The fan - Hunter Davies buys a star for 40p

Now the refs are selling advertising space on their bodies - to opticians

I've been in the West Indies during January and have seen no football at all, as we were in posh hotels that don't have satellite TV, so vulgar. But at a place called Cocobay in Antigua I noticed that the chef was Nigel Martin. I'd been wondering what Martin's been doing since he was dropped as goalie by Leeds and England, where he'd gone, how he was putting in his days. So after the meal, I called for Martin to congratulate him on his keeping, I mean his cooking. It was a bit dark, moody candlelight, overlooking the ocean, so I couldn't quite see him, but he was a big, tall bloke, about the right age, so I said: "Well done Mart, better than picking the ball out of the net and having Venables bollocking you, har har."

Turned out he was a Brit, and had gone to school in Leeds, before chef-ing round the world, so he did know about his namesake. Several people he went to school with, in fact, think that he is the real Nigel Martin. But he has no interest in football and couldn't tell me any scores. So not much use.

While I was away, the only bit of footer news which made any of the West Indian papers I saw was about Cloughy, having his liver op. Nothing about Man U or Arsenal, haircuts or transfers, or, even more important, Spurs or Carlisle United. So I've been desperately trying to catch up all week. Every year, at this time, it's the same. Players get transferred, dropped, injured, fade away and even die, and I don't realise for months.

I switched on the telly and there was this bloke, spitting image of Les Ferdinand, playing for West Ham and I thought, heh up, there's another in the Ferdinand clan who's made the first team at West Ham. It was Sir Les, himself. So I wondered who else might have left Spurs behind my back. Then I watched a Scottish Cup game, Celtic against Dundee, and noticed the ref was wearing funny armbands. I got down in front of the telly, waiting for a close-up, peering like mad, thinking I do need stronger specs, till at last I could read the writing on his arms. Specsavers, it said, Opticians. When did referees start selling advertising space on their bodies? Or is it only in Scotland?

I got one bit of football news as a welcome home. I haven't had my half-season ticket to Arsenal this season, as my friend's son came back to live in London and claimed it. Now he's thrown up his job - as a chef, it so happens - and gone to Barcelona to work on their stock exchange. Now I can have it for the rest of the season.

Good, eh? Not that all my Spurs friends think so, unable to believe I could ever choose to go and watch the scum.

Since I got back, prices seem to have gone up. The Indy is now 55p, as opposed to 50p before I went away, the Evening Standard has gone up to 40p, while cappuccino at Polly's, the caff I go to every afternoon after my walk on the Heath, has gone up to £1.50. So when I set off for Spurs on Saturday, for my first live game since our return - and the team's first Saturday home game in about a decade - I expected to find everything had gone up, which would be typical of Spurs.

I went into the mega Spurs shop, on the High Road, just to look around, see what's new in the way of Spurs rubbish, and noticed a football figurine. It came with a certificate which guaranteed that it was "part of a limited production of 1,700, and no further production of these players will occur in this special-edition format".

I studied the figure, whose face looked very like Sheringham, then I looked at the price. I saw it had originally been £3, but had been reduced three times so far- to £1.50, 75p, and now, astonishingly, it was only 40p. I'll have some of that, I said, wot a bargain already. After I left the shop, I studied it again and realised it was, in fact, Sergei Rebrov, the Ukrainian player they bought for £11m, then tried to forget about. While I've been away, he's obviously gone, disappeared, become an ex-Spurs player, hence this huge clearance sale.

I will treasure this collector's item for ever. Not just because it has helped bring me up to date, and was very cheap, but it provides a neat moral message about the fleeting fame and value of today's multimillion-pound footballers.

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