"You follow football, don't you?" said my younger daughter Flora, 26, coming through the front door. Rhetorical question, as I have done so all her life, and longer, but I nodded sagely as I walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Then I thought "sage", it must come from the French for wise, not the plant, though perhaps there was once a connection. Sage is meant to have healing qualities, which wise persons were perhaps meant to know.
"Are you listening?" she said. "I've got a question about football for you." I had now opened the fridge and was getting her a drink, trying to disguise the shitty chardonnay that I bought on special offer in Safeway's last week before discovering it was medium chardonnay, yuk. Language and tastes have moved on so quickly in the wine world that medium now equals sweet.
"I'm not having that," she said. "You tried that on me last week. I'll have your good stuff, if you don't mind." She comes round here for supper every Sunday, the petal, and brightens up our lives. So what's the question?
"Why are British footballers so ugly?"
A few weeks ago she'd switched on the telly and found there were two live football matches on, plus some rugby. She gave all three a few minutes of her precious attention, before recoiling in horror at the sight of so many ugly blokes. Then by chance she switched to Channel 4 and got the Italian football. She watched that right to the end. Parma and somebody else, she thinks. No idea of the score. But the blokes, well, most of them, were surprisingly attractive.
"Compared with British players," she said. "So tell me, as you watch football non-stop, why are they all so ugly in Britain?"
I've never rated them that way. Though yesterday, watching Rio Ferdinand, I thought what a mistake, having all his hair off when he's got such a pinhead. Someone should have told him.
I then started whizzing through various teams in my mind. In the Arsenal defence there's Adams, Dixon, Winterburn, Bould, Keown. Hmm, none of them exactly male models. Alan Shearer, England captain, probably the kindest description of him would be plain. And Butt, Scholes, Sheringham: all at the back of the queue when looks were given out. Robbie Fowler, he'd probably run away with the Premiership's Mr Ugly prize. No, not many natural pin-ups come immediately to mind.
"Beckham!" I shouted. How could I have forgotten him?
"He's not a man," she said. I wonder if Posh knows this? "And he's got horrible, cheap hair," she continued. "You'd think as he can afford a Ferrari, he'd find a stylist and get himself a decent haircut. Ugh. Those nasty highlights. Looks as if he's been down Archway to some cheap barber's . . ."
"Then what about Jamie Redknapp?" I said. "All the girls are said to love him."
"Not the ones I know. But Chris fancies him." Chris is a bloke, and gay.
"Ginola," I said. "You can't possibly say he's not attractive."
"I suppose he is, though I don't like his clothes. But he's not British, is he?"
She'd got me there.
It is interesting how foreigners generally tend to be more stylish, but I suppose you would expect that. We get the best, the intelligent ones, the ones keen and capable of settling in a foreign country, who make the most of being over here. Emmanuel Petit is currently moving to a house in Primrose Hill, showing excellent taste. Klinsmann, when he was over here, had a house off Hampstead High Street. Vialli lives in Eaton Square. If you are going to play for a London team, you might as well experience the best of London. Home-grown players live in horrible mock-Tudor houses miles out in nowhere places.
Does it matter? Of course not. It might indicate a more interesting personality, but not a better player. Football doesn't work that way, not with managers. If your personality, clothes and lifestyle are thought interesting, you might get on better with your team-mates, but it would never influence a manager. Or would it? I poured myself another drink, of the rubbish stuff. Someone has to drink it. Not wasting it.
If you were an attractive, friendly, well-adjusted bloke, it might be a consideration for a manager who's thinking of signing you. He wants someone who will fit in, be easy to deal with. But if he thinks Mr Ugly can do the business better than Mr Pretty, despite his bad breath, unfortunate habits, boring house and nasty clothes, Mr Ugly will always get picked.
Where being attractive matters is with the marketing men. The ones thought pretty, such as Beckham, make most money, though he does have a very good agent. They swooned over George Best, who had everything, looks and skill. Not many of those around in British football today. Gazza had skill. Shame about the looks.
I suppose Flora does have a point about Italian players. They always seem to look more stylish. In every sense. But so what? Didn't Man Utd stuff Juventus and Inter this season? And they'll be meeting Bayern Munich in the big final. It could be the Battle of the Uglies, who just happen at present to be the two best club sides in Europe.
"You haven't answered my question," she said, pouring herself another glass of the good stuff. "I asked why British footballers are so ugly."
"Well, it's obvious. It's because British blokes are so ugly . . ."