Who ate all the pies?

Gareth Southgate's waistline reminds me of my svelte days

I think I'm getting a crush on Gareth Southgate. He's just taken over as manager of Middlesbrough, for whom he'd been playing. Before that he was at Villa, always going to leave, year after year, and then he did. Lots of England caps. Solid and sensible, rather than talented. Well-spoken, for a footballer, clearly intelligent, yet never ridiculed as a poof for reading a proper paper as Graeme Le Saux was. Bashed-up ugly nose, weird-looking lips, thin face, poor haircut. Yes, now you remember him.

So what's the attraction, Hunt? I think it started with his waist. He was on the touchline last weekend, standing erect and solemn while Boro faffed around against Sheffield United, getting nowhere, and I found myself thinking, hmmm, can't be more than 30 inches. Jolly slim for someone almost six feet.

For 95 per cent of my adult life my waist has been 32 inches, but in just three years I've crept up to 36 inches. All right, last week I went into M&S in Carlisle and found myself leaving with a pair of 38-inch shorts. Still in shorts up here, been so since May, but next week, back in London, I'll be in long 'uns.

It's reassuring to see most men of my age with real pots: horrible beer bellies, much bigger than mine. Yet, on seeing young Gareth's slender middle, a little sigh escaped me. To think I was like that once.

Then I looked at his face. Why did I ever think he was ugly? He could be a young Belmondo. And his hair? Still longish, but far nicer than all this shaven nonsense.

He was wearing a skintight Boro shirt, ooh Ivy, and what looked like trackie bottoms, totally becoming for a manager of 36 who could still be playing. Aidy Boothroyd of Watford, an equally young manager, buttons himself up in a bank manager's suit and looks awfully uncomfortable, though not as uncomfy as Big Sam Allardyce. His suit jacket is buttoned down at the top to stop him bursting out and floating away like a barrage balloon.

It's so sad, what happens to these fit and lean young men when their playing days are over. I practically cried when I met Joe Kinnear again, after a gap of 20 years. As a young Spurs full-back, he'd been so svelte, but he somehow turned into Richard Griffiths. Remember Clyde Best, flying forward with West Ham in the 1970s? I met him a couple of years ago in Bermuda. He was enormous, at least 20 stone.

Garth Crooks was so light on the pitch, you felt he would blow away. Now he's all puffed up. As are his long-winded questions.

"You fat bastard," they shouted at Gazza for most of his career, and threw Mars Bars. He'll end up bloated, so we all thought. But he's thinner now than when he played. Keeping thin is one of his latest obsessions. You don't actually hear that cry of "Fat bastard" today, because the players are built like models, tall and thin like Thierry Henry. Jan Mølby of Liverpool, he was the last real fatty I can remember.

Tops was Billy "Fatty" Foulke, goalie for Sheffield United and Chelsea in the 1900s. At his fattest, he was 25 stone. When he retired, he appeared on Blackpool Beach saving penalties for pennies. He caught a chill and died in 1916, aged 42.

So I gaze at Gareth in awe and admiration. Then I wonder - can Peter Crouch ever possibly get fat? And will Beckham, when he retires very, very soon, still be able to get into his sarong or his wife's knickers? Or, with age, will they go the way of all flesh . . .

"The Second Half", the latest collection of Hunter Davies's columns, is newly published by Pomona (£9.99)

Next Article