We have ugly players, but we do get stylish foreign ones

"You follow football, don't you?" said my younger daughter Flora, 26, coming through the front door. Rhetorical question, as I have done so all her life, and longer, but I nodded sagely as I walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Then I thought "sage", it must come from the French for wise, not the plant, though perhaps there was once a connection. Sage is meant to have healing qualities, which wise persons were perhaps meant to know.

"Are you listening?" she said. "I've got a question about football for you." I had now opened the fridge and was getting her a drink, trying to disguise the shitty chardonnay that I bought on special offer in Safeway's last week before discovering it was medium chardonnay, yuk. Language and tastes have moved on so quickly in the wine world that medium now equals sweet.

"I'm not having that," she said. "You tried that on me last week. I'll have your good stuff, if you don't mind." She comes round here for supper every Sunday, the petal, and brightens up our lives. So what's the question?

"Why are British footballers so ugly?"

A few weeks ago she'd switched on the telly and found there were two live football matches on, plus some rugby. She gave all three a few minutes of her precious attention, before recoiling in horror at the sight of so many ugly blokes. Then by chance she switched to Channel 4 and got the Italian football. She watched that right to the end. Parma and somebody else, she thinks. No idea of the score. But the blokes, well, most of them, were surprisingly attractive.

"Compared with British players," she said. "So tell me, as you watch football non-stop, why are they all so ugly in Britain?"

I've never rated them that way. Though yesterday, watching Rio Ferdinand, I thought what a mistake, having all his hair off when he's got such a pinhead. Someone should have told him.

I then started whizzing through various teams in my mind. In the Arsenal defence there's Adams, Dixon, Winterburn, Bould, Keown. Hmm, none of them exactly male models. Alan Shearer, England captain, probably the kindest description of him would be plain. And Butt, Scholes, Sheringham: all at the back of the queue when looks were given out. Robbie Fowler, he'd probably run away with the Premiership's Mr Ugly prize. No, not many natural pin-ups come immediately to mind.

"Beckham!" I shouted. How could I have forgotten him?

"He's not a man," she said. I wonder if Posh knows this? "And he's got horrible, cheap hair," she continued. "You'd think as he can afford a Ferrari, he'd find a stylist and get himself a decent haircut. Ugh. Those nasty highlights. Looks as if he's been down Archway to some cheap barber's . . ."

"Then what about Jamie Redknapp?" I said. "All the girls are said to love him."

"Not the ones I know. But Chris fancies him." Chris is a bloke, and gay.

"Ginola," I said. "You can't possibly say he's not attractive."

"I suppose he is, though I don't like his clothes. But he's not British, is he?"

She'd got me there.

It is interesting how foreigners generally tend to be more stylish, but I suppose you would expect that. We get the best, the intelligent ones, the ones keen and capable of settling in a foreign country, who make the most of being over here. Emmanuel Petit is currently moving to a house in Primrose Hill, showing excellent taste. Klinsmann, when he was over here, had a house off Hampstead High Street. Vialli lives in Eaton Square. If you are going to play for a London team, you might as well experience the best of London. Home-grown players live in horrible mock-Tudor houses miles out in nowhere places.

Does it matter? Of course not. It might indicate a more interesting personality, but not a better player. Football doesn't work that way, not with managers. If your personality, clothes and lifestyle are thought interesting, you might get on better with your team-mates, but it would never influence a manager. Or would it? I poured myself another drink, of the rubbish stuff. Someone has to drink it. Not wasting it.

If you were an attractive, friendly, well-adjusted bloke, it might be a consideration for a manager who's thinking of signing you. He wants someone who will fit in, be easy to deal with. But if he thinks Mr Ugly can do the business better than Mr Pretty, despite his bad breath, unfortunate habits, boring house and nasty clothes, Mr Ugly will always get picked.

Where being attractive matters is with the marketing men. The ones thought pretty, such as Beckham, make most money, though he does have a very good agent. They swooned over George Best, who had everything, looks and skill. Not many of those around in British football today. Gazza had skill. Shame about the looks.

I suppose Flora does have a point about Italian players. They always seem to look more stylish. In every sense. But so what? Didn't Man Utd stuff Juventus and Inter this season? And they'll be meeting Bayern Munich in the big final. It could be the Battle of the Uglies, who just happen at present to be the two best club sides in Europe.

"You haven't answered my question," she said, pouring herself another glass of the good stuff. "I asked why British footballers are so ugly."


"Well, it's obvious. It's because British blokes are so ugly . . ."

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.

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Q&A: What are tax credits and how do they work?

All you need to know about the government's plan to cut tax credits.

What are tax credits?

Tax credits are payments made regularly by the state into bank accounts to support families with children, or those who are in low-paid jobs. There are two types of tax credit: the working tax credit and the child tax credit.

What are they for?

To redistribute income to those less able to get by, or to provide for their children, on what they earn.

Are they similar to tax relief?

No. They don’t have much to do with tax. They’re more of a welfare thing. You don’t need to be a taxpayer to receive tax credits. It’s just that, unlike other benefits, they are based on the tax year and paid via the tax office.

Who is eligible?

Anyone aged over 16 (for child tax credits) and over 25 (for working tax credits) who normally lives in the UK can apply for them, depending on their income, the hours they work, whether they have a disability, and whether they pay for childcare.

What are their circumstances?

The more you earn, the less you are likely to receive. Single claimants must work at least 16 hours a week. Let’s take a full-time worker: if you work at least 30 hours a week, you are generally eligible for working tax credits if you earn less than £13,253 a year (if you’re single and don’t have children), or less than £18,023 (jointly as part of a couple without children but working at least 30 hours a week).

And for families?

A family with children and an income below about £32,200 can claim child tax credit. It used to be that the more children you have, the more you are eligible to receive – but George Osborne in his most recent Budget has limited child tax credit to two children.

How much money do you receive?

Again, this depends on your circumstances. The basic payment for a single claimant, or a joint claim by a couple, of working tax credits is £1,940 for the tax year. You can then receive extra, depending on your circumstances. For example, single parents can receive up to an additional £2,010, on top of the basic £1,940 payment; people who work more than 30 hours a week can receive up to an extra £810; and disabled workers up to £2,970. The average award of tax credit is £6,340 per year. Child tax credit claimants get £545 per year as a flat payment, plus £2,780 per child.

How many people claim tax credits?

About 4.5m people – the vast majority of these people (around 4m) have children.

How much does it cost the taxpayer?

The estimation is that they will cost the government £30bn in April 2015/16. That’s around 14 per cent of the £220bn welfare budget, which the Tories have pledged to cut by £12bn.

Who introduced this system?

New Labour. Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor, developed tax credits in his first term. The system as we know it was established in April 2003.

Why did they do this?

To lift working people out of poverty, and to remove the disincentives to work believed to have been inculcated by welfare. The tax credit system made it more attractive for people depending on benefits to work, and gave those in low-paid jobs a helping hand.

Did it work?

Yes. Tax credits’ biggest achievement was lifting a record number of children out of poverty since the war. The proportion of children living below the poverty line fell from 35 per cent in 1998/9 to 19 per cent in 2012/13.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s a bit of a weird system in that it lets companies pay wages that are too low to live on without the state supplementing them. Many also criticise tax credits for allowing the minimum wage – also brought in by New Labour – to stagnate (ie. not keep up with the rate of inflation). David Cameron has called the system of taxing low earners and then handing them some money back via tax credits a “ridiculous merry-go-round”.

Then it’s a good thing to scrap them?

It would be fine if all those low earners and families struggling to get by would be given support in place of tax credits – a living wage, for example.

And that’s why the Tories are introducing a living wage...

That’s what they call it. But it’s not. The Chancellor announced in his most recent Budget a new minimum wage of £7.20 an hour for over-25s, rising to £9 by 2020. He called this the “national living wage” – it’s not, because the current living wage (which is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, and currently non-compulsory) is already £9.15 in London and £7.85 in the rest of the country.

Will people be better off?

No. Quite the reverse. The IFS has said this slightly higher national minimum wage will not compensate working families who will be subjected to tax credit cuts; it is arithmetically impossible. The IFS director, Paul Johnson, commented: “Unequivocally, tax credit recipients in work will be made worse off by the measures in the Budget on average.” It has been calculated that 3.2m low-paid workers will have their pay packets cut by an average of £1,350 a year.

Could the government change its policy to avoid this?

The Prime Minister and his frontbenchers have been pretty stubborn about pushing on with the plan. In spite of criticism from all angles – the IFS, campaigners, Labour, The Sun – Cameron has ruled out a review of the policy in the Autumn Statement, which is on 25 November. But there is an alternative. The chair of parliament’s Work & Pensions Select Committee and Labour MP Frank Field has proposed what he calls a “cost neutral” tweak to the tax credit cuts.

How would this alternative work?

Currently, if your income is less than £6,420, you will receive the maximum amount of tax credits. That threshold is called the gross income threshold. Field wants to introduce a second gross income threshold of £13,100 (what you earn if you work 35 hours a week on minimum wage). Those earning a salary between those two thresholds would have their tax credits reduced at a slower rate on whatever they earn above £6,420 up to £13,100. The percentage of what you earn above the basic threshold that is deducted from your tax credits is called the taper rate, and it is currently at 41 per cent. In contrast to this plan, the Tories want to halve the income threshold to £3,850 a year and increase the taper rate to 48 per cent once you hit that threshold, which basically means you lose more tax credits, faster, the more you earn.

When will the tax credit cuts come in?

They will be imposed from April next year, barring a u-turn.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.