The season's started and it's in Ruud health (sorry)

So what do you think of it so far? The new season, I mean, just four weeks old but already getting frayed and tattered and yellow round the edges. Ruud going has obviously been the big story. A great loss. Especially to sub editors who, even at the very end, when surely they must have realised it had all been done before, were still writing headlines such as "Ruud gestures", "Ruud awakening" and "Ruud ending". Yes, we won't see them again. Thank God.

I do think he is a loss. He appeared a rounded human being, with an interest in life and the world at large, unlike, well, to pick someone at random, Alan Shearer. I'm sure he's lovely in real life, if he has one, but in public he's like a speak-your-weight machine. Most managers and senior players are one-track, focused only on football, acquiring their knowledge, attitudes and language from other managers and senior players, not from normal human beings.

Is being too intelligent, too cultured, a handicap in football management? Possibly. His sort of intelligence and culture is not wanted and only gets in the way. Ruud failed as a manager and was rightly chucked out. His Newcastle team played crap, had done so since his arrival, but it seems a shame that a Ruud-like personality will find it even harder in the future to command respect and attention.

It's been hello to Kate Hoey. I think. She seems to have quietly disappeared, after shooting her mouth off on her arrival. I do miss Banksy. I smiled the moment he opened his mouth, the way you do at the sight of a barrow boy, knowing his spiel will be amusing but what he's trying to sell will be rubbish. Where has he gone anyway? Joined Saint and Greavesy on the subs' bench in the sky? They were such a part of our Saturday lives for so long, chuckling Saint, dear old out-of-touch Greavesy. Perhaps they have a slot somewhere in the Midlands which I miss, being in Lakeland. Broadcasting for slow learners, the hard of understanding.

I've seen one match in the flesh. Carlisle's only win so far, but I have watched every live game on telly, some of them in glorious interaction. I've got the new Sky digital thing which enables me to, er, I'm not sure how to describe this, as I've stopped using it. It just confused me, having two pictures on the screen at once. You can also call up statistics, but they are banal rather than confusing. I tried it for the first game, Man Utd v Arsenal, and was told that Man Utd and Arsenal are two very good English clubs. Truly. That was how it began. Illuminating, eh?

Almost as informative as the BBC's Match of the Day, which now puts captions down the side of the screen saying, "Main camera", "Low camera", "Super slo-mo", which can't help the slow learner to spell or BBC viewers to understand what's going on. It's totally pointless, adds nothing whatsoever. You have to be a Sky interactive viewer to understand the pathetic point the BBC is trying to make - ie, we have more than one camera, oh yes we have, so there.

I still don't know what "Dreamcast" means on the front of Arsenal's new strip and I would also like to know the Italian words sung to the tune of "Yellow Submarine" whenever Italian clubs are playing.

I have no hopes for England doing well in Europe, or even getting there, though surely we'll not get stuffed by Luxembourg. There are no easy games in Europe, so Kev will have told us by now, with due respect, all credit to them. Let's hope Luxembourg play with nine men, none of whom have ever played football before. That's our best hope.

I have high hopes for Glasgow Rangers in Europe this season, the best-looking Scottish league team for several years. What am I saying? I watched them against Parma, doing very well, and there were ten foreigners in their starting line-up, under the command of a foreign coach. Rangers are now about as genuinely Scottish as deep-fried Mars bars.

Robbie Fowler looks good this season - hurrah for that - Harry Kewell even better than last, Michael Owen appears fit and Dwight Yorke, kissy kiss, is scoring well. But I do worry about Man Utd. Their dismal show against Lazio has been brushed aside as irrelevant because Fergie did not play Dwight, Giggs or Irwin and took off Stam and Beckham, saving them for better things. But this is how the season will go - being without such players not by choice but circumstance, forced to make do with the lesser lights. You'd have thought the Lazio game was their big chance, dead serious for them, to show they should be first choice, but they were dull, jaded, ineffectual. That's why I worry. I now think that Sheringham, Solskjaer and Cole are only as good as those around them. They can't do it on their own. As for Curtis and Greening, neither can pass.

I'll be back in the smoke in a month, but meanwhile my son is keeping my Spurs season ticket warm. At half-time he rings me from my seat in the West Stand on his new mobile, so we can discuss what's been happening, if anything, as I've been listening on the radio. Then he rings again after full time, while running down the High Road, and I can tell him the other results, which I've heard on the radio. Isn't modern communication wonderful?

But it did leave an eerie feeling, the first time he did it. For 20 years, I used to ring my father-in-law every Saturday when I got home from the match, to discuss the day's results, plus any family chat. It was a set routine, a duty call in some ways, and our conversation hardly varied.

Now it's me who's being rung, humoured, kept in touch with. Only four weeks of the season gone. Intimations of immortality already looming . . .

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.

This article first appeared in the 06 September 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Whatever happened to liberty?