Helena Costa takes Hunter's "Top Girl" award. Photo: Getty
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At the end of this “incredibly exciting, best ever, world-class” season . . . it’s time for gongs

A good season for facial hair, a bad one for puns.

Beards Excellent season for facial hair, compared to head hair – which, frankly, has been boring, neat and tidy with a parting, as if their mums had done it for them. Pirlo of Juventus is still the World Master but Ashley Cole emerged as English chump, I mean champ, with the full Player’s packet. Now we know what he was doing all those months Mourinho kept him on the bench.

Big Sam v Steve Bruce This has gone to the wire. Steve did try to hide his enormous girth in a tracksuit that’s really a bell tent, while Big Sam has been bursting out of his suit. Every game, they seemed to put on a stone. Did they have a bet? The winner gets all the pies.

Thin Manager . . . and manager of the season – Tony Pulis, for keeping Palace up and turning them into a positive, attacking force, unlike the dour defender he appeared at Stoke.

Most Improved Players I had Gary Cahill down as a lump for years but blow me, this season he has looked positively cultured. Also Demichelis of Man City, a total liability, early doors, but came good when it mattered. And Jordan Henderson, with his funny, lumpy walk; but he, too, has improved. Which leaves Phil Jones of Man United still to demonstrate that he might not be as lumpish as he looks.

Top Girl Has to be Helena Costa of France’s second-league side Clermont, the first woman in the top two divisions in any of the leading European leagues to be appointed club manager. Takes over next season. Will she be La Gaffer?

Top Name Casper Sloth, who plays midfield for Denmark. What a mover. I bet he comes to Spurs next season – can’t be worse than the seven funny-sounding foreigners they acquired last year.

Fans Having Fun Well done to all the Norwich City supporters who voted for Carlo Nash as their Player of the Year – their reserve goalie, who never played all season. Also the Newcastle fans who walked out in the 69th minute because, er, I’m not quite sure why. Something to do with 69 years since they last won a home game?

Home Games An interesting aspect of this incredibly exciting, best ever, world-class, brought to you only on Sky/BT/BBC/ITV blah blah is not that the top teams were often surprised by bottom teams, but how often the top teams got beaten at home, such as Liverpool by Chelsea, Bayern Munich by Real Madrid, Chelsea by Atlético Madrid. Is home advantage a myth?

Nice Visual Joke I did like it when Samuel Eto’o of Chelsea staggered to the corner flag after he’d scored and held on to it like an old man. It was a pointed reference to Manager Mourinho saying he didn’t know Eto’o’s age.

Nice Banner “Brendan – the carefully chosen one”, held up by the Liverpool crowd. In a year or so the meaning will be lost, but it was to do with the Man United banner that announced David Moyes as “the chosen one”. David Moyes? Come on, you can’t have forgotten him.

Best Crowds Palace fans shouted even when there was nothing to shout about. Will they take over from Newcastle, the old leaders in chanting and baring their beer bellies?

Awful Pun “Kane shows he is able . . .” Sky commentator, speaking when Harry Kane came on for Spurs.

Awful Image “Van Persie should have shot himself”: another Sky commentator, suggesting van Persie shouldn’t have passed to Rooney.

Awful New Trend Players shaking hands with everyone on the bench when taken off. Takes ages: most benches have 100 tracksuits sitting there.

Fans Having No Fun At the beginning of the season I decided to sponsor one of the players for Carlisle United, my home-town team. I chose Mark Beck, recently picked for Scotland’s under-21s. It cost me £400 plus VAT. I got my name in the home programme and was promised Beck’s home and away shirts at the end of the season. He hardly got a game and in January went out on loan to Falkirk. Now Carlisle are relegated. Oh well, when I do get my CUFC shirts they should be sweat-free . . .

Right, that’s this season over. But back in four weeks for the World Cup.

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 14 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Why empires fall

Photo: Getty Images
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We don't need to build more prisons - we need to send fewer people there

The government talks a good game on prisons - but at the moment, the old failed policies hold sway

Some years ago the Howard League set up an independent expert review of what should happen to the penal system. We called it Do better, do less.

Too many governments have come in with enthusiasm for doing more, in the mistaken belief that this means better. We have ended up with more prisons, more prisoners, a bulging system that costs a fortune and blights lives. It is disappointing that the new regime appears to have fallen into the same old trap.

It is a big mistake to imagine that the justice system can be asked to sort out people’s lives. Prisons rarely, very rarely, turn people into model citizens able to get a great job and settle with a family. It is naïve to think that building huge new prisons with fewer staff but lots of classrooms will help to ‘rehabilitate’ people.

Let’s turn this on its head. There are more than 80,000 men in prison at any one time, and 40,000 of them are serving long sentences. Simply giving them a few extra courses or getting them to do a bit more work at £10 a week means they are still reliant on supplementary funding from families. Imagine you are the wife or partner of a man who is serving five to ten years. Why should you welcome him back to your home and your bed after all that time if you have hardly been able to see him, you got one phone call a week, and he’s spent all those years in a highly macho environment?

The message of new prisons providing the answer to all our problems has been repeated ad nauseam. New Labour embarked on a massive prison-building programme with exactly the same message that was trotted out in the Spending Review today – that new buildings will solve all our problems. Labour even looked at selling off Victorian prisons but found it too complicated as land ownership is opaque. It is no surprise that, despite trumpeting the sell-off of Victorian prisons, the one that was announced was in fact a jail totally rebuilt in the 1980s, Holloway.

The heart of the problem is that too many people are sent to prison, both on remand and under sentence. Some 70 per cent of the people remanded to prison by magistrates do not get a prison sentence and tens of thousands get sentenced to a few weeks or months. An erroneous diagnosis of the problem has led to expensive and ineffective policy responses. I am disappointed that yet again the Ministry of Justice is apparently embarking on expansion instead of stemming the flow into the system.

A welcome announcement is the court closure programme and investment in technology. Perhaps, in the end, fewer courts will choke the flow of people into the system, but I am not optimistic.

It is so seductive for well-meaning ministers to want to sort out people’s lives. But this is not the way to do it. Homeless people stealing because they are hungry (yes, it is happening more and more) are taking up police and court time and ending up in prison. We all know that mentally ill people comprise a substantial proportion of the prison population. It is cheaper, kinder and more efficacious to invest in front line services that prevent much of the crime that triggers a criminal justice intervention.

That does leave a cohort of men who have committed serious and violent crime and will be held in custody for public safety reasons. This is where I agree with recent announcements that prison needs to be transformed. The Howard League has developed a plan for this, allowing long-term prisoners to work and earn a real wage.

The spending review was an opportunity to do something different and to move away from repeating the mistakes of the past. There is still time; we have a radical Justice Secretary whose rhetoric is redemptive and compassionate. I hope that he has the courage of these convictions.

Frances Crook is the Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.