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Don’t be a smiler if you want to be a winner

Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column.

Well done Steven Gerrard on reaching your 100th cap for England. OK, so it’s two days to go, as I write, till the friendly against Sweden and anything could happen, earthquake, lights fail, the coach breaks down, Stevie falls off his wallet, cuts his head off shaving, or he might not get picked.

Notwithstanding and néanmoins, which is French, as Stevie well knows, having played against them loads, what I am really looking forward to is – will Stevie smile? Have you ever, knowingly, consciously, seen him smile? I suppose he must have done, for a brief few seconds, back in 2005 when Liverpool won the Champions League, but not since. Those baggy eyes, that tight mouth, that set jaw, they were not made for laughing.

I need talk. One of my many reveries in the night, after I have picked my eight Desert Island Discs, thought of a witty reply to Rosanna Greenstreet when she asks me how often I have sex, listed all the funny things that have happened to me in connection with spoons, is to work out my replies when the Guardian asks me What I See in the Mirror. I always end up with same answer – a Miserable Old Sod. That’s the troof, as our son used to say, aged four. But come on, I am ancient, in fact I am surprised I am still here, in work, so don’t be surprised if I fall asleep at the end of this paragraph and have to go for a lie down, ohhhh zzzzzzz, sorry, where was I?

I can’t help looking gloomy, not at this age, oh the troubles I’ve seen; and the war, it was agony, the lines and wrinkles. We didn’t have no cream in them days, apart from the stuff we put on our lettuce and boiled egg salad.

So it’s not surprising that my normal face is not wreathed in beams and smiles. Must rest, my knee is killing me.

But Stevie is only 32, at the height of his physical powers, fit in every sense, a multimillionaire, lauded and loved by all – and yet he still never seems to smile.

I don’t think I’ve seen Paul Scholes smile either, but then he does have asthma. I know only too well that it does help with your breathing if you keep your mouth slightly open, the better to help the air flow, even if it precludes smiling.

John Terry, now he is a proper scowler –wouldn’t like to meet him on a dark pitch, or any pitch.

Top teeth

It does occasionally happen, that top players have been caught smiling. Dwight Yorke used to be known for his toothy smile, although it was noticeable that towards the end of his career his smiles were less frequent. Too worried about the team sheet. Emmanuel Adebayor, last seen at Spurs, has often been seen to smile but I think that is more to do with prominent teeth than genuine delight.

Joe Hart, the Man City and England goalie – you can often catch him smiling, exchanging banter with his defenders and even the opposition, but not asoften as before, now that he’s started making silly mistakes and getting too confident.

David Nugent – remember him? – one appearance for England, then was in the Premiership with Portsmouth. He’s currently starring, if that is the right word to use, with Leicester. I spotted him playing last Saturday in the game against Nottingham Forest – and he was still giving little twinkly smiles, even when he had made a mistake, such as hitting the corner flag instead of the goals.

It is probably this weakness, those little smiles, that explains why he had dropped down into the Championship. Coaches don’t like smilers.

You never see Fergie smiling. No time, really, with all that chewing, plus tapping his watch, glaring at the ref. As for Wenger, my God, he thinks life is a funeral, which is why each day he dresses and glooms as if at a wake. Ron Atkinson did smile, showing he liked a larf, as did Harry Redknapp. But where are they now, you immediately point out.

The answer lies in the soil, on the sweet earth they played on when they was lads – that’s when they smiled. When I wrote a book called The Glory Game, behind the scenes at Tottenham hundreds of years ago, I asked the first team pool at Spurs if they were happier now, playing for a top team in the top division, than they were at 15 playing football for their school. Eleven out of the 18 said they enjoyed their football so much more at 15. The pleasure had gone. Too much pressure.

Playing football is a hard job, sweated labour, factory work, the best bit for most is when the whistle blows. So good luck, Stevie. Let’s hope you put in a good shift.

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 November 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The plot against the BBC

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.