Cantona’s collar, Craig’s holler and Carragher’s lack of tatts

I was at the optician's last week, having my eyes tested, and I got talking to the Sikh ophthalmologist. I was dreading the bit where they blow into your eyes, that is so unnerving. I asked if he knew all the letters on the screen. Do they memorise them at Opticians' School?

We then got on to football, as you do; or as I do. Travelling constantly round the globe - some days Kentish Town, some days I go as far as Camden Town - I have found that football is the great ice-breaker. You don't have to know the other person's language to discuss the merits of Messi, Ronaldo or Rooney.

He turned out to be a Man United fan. I asked why. "When I was little, my favourite player was Cantona. I liked him because he turned his collar up. That's why I've followed Man United ever since."

Even with all my incredible knowledge and insight and long experience of the game, I admit that there are often piddling, trivial reasons for liking or not liking a player. I like it when Adebayor smiles. He wasn't smiling a lot at Man City in the end, which is probably why he has been loaned out to Spurs, but when he does smile, it opens up his whole face and character. It could be wind, of course, or ill-fitting teeth.

Craig Bellamy in a strop - which he almost always is, effing and blinding, waving his arms in disgust at the ref or his team-mates, snarling and scowling - that amuses me, but it probably wouldn't if I was his manager. His emotions and energy should be concentrated on the game, not the gallery.

I like Jamie Carragher, not just for his obvious gritty qualities but also for his lack of tattoos. Or visible tattoos. I don't know about his bum.

I am in two minds about Mario Balotelli. I suspect that he has got it into his head that he is a character and is well aware of his variousexpressions and glares. Folding his arms, looking into the distance after scoring - that was carefully rehearsed.

Darren Anderton taking corners made me smile. He would wander over, set the ball down, look up, then flick back his floppy hair, look up, flick back his hair again. He clearly couldn't help it, though I often wondered why he didn't bring his mum on to brush his hair down for him.

I like Chris Waddle for lots of reasons. He was one of the few English players who went abroad - to Marseilles - and became a hero. Kevin Keegan was greatly loved at Hamburg, Paul Lambert at Dortmund and, of course, John Charles at Juventus. But I don't think we'll see English players at top European teams in the foreseeable future.

What endears me to Waddle now as a commentator is when there is a penalty. I long for the ref to point to the spot and whistle, just to hear Chris say that it is or is not a stonewall "pelanty".

Fergie's cardie

Managers have so many mannerisms. I do miss José Mourinho. It was hard to take your eyes off him, though his crouching fellow Portuguese at Chelsea is always worth studying. Arsène Wenger has taken to heavy breathing, sucking in his lips, then holding his head in his hands. Harry Redknapp has always twitched.

Roberto Mancini insists on tying his Man City scarf in that trendy Italian way, despite it being lumpy and woollen and not meant to look stylish. Alan Pardew is emerging as a stylist, with his lush white hair, black suit, black-and-white tie.

Fergie chews gum, which is not unusual, and wears the same old zip-up cardigan thing under his coat. Though, again, that's not unusual: managers have lucky items of clothing that they always wear.

What fascinates me when the camera zooms in on Fergie as he sits there on the bench is not actually him, but that row of Sikhs in beards and turbans who sit behind him, three at least, obviously season ticket holders, because they're at every home game. I strain to count them, to see if they are brothers, and then the camera moves on.

Oh, I do wish that some commentator would make it his business to interview them. Though after my visit to the optician, I bet I know how they came to be Man United fans.

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 28 November 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of the muslim brotherhood

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.