that a new trade deal with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history” to negotiate and could be agreed before the UK’s scheduled departure on 29 March 2019.

However, after the opening of the negotiations, and the loss of the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority, reality has reasserted itself. All cabinet ministers, including Mr Fox, now acknowledge that it will be impossible to achieve a new trade deal before Brexit. As such, we are told that a “transitional period” is essential.

Yet the government has merely replaced one delusion with another. As its recent position papers show, it hopes to leave institutions such as the customs union in 2019 but to preserve their benefits. An increasingly exasperated EU, unsurprisingly, retorts that is not an option. For Britain, “taking back control” will come at a cost. Only when the Brexiteers acknowledge this truth will the UK have the debate it so desperately needs. 

This article first appeared in the 24 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia