The fan - Hunter Davies marvels at a naked Bolas de Oro

Imagine Branson giving his trillions to a Russian hot-air balloon team. By <strong>Hunter Davis</str

Oh, it's so great to be back, life returning as we know it, football life that is, what else is there. And it's so exciting this season, more news, more fun. More to look forward to than I can ever remember at this stage. Which isn't saying much. Once a season departs, it plops into a grey hole in my mind where all the seasons become one, everyone plays for the same team, with George Best on the wing, Jimmy Greaves goal-hanging, Big George Young being big at the back, Frank Swift guarding the net, Alf Common has just been transferred and Preston North End are invincible.

Flicking back through 115 years since 1888 and the beginning of the world's first footer season, which was when I started following, I can't think of two bigger pre-season shock-horror stories. Namely, Abramovich arriving and Beckham departing.

If I were a Russian footer fan, or a Russian taxpayer, or in the Russian government, I'd be well pissed off with him taking all his easy-gotten, jammy, dodgy billions overseas to play with, lavishing it on flashy, foreign tarts. It's our money, they must all be moaning, why can't they spend it on us?

Imagine Richard Branson going off with his trillions to settle in Russia and run his own hot-air balloon team, or the Duke of Westminster selling off all the English counties he inherited to invest in some naked Chinese female wrestlers. How would we feel? Since you mention it, quite pleased, actually.

Beckham - now that is an even more pleasing story, with legs, made for running. I never thought he'd leave. Then, after that first game against Real Mallorca, I thought that's it, he's blown it, taken off and humiliated, he won't even make it as a water carrier, a poseur in search of a role, a coat-hanger without a wardrobe, he'll end up as peripheral as he was last season at Man Utd, what a mistake, poor petal, cuddle him before he cries.

Then blow me, he scores in two minutes on his league debut against Real Betis and is instantly back as the fancy dan, cock of the walk, we all know he can be. I predict that's how it will go on. Up and down, you owe me half a crown.

It's quite taken the edge off this season's other excitements such as the return of long hair. I really did think Hernan Crespo was a tart when I saw his Chelsea arrival photo. These foreign johnnies do love the long locks - eg, Amoruso, Tugay, Angel, Berger, Viana, Petit, Pires, Forlan. The reaction of our English chaps is to shave even closer to the bonce. I think little Micky Owen will eventually disappear if he has it done again.

Only Robbie Savage of our native Premiership beasts has long hair, but of course he's Welsh. Savage has also provided one of the season's best images so far, when he got elbowed in the face in the Birmingham-Newcastle game and went down as if dead. I was half dozing at the time, thinking, now, which side is playing in green, then I realised it was the referee wot had clobbered him. God, that was funny, at least to supporters of any team that Savage has ever played against.

I haven't got used to players playing for teams they don't belong to, such as Damien Duff turning out for Chelsea. So far, it hasn't changed him. He still has that stiff, stick-like walk, which he shares with Roy Keane. Are they by chance related? Or is it an Irish trait, an Irish gait?

They still haven't got the electronic board things sorted, with fourth officials continuing to be dazed and confused every time they try to hold one up. What have they been doing all summer? Couldn't they have had lessons?

A new arrival at Blackburn Rovers is a horde of hoardings for Air Mauritius which I'm sure were not there last season. What is the point? Must be that on leaving Ewood Park, after a pint and a pie, the lads now say, I know, let's get a flight to Mauritius.

But the best image of the season so far was in that Real Madrid-Real Betis game when a streaker came on. He stripped off naked, except for some Christmas-tree golden balls attached to his cock. It took me at least three minutes to get the significance. (A homage to Becks's Man Utd nickname, of course, which in Spain has become "Bolas de Oro".)

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