Lose your rage and lose the game

I used to get terrible jaw ache. I tried everything: a plate in my mouth, endless X-rays to see if the bones were dodgy - I was visiting top dentists for years. Two things sorted it: a hot water bottle placed on my ear whenever my jaw was really painful, and a mantra I made up - I'm sure I made it up, because I don't remember anyone saying it me - which I now repeat to myself before anything might happen to cause my jaw to ache: "You will be the loser if you lose it."

This pearl came to me during a traffic hold-up. I was about to wind down the window and shout at some stupid driver who had caused it, when I realised that my jaw was already aching with the stress of sitting there, silently fuming. Shouting at him would have only made it worse. Pretty obvious, I know; it is the sort of stuff we say to kids, being ever-so-wise grown-ups. But it has worked for me. Which is why now, when I am driving, or in other stress-inducing situations, I sit there with my mouth half open, smiling. What an eejit, people must think.

Fergie and the whole Man United team lost it against Chelsea the last time they met, in every sense. Darren Fletcher was still seething at the unfairness of the free kick he had given away, which lost him vital energy and his concentration. So were the other Man United players when the kick came in - and thus the goal was scored.

Fergie was going ballistic, screaming at the officials, probably making his jaw ache and his blood pressure rise, instead of opening his mouth, smiling, and calming down all his players for the last 15 minutes when they could well have won it, if they had been cool and concentrating.

Fergie, for all his brilliance, is a bad influence on his team. Because the players see him ranting and raving, rubbishing refs and complaining about everything, they do the same. It can be a relief to let it all out in run-of-the-mill, daily life, but not in high-pressure matches. It's so draining, being furious.

These days, every team has psychiatrists to get them to visualise winning, make them feel big and work on their confidence - but they don't seem to have much success with controlling their emotions. Managers, like Fergie, believe you need anger; it makes Wayne the player he is - and let's hope he never loses it - but what you really need is controlled anger. You have to be calculating, concentrated, and cold - which you are not when you are effing and blinding at a referee, however stupid and wrong he has been. Anger and stress do have a physical effect, buggering up your body as well as your mind.

I don't expect the Corinthian spirit to return - when taking part was the point, all rules were obeyed, fair play was everything, and if the other team was a man down you would voluntarily send off one of yours to keep it equal. Too late for that. Football is now all about aggression. But the trick is to make that anger more focused on the essentials, with the game in hand.

Yep, that is all very easy to say, and harder to do in the heat of the battle. But I do have a few windows in my diary over the international weekend; I could probably fit in Fergie and the lads. Only 50 guineas an hour. Bring play clothes.

Hunter Davies's latest book is "Confessions of a Collector" (Quercus, £20)

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 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Dead End