Reasons to be cheerful

Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column.

New Statesman
Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column appears weekly in the New Statesman magazine.

Hello, hello, are you there? Let’s have you, you dozy lot! Wakey wakey! Right, that’s my ration of exclamation marks for the season.

Arsène Wenger, trying to hide what a useless team Arsenal have been in Europe , and deflect the blame away from himself, announced that what has happened should be treated as a massive wake-up call!

For the first time in 17 years, there is not one English team left in the last eight in the Champions League. Spain has three, Germany two, France, Italy and even Turkey have one each. Who gave football to the world, invented all the rules? Oh, the shame. Personally, I don’t see why everyone is so depressed.

Best whistler. Look around at the top leagues in the world, study their benches, observe the deportment of their managers – and there is not one who can whistle like Chris Hughton of Norwich City. Do find a break in your busy schedule to study his whistling.

He is a phenomenon. Mourinho with his silly little shrugs and petty scowls? Forget it. Treat players like dogs, it’s the only language they understand.

Best haircuts. We in England have always been trendsetters, known for it, remember the pineapple, the mullet, the haystack? We were first with shaven heads, or at least very close crops, which they now follow all over Europe, but suddenly we are ahead while they look decidedly last month. The publicschool haircut is back, from a circa 1938 Eton boat crew, followed not long afterwards by every Spitfire squadron. It must be neat, not too short, not too long, not look expensively cut – but given a good brushing. Most of all it has to have a clear and decent side parting. Check out the Spurs team – Scott Parker, Jan Vertonghen, Lewis Holtby, Gareth Bale and even Michael Dawson, who till now never seemed aware what that stuff was growing on his head. They now all have neat partings. It will soon catch on. You mark my markings.

Pitches. In the Premier League they are all fab, even among the so-called poor clubs, doomed to be relegated like QPR. In Europe, you see some shocking pitches, even at the top level. And in rugby, it’s a joke. Becomes a ploughed field after every scrum. Old Trafford used to have a poor pitch, for many years, but now they have sorted it and it’s ace. In fact, my theory why Old Trafford is like a morgue these days, with hardly a sound from those 75,000 worshippers, is not because they all have come from West Cumbria, Kent or Hong Kong and are munching their prawn sandwiches – but they are worshipping the pitch, lost for words, knocked out by the turf. Oh yes, we know how to do grass in England. Why else did Real Madrid pinch Arsenal’s groundsman?

TV coverage. No one can beat our boys for technological magic and verbal brilliance. In the studios, who can compete with the sage of Tyneside Alan Shearer, or the commentator Andy Townsend for telling us exactly what we can already see. I love it when Andy praises them for being “nice and solid”. I have this image of him examining all their stools.

Uniteds. That’s what real football teams should be called. Our Prem currently has three. I have been right through the Bundesliga and there is not one United – or Rovers or Wanderers. Call themselves a football league? Huh.

World’s richest best-known footballer. The one and only David Beckham, once mocked as stupid and slow, now look at him. Never moans, never blames, always charming, always works hard, great parting, fancied by men, women and goldfish. And he will be there, in the last eight in Europe, warming the bench for PSG and looking lovely. We should all be proud.