The fan - Hunter Davies asks if Rooney is a thug in the making

To some, Rooney may seem a thug, a thicko, a five bellies in the making

I was opening the New Statesman last week. Our copy comes by post in one of those stupid shrink-wrapped things. Got the cellophane off, put my hand in to pull out the mag, and some little bugger crouching inside bit me. That was my first thought. Then I saw blood on my finger. I'd cut myself on the cover. I put TCP on it, as Mummy always said, then completely forgot about it. Two days later, it started to swell. In four days I was in agony. My GP's given me penicillin, but it's still sore.

I've rung my son the barrister to see if I can sue. He doesn't think I have much of a case; anyway it's not his field, he doesn't do personal injury. Typical. People with doctors in the family say the same. The minute you have something wrong, you ask your daughter or uncle who's a doctor and they say, "Sorry, it's not my line, I don't do cuts, ring me when you've got VD."

So I'm finding it hard to concentrate on anything, except watching football. That's very efficacious. Doctors recommend it. But my mind did start wandering while watching Everton beat Newcastle. Why isn't Wayne Rooney playing for Ireland? Or Danny Murphy, Martin Keown, Kieron Dyer? Michael Owen, he should really be playing for Wales, Scholes and Butt for Germany, the Nevilles for France, Ferdinand for Spain. Beck-ham, now that sounds genuine Old English. I'm sure Mr Blunkett will let him keep his passport.

Lucky for Everton and England that Rooney is English not Irish. A kid like that doesn't come along very often. I got him wrong at first. I thought all he had was premature physical maturity, which is not unusual. We can all remember lads at school aged 13 with deep voices, pubic hair, monster willies and their own razor, but who never grew much bigger.

Rooney is clearly mature as a footballer, as mature as footballers ever get. This is not a sneer. You don't want them too clever, too wise, or they'd never put up with all the shit from coaches in their early years. He's mature in the sense of knowing what to do on the field, where to run, where to pass, and mature in his confidence, in his own ability, not fazed by responsibility or all this expectation and fawning. So far.

Many know-alls have been comparing him with Gazza, saying look at Gazza now, gone to fat. Which happens to be wrong. Gazza is as thin as a rake, the lightest he's been for years. Gazza's not the player he was, but he hasn't gone to seed physically. But looking at Rooney's build, you can sense there might be a weight problem, if he ever gets an awful injury, then sits around stuffing his face.

He doesn't have the twitches, display the nervous tensions, get himself overhyped as the young Gazza did, which is fortunate. His humours appear well balanced, his character phlegmatic. And I do like his girlfriend being 16, from the street next to his, still at school, still wearing ankle socks and her school clothes. She missed his England starting debut as she was in a school play. So sweet, having a Premiership player going out with a schoolgirl, rather than models or lap dancers.

What will happen to Rooney? Will he be self-indulgent? Will events ruin it for him? Will he fade and become as boring a player as Robbie Fowler, a young Scouser once tipped for glory?

Stanley Matthews, Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker, paragons of all the known football and human virtues, always looked like goody-goodies, healthy in mind and body, took care of themselves, natural Boy Scouts. And Gary did have such a lovely smile. Rooney's looks work against him, as if he's not the part, a throwback to the olden days. I can show you lots of bull-like Rooneys in my collection of 1930s ciggie cards. Come up and see them some time. These days, forwards are built more like Thierry Henry, Francis Jeffers or Steve McManaman.

His narrow eyes, mean mouth, pasty complexion, boxer's body, chewing gum in his only public appearance so far rather than charming for England, might give some the impression he's a thug, a thicko, a five bellies in the making. Pure class prejudice, of course, and clearly wrong.

He does seem like a good lad, as a player and a person. I've got my fingers crossed for him. Oh no. Now it's agony again . . .

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 14 April 2003 issue of the New Statesman, A crime against humanity