The fan - Hunter Davies writes a world-class column
If you throw yourself around, you can make yourself big - and world class!
Another world-class column, from a world-class writer, in a world-class mag. Looking out of the window, it seems a world-class morning; I'll just finish my bowl of world-class muesli and go and have a world-class poo, hopefully.
The use of the phrase "world class" this season has become well, world class, but all it means is "not bad", "half decent". A goalie makes a world-class save from a world-class striker. In other words, they are playing in the Premiership, which we all believe, by definition, is the envy of the watching world, and thus far, in this game, they have not fallen over or been subbed.
You never hear a commentator talk about a world-class throw-in, which in theory should happen, what with all these world-class players we are so fortunate to have among us.
"Watch how he opened his body." No, we're not into self-mutilation or anatomy. That's another popular phrase that must be very confusing for beginners. It refers to some big lump of a defender who's closed his eyes, thrown himself into a tackle and hoped for the best.
Equally worrying, if you had just arrived from Mars, is a player who's "made himself big". This does not have sexual undertones, or suggest size-enhancing steroids. It is usually applied to a goalie who has thrown himself blindly at an attacking player.
"A six-pointer" does not appear to make sense, not for anyone who looks at the rules and sees that the most you can get from a league game is three points for a win. Six points is an abstract concept. Don't let it worry you. The thinking is that if you take the three points from a team roughly level with you, while adding three to your own total, therefore opening up a bigger gap, that's twice as good. One of the mathematical mysteries in football is the loss of a point, which disappeared for ever when the change was made from two points for a win. The notional points at stake are now three - but if it's a draw, teams get only one each. Ergo, one point vanishes. Where does it go? I've looked everywhere.
All my long-legged life, I've been collecting football words and phrases, for my own amusement. Now someone has beaten me to a book about them. Two blokes, in fact - John Leigh and David Woodhouse, who started collecting choice footer speak when they were doing doctoral theses in 18th-century literature at Cambridge. One is now a don. The other works in the City. Their book is called Football Lexicon and is prettily published this month by the very high-class, literary firm of Faber & Faber. Just shows you, eh? I saw you, scoffing at me for making stupid remarks about world class. There's money in stupid remarks.
Leigh and Woodhouse have compiled a dictionary that explains 800 well-used football words and phrases. These range from "altercation - a euphemistic way of describing a dust-up or bust-up" (as in "bit of an altercation off the ball there") to "Row Z - a long way from the pitch and so, by inference, the hypothetical destination of any no-nonsense clearance".
It's very amusing, clever, not to say spot on, but I would have liked them to have used their academic training to have dug out the origins of well-known phrases. "Custodian", as in custodian of the net, referring to a goalie, is about a hundred years old, but who first coined it? When did it become archaic?
You don't hear of "tanner-ball players" these days, which I was led to believe referred to a player who could turn on a tanner, ie, a sixpence. I couldn't find "sick as a parrot" in their book, either, yet this is still current and must be about the best-known, most parodied football cliche. But who first said it, or first wrote it, which surely must be something that can be found out? And was there ever a parrot?
All half-decent English-language books will give you etymological origins and early usages, so I wish the authors had attempted more of that, as I'm sure they are aiming at a world-class football dictionary. Hmm. I wonder if "world class" originally referred to players or countries that played in World Cup finals? If so, which World Cup? There must be a PhD in this . . .
More from New Statesman
- Online writers:
- Steven Baxter
- Rowenna Davis
- David Allen Green
- Mehdi Hasan
- Nelson Jones
- Gavin Kelly
- Helen Lewis
- Laurie Penny
- The V Spot
- Alex Hern
- Martha Gill
- Alan White
- Samira Shackle
- Alex Andreou
- Nicky Woolf in America
- Bim Adewunmi
- Kate Mossman on pop
- Ryan Gilbey on Film
- Martin Robbins
- Rafael Behr
- Eleanor Margolis