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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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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.