For every sharp suit there’s Fergie’s cardie

Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column.

I have become fascinated by managers – almost as much as they are fascinated by themselves. Why else do so many consider they are fashion leaders , with the eyes of the world, brackets football section, on them?

Because the latter observation is true. We are all watching them, we can’t avoid it. The fizzog and body language and hairstyle and mannerisms of every Prem manager is now known to us all, far better than we know the majority of their players. We get close-ups all the way through the game, whether anything has happened or not. Just to see them, check they are still there and breathing. All those shots of pretty girls and cute kids in the crowd that the cameras used to cut away to in idle moments have gone. The manager is a celeb these days, no question. It is in his contract that he must give us some chosen words afterwards, whereas almost all players can slink off, whisked away in their Baby Bentleys. The manager has to adjust his tie and face, and we get to study him, close up.

On Match of the Day, I now find myself waiting for the manager interview, just to see what they are wearing. Pardew of Newcastle and A V-B of Spurs, especially if they have won, seem to glow, with sparkling shirts and ace ties. They brighten up the programme, which is not difficult. When we return to the studio, I feel tired, like visiting a care home. You feel sorry for the poor sods but want to get out, quick.

Pardew’s lush, white hair is well cut and styled, his mum must be pleased, though he is not as cool as Mancini of Man City. He is urban chic compared with Pardew’s suburban golf course smart. Mancini’s long hair is artful, appears haphazardly pushed back but I bet his personal stylist is somewhere on the bench, in the sixth row, with the deputy assistant away team video editor. Roberto Di Matteo of Chelsea, our other Italian fashion guru, was last week wearing a chic three-piece suit. When did you last see anyone in a three-piece, except at a funeral?

All the Prem managers except one turn up in a suit, collar and tie after the game, even if during it, like Pulis of Stoke, O’Neill of Sunderland and McDermott of Reading, they wear nasty tracksuits on the bench. The tie-less manager is Laudrup of Swansea, who appears modern and relaxed with his open-neck shirt, making Jol of Fulham in his buttoned-up, ill-fitting suit look like a waxwork.

To tie or not to tie

Collars and ties are otherwise universally in – which has resulted in a handful of managers affecting those silly cutaway collars. David Moyes, otherwise solid and sensible, surprised us a few weeks ago by wearing what he, or his wife, thinks is a dead smart cutaway collar. A V-B also sports one but then he is foreign. Most unlikely cutaway collar-wearer is Chris Powell of Charlton, down in the Championship. What is he thinking of?

It is hard to remember what top managers wore in the past – we didn’t see them as much, their impact on our lives was minimal. Apart from Cloughy. He was the ultimate dresser down, flamboyant in his lack of interest in fashion, usually wearing a horrible green training top, on the bench and in TV interviews. He once drove me in his Mercedes and I noticed he was wearing slippers – cheap carpet slippers, bought from a market stall.

Bill Shankly, Jock Stein, Bill Nicolson, what did they wear? Can’t remember. Clothes, surely, otherwise I’d have noticed. Matt Busby, in my mind’s eye, was rather dapper, in an old-fashioned way, but always in a dull suit.

In the 1970s and 1980s, when English football was grey and dreary, we did have a few colourful managers with bouffant hair, round-the-year tans and jewellery, like John Bond – who died just a week ago – Malcolm Alison and Ron Atkinson.

They were flash in a very English, Petticoat Lane way, barrow boys made good, diamond geezers. The arrival in recent years of all the foreign managers has introduced cooler continental concepts and styles, as it has done on the pitch and the training ground, from diets to techniques.

What does it all mean? Not a lot. Though I do try all the time to see a correlation between their clothes and their management. I am convinced those in boring tracksuits have boring teams.

On the whole, though, most managers have grown smarter, more fashionable, but then they know they are on the telly. While football itself is more affluent, more fashionable. Fergie, however, ruins all theories. Still at the top, still in that dreadful, zipped-up black cardigan thing under his jacket, always a sure sign that autumn is here.

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 08 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Conservative conference special