Clichés of the titans

Which of the overused football wisdoms are still valid, asks Hunter Davies

At this stage of the season, with all the Euro excitement, the race for the Prem, and the race for the drop, traditional sayings are being trotted out in such a flurry that there’s hardly time to pause and say, “Hey up, is that really so?” Hence it’s time for a round of “True or False”.

Football is a cruel game.

I didn’t see one death in the Chelsea-Barça game, no fingernails pulled out, no Chinese tortures, no waterboarding, no rendering. So the answer is: Not True.

You never know who’s going to win in this game.

Of course you don’t, dumdum, that’s why it’s played, to find out. Very True.

There’s a lot of luck in football.

Luck does play a part, a spinning ball can bounce funny, a rebound go the way you don’t expect, the ball is suddenly deflected, hits the woodwork instead of going in, but that’s about it, really. Not true.

The best team always wins.

Over the season, minor bits of bad luck and dodgy referee decisions even out. True.

Form is temporary but class lasts forever.

This is said to excuse a good player playing rubbish, hoping he’ll snap out of it. Ronaldo proved it for Man Utd against Arsenal. Having had a lumpy, frumpy season, he came good when it mattered. The phrase also suggests that ordinary players can’t suddenly be classy, which is not true, not when the standard overall in the top teams is so high. And class players can lose class with age, injury, depression. So, hmm, I can’t decide if it’s true or not. I think it’s just linguistics.

You can’t win anything with kids.

The Busby Babes did it, and Man Utd did it ten years ago when the Beckham, Scholes, Nevilles generation first flowered, but Arsenal have been trying for four seasons now with a team barely old enough to shave, and won bugger all. So: True on the whole.

It’s a game of two halves.

This appears a statement of the obvious, as the rules state 90 minutes divided into equal parts – but the halves can turn out to be totally different. A team which dominated the first half can collapse in the second half for no apparent reason, as the other lot suddenly stop scratching their bums and burst into life. As for equal time, the second half is almost always longer than the first, often for reasons known only to the ref. Patently True.

Take each game as it comes.

Meaning concentrate on the game in hand, don’t worry about the next, which was sensible advice. But now with so many comp-etitions, some of them piddling, and monster squads, top clubs always have the next game in mind and don’t give a bugger about fans who’ve paid a fortune to see their fave stars. Not true.

It’s not over till it’s over.

Again, a banality hardly worth saying, because the law says 90 minutes plus stoppages, and no team ever walks off before the final whistle convinced they’ve won (though it often looks it). But how often has a team come back from the dead in the very last minute of stoppage time? Not often, but often enough for it always to be possible. Very True.

Football is a funny old game.

Even with a laughter track dubbed on, it’s hard to think of any games which would outsell Monty Python or Only Fools and Horses in the comedy stakes, though lots of people have found Titus Bramble’s tackles hysterical, Craig Bellamy’s face uproarious and Robby Savage’s hair side-splitting. Peculiar yes, but rarely funny. Not true.

Football, bloody hell.

That was Fergie’s comment after Man Utd came from nowhere to win the 1999 Euro. Spot on.

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 18 May 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Rock bottom