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The fine art of the two-liner

After every Big Game, such as an England international or a Cup Final, all newspapers give a rating out of ten for every player. Now the Sun on Sunday, which is so homely I could cuddle it, making the People's Friend look like an early edition of Oz, is giving a rating out of ten not just for the Big Games but for every single Prem player each week, plus a pithy two-line comment.

The work, my goodness, the work and the brain-power needed, good grief, but also, of course, the power. As I travel around, I find I am constantly being asked about the Ratings Game.

First degree

Do I need special training?
You certainly do. A first degree is essential, preferably in mods or rockers or land economy, followed by a PhD from one of our leading football universities.

I recommend De Montfort in Leicester. Oh, and the ability to count up to ten, forgot to mention that.

On what criteria are the ratings awarded?
I noticed after the England-Holland game that Scott Parker got an 8 in the Guardian while the Indy only gave him a 6. In the
Daily Express Gareth Barry got a 6 while in the Mirror he got only a 4.

It is a very complex, long-drawn-out procedure that most fans cannot comprehend - not having the Latin.

It is vital for any ratingsologist, as the new profession is called, to be at the bar in the press room when all the hacks huddle together to decide who scored, what day is it, is that steak pie left over from last week?

The ratings are consistent and highly scientific - it just so happens that some hacks are hard of hearing, or pissed.

Why are the posh papers now devoting as much space to it as the tabloids?
Reader participation. Every fan has opinions, so make him or her shout and swear. We are all in the "big society." People must have a say. It's also very cheap - and the posh papers have no staff.

Do you have to have published a literary novel to be allowed to write the two-line description?
It helps. Two-liners are a totally different skill from merely giving a ratings mark.

It is often done by a fellow of All Souls or the chief sub, if he has been awake at home watching the game on the telly.

Can you give me some examples of good two-liners?
Well, it is no use saying, "Balotelli turned up late, came on the pitch, did OK." You have to be pithy and or rude. Being ellipitical also gets extra praise. For example, the Sun on Sunday said that Balotelli in the Man City-Blackburn game, "Stole the show with another T-shirt".

What did that mean? Who knows now, but it will be studied and deconstructed for years to come by the Senior Harold Pinter Fellows at De Montfort.

But does anyone really care about these ratings?
Gareth Barry's mum did when the mean old Mirror only gave her Gareth a measly 4. She was livid all weekend.

Scott Parker's wife gave him a right bollocking when she read the Indy on his performance - after he had come home and told her he'd been well brilliant. She is now doing night classes at De Montfort. So she says.

Ratings game

Come on, surely the whole thing is worthless?
Not if you are the agent for a Prem player. All his best ratings are attached to his CV and used when negotiating his next contract. Sometimes, of course, the ratings have to be massaged and/or influenced.

You mean there is some corruption involved?
Listen, it's football, innit, backhanders and bungs are a traditional part of the game. Hacks get paid peanuts compared with even the doziest Prem player, so naturally they look favourably on the players whose agents have provided an all-expenses holiday in a luxury apartment in Dubai.
Or even better, given him a quote in the car park after the game.

If I am a player, can I protest whenever I get rubbish ratings compared with my deadly rival?
The FA is now setting up a Dubious Ratings Panel, similar to the Dubious Goals Panel. But I am sorry, I cannot reveal more details, as of this moment in time. They have asked me to be chairman.

Thank you.

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 12 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The weaker sex

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