The fan - Hunter Davies hates silly hair on footballers

You won't believe the number of players I hate for their silly hair

I have a punchable face; I also look like one of those people who drive slowly down the middle of the motorway - according to a letter I got last week. Strange, isn't it, what people hold against you? For about ten years I wrote a column in Punch where I referred to my wife as the Old Trout. Silly, juvenile, dunno why I did it for so long, just as I dunno why I use the word "dunno" when I know it's very annoying. Every week, I would get an abusive letter, saying it demeaned not just my wife, but all women.

My wife is getting irate letters these days herself. She's written a book about the diary of a woman, which readers love; but when they get to the end and realise it's fiction, there are always two or three every week who grow furious, feeling they've been cheated (though it does say clearly on the cover that it's a novel). Some even say that they'll never read her books again.

There's not a lot of logic, or sense, or fairness, to these sorts of dislikes, but we all have them. You wouldn't believe the number of players I hate for their silly hair or silly voices. In fact, it's part of the entertainment they provide. We pay a fortune to watch them, making them millionaires, thus entitling us to have no qualms about rubbishing them. "If you can't take the shit, then don't perform in public, be a politician, write or act for money," as my old granny used to say (no, not the one who went out with Wayne Rooney, the other one).

Currently, here's who I dislike, mostly for potty, petty reasons, which means I might change my opinion completely, perhaps by the end of this piece.

Only two months ago I loved Jose Mourinho: what a breath of fresh hair; did wonders at Porto; so cool to stand sideways to the dugout, as if oblivious to his team. Now I just wish he'd shave his stupid face, and stop chewing gum and blaming teams he can't beat (such as Spurs) for being defensive. If he's so clever, as he's told us, why can't he be clever enough to see how silly that was?

Alex Ferguson: well, he's a bully, we all know that - all the millions like me who have never met him. Andy Cole: I hate the fact he says he's now "Andrew Cole". What a poseur. And he always has a moany look. I don't like Robbie Fowler's face, or Trevor Francis's voice. Roy Keane: nasty piece of work, you just have to look at that sickening half-smile when he trots out. And David Beckham: I've gone right off him; he's so petty when he gets beaten or makes a mistake, lashing out like a spoilt child. I now believe that in the years when his free-kicks were magic, half of them were lucky, judging by the way nowadays he can't kick straight. Sven-Goran Eriksson: don't get me started. I have only to see his impassive face on the bench to start foaming at the mouth.

Currently top of my likes list, kissy-kissy all round, is Sam Allardyce. I adore his name, his accent, his big burly unglamorous frame, his little earpiece during games, his obsession with background scientists and experts; so endearing, so sweet, even if it's all cobblers and it'll be out just as soon as things go wrong. Arsene Wenger: not just for being by far the best manager, but for how he conducts himself. When it comes to cleverness, Mourinho is still in the backward class.

Cristiano Ronaldo - who cannot thrill to his play, and also how he plays, never surly or nasty or cynical? At the same time, I also like Robbie Savage. I enjoy his rage, his wrong sort of hair for his character, his stupidity when he loses it, thinking: "Oh goody, something really awful is going to happen." As long as he's not doing it to one of my team, in which case I boo him, like any other normal, half-witted fan.

James Beattie: I am amused he's become a gay icon, so I now watch him carefully - to see the attraction - and yes, he is a bit of a rural hunk; he'd make an attractive farmhand or sailor. Les Ferdinand: I do like his face (so regular) and his manners.

Rooney: so glad he's reappeared. I like his ugliness, his pasty face, his lack of self-obsession (such a relief from Becks), and his lack of respect for senior players. Now he has got a punchable face. Come on, you can see the marks.

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 04 October 2004 issue of the New Statesman, Muslim is not a dirty word

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The Tories' aim is to put Labour out of business for good

Rather than merely winning again, the Conservatives are seeking to inflict permanent damage on the opposition. 

The Conservatives are numerically weak but politically strong – that is the peculiarity of their position. Their majority is the smallest of any single-party government since October 1974. Yet, to MPs at the Tory conference in Manchester, it felt like “2001 in reverse”: the year of Tony Blair’s second election victory. Then, as now, the opposition responded to defeat by selecting a leader, Iain Duncan Smith, who was immediately derided as unelectable. Just as Labour knew then that it would win in 2005, so the Conservatives believe that they have been gifted victory in 2020. David Cameron has predicted that the party’s vote share could rise from 37 per cent to a Thatcherite 43 per cent.

For Cameron and George Osborne, who entered parliament in 2001, this moment is revenge for New Labour’s electoral hegemony. They believe that by applying Blair’s lessons better than his internal successors, they can emulate his achievements. The former Labour prime minister once spoke of his party as “the political wing of the British people”. In Manchester, Cameron and Osborne displayed similarly imperial ambitions. They regard Jeremy Corbyn’s election as a chance to realign the political landscape permanently.

Seen from one perspective, the Tories underperformed on 7 May. They consistently led by roughly 20 points on the defining issues of the economy and leadership but defeated Labour by just 6.5 overall. It was their enduring reputation as the party of the plutocracy that produced this disparity. Those who voted for Labour in spite of their doubts about Ed Miliband and the party’s economic competence may not be similarly forgiving of Corbyn. To maximise their gains, however, the Tories need to minimise their weaknesses, rather than merely exploit Labour’s.

This process began at conference. At a dinner organised by the modernising group the Good Right, Duncan Smith, Michael Gove and the Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, affirmed their belief that, contrary to Thatcherite orthodoxy, inequality is a problem. Only the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, an admirer of the libertarian heroine Ayn Rand, insisted that equality of opportunity was the defining metric.

George Osborne’s assured speech was most notable for his sustained appeal to Labour voters. Several opposition MPs told me how unsettled they were by the Chancellor’s declaration that Labour’s new leadership calls “anyone who believes in strong national defence, a market economy and the country living within its means” a Tory. He added, “It’s our job to make sure they’re absolutely right. Because we’re now the party of work, the only true party of labour.” The shadow minister Jonathan Reynolds told me: “We’ve got to be extremely clear that this is not business as usual. This is a real attempt by the Tories to put us out of business – possibly for ever.”

The Conservatives’ aim is to contaminate Labour to the point where, even if Jeremy Corbyn were deposed, the toxin would endure. For those opposition MPs who emphasise being a government-in-waiting, rather than a protest movement, the contrast between the high politics of the Tory conference and Corbyn’s rally appearance in Manchester was painfully sharp. They fear guilt by association with the demonstrators who spat at and abused journalists and Tory delegates. The declaration by a rally speaker, Terry Pullinger, the deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, that Corbyn’s election “almost makes you want to celebrate the fact that Labour lost” was regarded as confirmation that some on the left merely desire to run the party, not the country.

But few Tory MPs I spoke to greeted Corbyn’s victory with simple jubilation. “It’s a great shame, what’s happened to Labour,” one said. “We need a credible opposition.” In the absence of this, some fear the Conservatives’ self-destructive tendencies will reassert themselves. The forthcoming EU referendum and leadership contest are rich in cannibalistic potential. Tories spoke forebodingly of the inevitable schism between European Inners and Outers. As the Scottish experience demonstrated, referendums are almost never definitive. In the event of a close result, the party’s anti-EU wing will swiftly identify grounds for a second vote.

Several cabinet ministers, however, spoke of their confidence in Cameron’s ability to navigate the rapids of the referendum and his pre-announced departure. “More than ever, he’s the right man for these times,” one told me. By this December, Cameron will have led his party for ten years, a reign exceeded in recent history only by Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. That the Conservatives have so far avoided cataclysm is an underappreciated achievement.

Yet there are landmines ahead. An increasing number of MPs fear that the planned cuts to tax credits could be a foul-up comparable to Gordon Brown’s abolition of the 10p tax rate. Despite the appeals of Boris Johnson and the Sun, Cameron and Osborne have signalled that there will be no backtracking. At such moments of reflection, the Tories console themselves with the belief that, although voters may use Corbyn as a receptacle for protest (as they did Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband), they will not elect him. They also acknowledge that the current Labour leader may not be their opponent in 2020. The former paratrooper Dan Jarvis is most often cited as the successor they fear. As with Cameron and Blair, his relative lack of ideological definition may prove to be a strength, one MP suggested.

William Hague is fond of joking that the Tories have only two modes: panic and complacency. If the danger before the general election was of the former, the danger now is of the latter. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.