Mysterious mouthfuls and everyday bollocks

What does it all mean? Not life, politics, the universe and all those piddling mysteries. Or even the middling mysteries, such as why does the Independent insist on telling us at the bottom of the front page of the Review section to now turn to page eight. That makes me so mad, so mad that I never ever read the end of their main feature, just to spite them.

I'm thinking today, friends, of some major mysteries, phrases that occur every day, every moment, in football life, but whose meaning is not always clear. Here's one I wrote down last week while watching Match of the Day. It was Newcastle v Chelsea; commentator, Tony Gubba. "That would have been goal number 201 for Shearer, who became a father for the third time only a week ago."

It was a unique sentence, so that was interesting, one never to be repeated, and you don't get many of them in football. If Gubba ever attempts such gobbledegook again, one of its three variables at least will have to change.

The mysterious part was why did he come out with such a mouthful so early in the game? I suspect it was panic. He had these two incredible, amazing facts written down in front of him, amazing to him, but yawn-making to every Newcastle fan, probably every football fan. He was determined to work them in during the game but, like many a player, he stabbed at it, went in with both facts blazing before he could help himself.

Now these are harder, do concentrate.

- "The level of defending in the Premiership is very poor," said George Graham, the manager of Spurs, last week. Why did he say that? He must have been criticising himself, surely, because he is very proud of having improved the defence of three Premier clubs.

The answer is Penguin psychology, the cheap paperback edition. He was in a competition to sign Sergei Rebrov from Ukraine, who was sorely tempted to go to a decent team in the Italian or Spanish league. George's clincher was that he would score more goals here than there. Nice one.

- Christian Ziege appeared with bleached hair last week. Why?

You noticed, did you, and been pondering it ever since. I would suggest it was not a fashion statement, which would be the obvious explanation, but, first, a nationalistic one. He was saying "I am not a boring, dreary, identikit German defender".

Second, it was a football statement. Hur-bloody-ray, he was proclaiming, thank the Lord I am out of that crap team at Boro who are going to win nothing. Now I am with Liverpool, who might also win nothing, but will score goals, entertain, please the fans and be fun. Hence I am a new man with new fun hair.

- That stuff on the chin of Robert Pires of Arsenal, what is it?

Slime. He got spotted by a Highbury pigeon. Next.

- Who is Reg Vardy? Pass on that. Unless he's an old music-hall comedian currently sponsoring Sunderland.

- EDS on the Derby shirt, who or what does it mean? Stands for Everyone in the Derby team Stinks.

- "He'll be disappointed by that." Which gets said by commentators who are creeps, or hoping to get invited into the players' lounge after the match. When said by managers or coaches, it means the player is utterly useless, playing like a total wally, I wouldn't pay washers for him, who was the eejit who bought him, oh, ah, could have been me.

- "I never saw the incident." Another example of manager-speak and cherished by all fans who assume it's bollocks, a complete lie. That's the accepted wisdom, but it's wrong. The manager did not in fact see it, for the simple reason that he had no need to watch. All week they have practised clattering their star striker, pulling his shirt off, kicking him up the backside, grabbing his balls, trying to break one of his legs. The manager was therefore able to look the other way, pick his nose, make notes, then say "Hospital? He's gone to hospital, oh dear."

- "Players today are becoming too greedy." Another favourite utterance from our leading managers, hoping to make themselves sound pious and virtuous. What they miss out is the end of the sentence. "But not as greedy as me."

Players, if they are lucky, manage to be greedy for ten years, max. Managers, the ones supposed to set an example, can coin it in for decades.They will leave a club for a bigger whack, just like a player. They'll sell their names and souls to advertisers, if the fee is big enough. They'll capitalise on their privileged position, which gives them inside information on famous players, and will tell all, at once, without having the decency to wait, if a publisher offers a big enough advance. Yes, I mean you, Fergie, and you, the Blessed Hoddle.

- "Crikey." Now which manager, still alive, is fond of saying that? You've got it. Graham Taylor of Watford. But why has he picked on an archaic, 1950s Dandy expletive? Is it because he's an old fogey? No. It's because his wife gave him such a blasting for all those four-letter words in that TV documentary that, henceforth in public, he has vowed to talk like Just William.

- "They didn't show us enough respect." Words or grunts to that effect are used by hooligans to justify their actions. What they are saying is: "They didn't see us coming, so we got our retaliation in first, innit, jumping on the scum before they saw us, there was only two of them, 40 of us, we had bottles and they had scarves, so it was a fair fight, that'll teach them to show respect in future . . ."

PS: By mistake last week I wrote Titus Bramley instead of Titus Bramble, the Ipswich player. What can that mean? Mixed fruits or mixed metaphors?

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 18 September 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Let the poor seek a place in the sun