God bless Wayne’s socks and metatarsals

I'm still in a deep depression over England. I was so pissed off by their display against Egypt, and even more so by the under-21s against Greece. In each case, smaller, cleverer, more skilful players made them look lumps, even though the senior team did manage to put in half an hour as if they'd played the game before.

Will you stop going on about it, said my wife. You're just typical of all the slobs who sit slumped in front of the telly with their lager and crisps, shouting at players who are trying their best. No crisp has passed these fair lips for over a year, and you know I do not drink beer. Anyway, I was not slumped.

I was up, shouting at them. Very exhausting. And if you are suggesting I am a pure armchair critic, look at these Wembley programmes. I have been there, on the front line, shouting. So what's happened? I mean to England, not me. I am in my prime, on a winning streak. Just that midweek going to Wembley, my poorly knee is not up to it.

One thing all fans have been aware of since football began is that some players do not develop. In recent years, I thought Franny Jeffers was a brilliant player - as did Wenger - now where is he? Gorn. Alan Smith, with his baby lips, seemed destined for greatness; now he is at Newcastle, doing well, but second-level well.

Jack Wilshere - God, I loved the first sight of that left foot in action - now he is out on loan to, er, somewhere or other. Theo Walcott? Since the last World Cup, has he developed the way we all expected? Not doing bad, last week anyway, but not good enough. Chris Smalling of Fulham, going to Man U for a vast sum, is today's wonder boy, destined for greatness, so all the experts say. Wake me up when he gets there. Joe Cole? Still don't understand what's happened. Nor does anyone else. Michael Owen did reach a peak, for a while, but he would have kept it up if he had been as good as we all said he was.

Perhaps the problem is us - we oversell, over-praise, get carried away. But I also blame the English coaching system. Watching the under-21s, we seem besotted with big strapping lads, ahead of their years in physique, but backward in technique. Look at Messi, look at most of the Spanish team. They are puny - but totally in control of every ball. The only Brit player I can think of, de nos jours, who has truly fulfilled his promise is Wayne. He was a teenage wonder - now he is a 24-year-old wonder. God bless his socks and metatarsals.

Thinking of all those who showed promise and didn't develop, I then thought, oh no, could that also be Capello's England? Early doors, storming through the World Cup qualifiers, they impressed everyone. Since then, hmm, not beaten any team that was half decent, and struggled against the ordinary. Which, alas, is what England is.

No use saying it's only been friendlies, as Spain, Argentina and Brazil in their friendlies pulled further ahead, leaving us behind. Shouting at the telly, though, that's a good sign. Shows we still care.

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 15 March 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Falklands II

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.