Return of the Messiah with the lily-white thighs

I used to say, being silly, but meaning it, which is even sillier, that the three greatest living Englishmen were Alfred Wainwright, Paul McCartney and Glenn Hoddle. I admired the Blessed Wainwright for his seven Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells, which I consider works of art. I like how he did them, and I don't just mean the contents - hand-drawing every line, every word - but also the way he published them by himself because he couldn't trust some half-witted printer not to muck up his handiwork.

His tunes are obviously what we admire most about Paul McCartney. But I have always liked him for two other reasons: first, how he handled his relationship with John Lennon. McCartney was so often in Lennon's shadow, yet he managed to stay his own person, did not get bitter and twisted when the world at large said they preferred John - who didn't care whether he was liked or not, while Paul desperately did. And second, I liked McCartney for going on the road again with Wings. He had decided that the two things he liked best in life were being with his wife and performing. He couldn't go forward, having been a Beatle, but he was prepared to go backward, doing small gigs, taking Linda with him, knowing they would be rubbished and ridiculed.

As for Glenn, it was love at first sight. I used to arrive at White Hart Lane early, just to see him tie up his bootlaces. He never did anything awkwardly, crudely, clumsily. I can still see him, in my mind's eye, taking free kicks, narrowing his eyes, measuring the inches. His long passing was as good as Beckham's, hitting the ball 40 yards from apparently impossible positions, hedged in tightly, yet still managing to find his man. Unlike Beckham, Glenn scored lots of goals - for Spurs and England.

Hoddle had a habit of playing with his shorts pulled up high to reveal several acres of lily-white thigh - as the poet laureate might have written, if he had been any good at rhyming.

There is a present-day player who has started to display this engaging habit - Fabien Barthez. Glenn's shorts were worn high throughout a match. Barthez tends to pull up the right leg of his shorts only at moments of stress or excitement, such as when waiting for a corner, or after a goal-mouth scramble. I can't remember him doing it when he played for France. Perhaps it is a masonic signal, a coquettish gesture aimed at his girlfriend, part of a code to warn off some Asian betting syndicate, or simply because he is easing his balls, which have got caught in his jockstrap.

With Glenn, giving us the benefit of his lovely thighs was a bit girlish, which is why opposing fans, especially Arsenal's, referred to him as Glenda. He could be a bit of a big blouse, disappearing when things got tough, or pirouetting on the ball one too many times and falling over. He played for England 53 times, but I have a faint memory of him never being truly established, never demonstrating on a world stage all the talents we knew he had. Or is my memory failing? Hold on, I've found a quote from someone writing in l982 about England's World Cup chances.

"Hoddle is the player named most frequently by the other players as the player they admire. So why, at the age of 24, has he got only eight caps? Why is it still uncertain if he will make the final 11?"

Now, who wrote those words? It should say at the end of the cutting. Goodness, it was me. Have I really been chuntering on that long?

All Spurs supporters love Glenn, even those who never saw him in the flesh. It is part of the romance, the self-delusion, about our glorious past, teams filled with heroes who will return quite soon. We have only been waiting 40 years, so it must be soon.

It is ironic that Glenn's first match in charge will be the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal, the traditional rivals. Delete the word "ironic" - it's not. Football writers of a certain vintage, such as 1982, throw the word "ironic" all over the shop, when all they really mean is "interesting".

At the Arsenal v Spurs league game at Highbury - the toughest game for me every season, as I sit there, among the Arsenal season-ticket holders, trying to be invisible - the man next to me started rubbishing Glenn's management career. "Glenda's done fuck all as a manager." It's awful, the language one has to put up with at Arsenal. I said he had taken Swindon into the Premiership, got Southampton to a healthy position. "In other words, fuck all."

This is what he has been waiting for, I replied. This is Glenn's destiny. Home is the Hoddle, home from the seas. "Don't give me that Robert Louis Stevenson shit," said my educated friend. "It's players Spurs need, not poetry." How true.

Hoddle's arrival has been a triumph for the supporters. It proves that we do have power and influence, even in this money-mad, TV age. At Spurs, for 20 years they've been shouting: "OUT, OUT, OUT" - from Irving "Where's the Money" Scholar to Alan Sugar and George Graham.

Now we have our wish, our heart's desire. The person we all loved, our hero, has returned to lead us to the promised land. And I'm scared stiff. If it doesn't work this time, that's it. End of romance. No more delusions. Whom else will we have to blame? All we'll be able to shout is something you've never heard shouted at any football match anywhere: "SUPPORTERS - OUT, OUT, OUT . . . "

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 09 April 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Duel for the Tube