The fan - Hunter Davies prices the Chelsea bench

By the end of this season, Arsene will look like Auden's love child

I waited all summer for the new League season, but thanks to Albanian Under-13s, Peace Cups in Korea, War Cups in Holland, three-a-side Masters in various old folks' homes, there were only about 17 minutes this summer in which there wasn't some sort of live, or at least warmed-up, football to watch. Now we're well into the real thing. And it's so exciting, with many new things to ponder and wonder at.

Hleb of Arsenal, that thin lad with the baggy socks, the ones Steve Claridge used to wear. How do you pronounce his name? No commentator has told me yet. Do you clear your throat and have a dry spit, or is the "h" silent, as in long grass?

The sight of two of Fulham's subs on exercise bikes while they wait to come on. That's something I have never seen before. But what a good idea. Instead of sitting sulking, scratching their balls, wishing for their rival to break his leg, wanting to throttle the manager, they are doing something positive and active. There must have been long discussions about what activity would be best. Flower arranging, that's excellent therapy. Or they could sell programmes and be really useful. Knitting was considered but rejected. In case they got injured.

The Chelsea bench has, of course, been the most magnificent sight of the season so far - £78m worth of raw meat, just sitting, doing bugger all. Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Shaun Wright-Phillips have been bought for fortunes, mainly for decorative purposes. Poor old Joe Cole, worth only half a fortune, has had to sit up in the stand, unseen. It's like those mad billionaires who buy Old Masters, then lock them in vaults.

At least an Old Master's value will increase - but Young Football

Millionaires become a decreasing asset, growing old and mouldy,

bitter and twisted, their confidence going, their image tainted.

Arsene is getting more lined. By the end of the season, he'll look like W H Auden's love child. Mourinho has let his hair grow, but is now shaving on match days. Fergie gets redder and fergier.

Gold is the new white, as Private Eye would say. Suddenly numbers on shirts have gone golden, as at Arsenal, Newcastle and elsewhere. Someone has worked a nice concession.

Frank Lampard still has to work on his tum. He kicked off the season looking plumpen and lumpen, clearly having enjoyed himself too much in the summer. That's what happens when you get Best in Show awards. The rot sets in, or self-satisfaction.

Spurs top of the League. Blimey. Blink and you'll miss it.

Michael Owen has gone awfully thin-faced. What can the matter be? No one loves him? All the benches are occupied?

It's strange how players develop at different rates. Certain youngsters suddenly shoot forward, seem mature and polished beyond their years, appear destined for greatness, then sort of slow down, get stuck, get found out. Wayne Rooney is clearly keeping it up, but players like Kieron Dyer, Gareth Barry, Glen Johnson, excellent when they first emerged, have not really progressed in the past two years. This season, I have fears for Jermaine Jenas and Shaun Wright-Phillips. I suspect their best might still be a long time ahead of them.

I've already had enough of Brian Marwood's expert commentary.

His expertise is in saying a lot of words, all of them empty or cliched. "It would have been in, if it had gone in." Is that what I heard him say last week? I definitely heard the follow-up: "And the whole complex of the game would have changed."

As for manager-speak, only a few days now 'til the end of the transfer deadline, when we'll no longer hear "we're just three players short of a good squad". In the case of Portsmouth, Wigan and Sunderland, at this moment in time, Brian, each of them is just 11 players short of a good team . . .

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 29 August 2005 issue of the New Statesman, President Hillary: can she do it?