Vital match statistics

How a player's height and weight became closely guarded secrets

I was a weed as a child. Now look at me - still a weed. But having asthma made it worse. Dribbling, passing, that was fine, but shooting from any distance, that was agony, especially on wet pitches when the ball was like a coconut. It just sort of dribbled forward expectantly a few yards, then came to a halt, prematurely. Would I ever play for Scotland, or even Carlisle United? That was my ambition in life aged 11. It seemed very unlikely.

One of the rare moments of revelation in my whole life came when I was 17. I realised that, although I was still small and weedy, if I were determined enough and could tackle a big lump and bring him down, it would hurt him more than it would hurt me. Overnight I became a demon tackler - and got into the First XV at Carlisle Grammar School. Boaster.

I have always followed the weeds with extra interest, knowing that kids like Shaun Wright-Phillips, Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon, Tomás Rosicky and even Robinho must have been told all their childhood that they wouldn't make it as they weren't big enough.

The ones who looked ugly and ungainly, not just small, like that duo at Man City, Stephen Ireland and Craig Bellamy, must have found it even harder. Watching Ireland off the ball, I still find it hard to believe he is any sort of athlete and not an escapee from some day release, looking for a soup kitchen.

It becomes a challenge, of course, when you're small and weedy, to make yourself more skilful than the bigger, better-built lads - and also fiercer. Wee Billy Bremner made himself a giant, as did Nobby Stiles, scaring everyone with his physical menace - ie, kicking people. Bellamy has worked on his facial expressions, as opposed to his fouls. He looks constantly furious, with the ref, opposition, team-mates, himself. I love his face so much I can hardly take my eyes off him. He makes me smile, cheers me up, in the dullest game.

So I was really looking forward to the big 'un on 8 February at White Hart Lane - hoping Andrei Arshavin would make some sort of appearance for Arsenal and I would be able to see who was the smaller and weedier - him or Luka Modric. Interesting how each team has invested hopes, and money, in players who must often have been told, "Sorry son, why not be a jockey?"

Modric in particular looks a waif, about to be blown over, too frail and fragile for life, let alone modern football. Watching him carefully since he arrived, I guess he must be well under ten stone, but I haven't been able to confirm that. When I was a lad all the footer cards and stickers, comics and programmes, told you clearly each player's weight and height. Now it's almost a state secret. Both Spurs and Arsenal programmes, when they list the opposing team, will give you place of birth, date of birth and previous teams, but rarely heights and weights. Is it vanity on the part of the titchy types?

I did eventually find one website which states that Modric is 1.74 metres - about 5ft 8in - which I don't believe, while Arshavin is said to be 1.72m, which I don't believe either, as he looks slightly the taller of the two and a bit heavier.

Either way, I'm a hunk by comparison - oh yes, 5ft 9in in a good light, and er, a great deal heavier after two weeks in the Caribbean stuffing my face.

In the end Arshavin didn't make it, so we didn't have the Battle of the Weeds, which was a shame, as I still haven't seen them on the same pitch. But their presence in the Prem confirms one of the great things about football – any body can make it.

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 16 February 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The New Depression