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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

Photo: Getty Images
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When will the government take action to tackle the plight of circus animals?

Britain is lagging behind the rest of the world - and innocent animals are paying the price. 

It has been more than a year since the Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to passing legislation to impose a ban on the suffering of circus animals in England and Wales. How long does it take to get something done in Parliament?

I was an MP for more than two decades, so that’s a rhetorical question. I’m well aware that important issues like this one can drag on, but the continued lack of action to help stop the suffering of animals in circuses is indefensible.

Although the vast majority of the British public doesn’t want wild animals used in circuses (a public consultation on the issue found that more than 94 per cent of the public wanted to see a ban implemented and the Prime Minister promised to prohibit the practice by January 2015, no government bill on this issue was introduced during the last parliament.

A private member’s bill, introduced in 2013, was repeatedly blocked in the House of Commons by three MPs, so it needs a government bill to be laid if we are to have any hope of seeing this practice banned.

This colossal waste of time shames Britain, while all around the world, governments have been taking decisive action to stop the abuse of wild animals in circuses. Just last month, Catalonia’s Parliament overwhelmingly voted to ban it. While our own lawmakers dragged their feet, the Netherlands approved a ban that comes into effect later this year, as did Malta and Mexico. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, North America’s longest-running circus, has pledged to retire all the elephants it uses by 2018. Even in Iran, a country with precious few animal-welfare laws, 14 states have banned this archaic form of entertainment. Are we really lagging behind Iran?

The writing has long been on the wall. Only two English circuses are still clinging to this antiquated tradition of using wild animals, so implementing a ban would have very little bearing on businesses operating in England and Wales. But it would have a very positive impact on the animals still being exploited.

Every day that this legislation is delayed is another one of misery for the large wild animals, including tigers, being hauled around the country in circus wagons. Existing in cramped cages and denied everything that gives their lives meaning, animals become lethargic and depressed. Their spirits broken, many develop neurotic and abnormal behaviour, such as biting the bars of their cages and constantly pacing. It’s little wonder that such tormented creatures die far short of their natural life spans.

Watching a tiger jump through a fiery hoop may be entertaining to some, but we should all be aware of what it entails for the animal. UK laws require that animals be provided with a good quality of life, but the cruelty inherent in confining big, wild animals, who would roam miles in the wild, to small, cramped spaces and forcing them to engage in unnatural and confusing spectacles makes that impossible in circuses.

Those who agree with me can join PETA’s campaign to urge government to listen to the public and give such animals a chance to live as nature intended.


The Right Honourable Ann Widdecombe was an MP for 23 years and served as Shadow Home Secretary. She is a novelist, documentary maker and newspaper columnist.