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Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers. 

1. Only deluded Tories think the crisis is over (Times)

The increase in real earnings is welcome but millions of Britons are still deeply in the red, writes Jenni Russell. 

2. As the bombs fall, the people of Damascus rally round Assad (Daily Telegraph)

The west may oppose Assad's regime, but on the streets of the capital the people fear a greater evil, writes Peter Oborne. 

3. Putin has more admirers than the west might think (Guardian)

Russia has found out who its friends are recently – and thanks to some old resentments, that includes India and China, writes Timothy Garton Ash. 

4. The Church needs more than this hapless Rev (Times)

The hero of the BBC’s religious sitcom is likeable but ineffectual, says Tim Montgomerie. Christians have to fight harder for their faith.

5. Ed Miliband will fail if he gives in to the sirens of austerity (Guardian)

Hollande's rout in the French local elections shows the price to be paid if Labour embraces cuts and corporate power, says Seumas Milne. 

6. Farage and Salmond want you to live in Outopia (Times)

The Ukip and SNP leaders come from different political traditions but they share more than they’ll ever admit, writes David Aaronovitch. 

7. Britain’s loudmouth literary crowd (Financial Times)

A few blunt words are unlikely to hurt Sajid Javid, who spent years at the sharp end in the City, writes Janan Ganesh. 

8. It’s two decades since ‘education, education, education’, but still Britain’s primary school admissions are a farce (Independent)

Choice? There is absolutely zero when it comes to getting your child into a school, writes Jane Merrick. 

9. The bear has made monkeys of the west (Financial Times)

There is no reason to fear a strong and self-confident Russia, says Bruce Anderson.

10. Scottish referendum: the UK is on shifting sands – we can't assume survival (Guardian)

A yes vote is becoming a real possibility – but we are woefully unprepared to deal with the psychological impact of Scotland rejecting the union, writes Martin Kettle. 

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What David Hockney has to tell us about football

Why the sudden glut of blond footballers? A conversation I had with the artist back in 1966 gave me a clue. . .

In 1966, I went to interview David Hockney at a rather run-down flat in Bayswater, central London. He was 28 and had just won a gold medal at the Royal College of Art.

In his lavatory, I noticed a cut-out photograph from a newspaper of Denis Law scoring a goal. I asked if he was a football fan. He said no, he just liked Denis Law’s thighs.

The sub-editors cut that remark out of the story, to save any gossip or legal problems. In 1966 homosexual activity could still be an offence.

Hockney and a friend had recently been in the United States and had been watching an advert on TV that said “Blondes have more fun”. At two o’clock in the morning, slightly drunk, they both went out, bought some hair dye and became blond. Hockney decided to remain blond from then on, though he has naturally dark hair.

Is it true that blonds have more fun? Lionel Messi presumably thinks so, otherwise why has he greeted this brand-new season with that weird blond hair? We look at his face, his figure, his posture and we know it’s him – then we blink, thinking what the heck, does he realise some joker has been pouring stuff on his head?

He has always been such a staid, old-fashioned-looking lad, never messing around with his hair till now. Neymar, beside him, has gone even blonder, but somehow we expect it of him. He had foony hair even before he left Brazil.

Over here, blonds are popping up all over the shop. Most teams now have a born-again blondie. It must take a fortune for Marouane Fellaini of Man United to brighten up his hair, as he has so much. But it’s already fading. Cheapskate.

Mesut Özil of Arsenal held back, not going the full head, just bits of it, which I suspect is a clue to his wavering, hesitant personality. His colleague Aaron Ramsey has almost the full blond monty. Paul Pogba of Man United has a sort of blond streak, more like a marker pen than a makeover. His colleague Phil Jones has appeared blond, but he seems to have disappeared from the team sheet. Samir Nasri of Man City went startlingly blond, but is on loan to Seville, so we’re not able to enjoy his locks. And Didier Ndong of Sunderland is a striking blond, thanks to gallons of bleach.

Remember the Romanians in the 1998 World Cup? They suddenly appeared blond, every one of them. God, that was brilliant. One of my all-time best World Cup moments, and I was at Wembley in 1966.

So, why do they do it? Well, Hockney was right, in a sense. Not to have more fun – meaning more sex – because top footballers are more than well supplied, but because their normal working lives are on the whole devoid of fun.

They can’t stuff their faces with fast food, drink themselves stupid, stay up all night, take a few silly pills – which is what many of our healthy 25-year-old lads consider a reasonably fun evening. Nor can they spend all their millions on fun hols, such as skiing in the winter, a safari in the spring, or hang-gliding at the weekend. Prem players have to be so boringly sensible these days, or their foreign managers will be screaming at them in their funny foreign accents.

While not on the pitch, or training, which takes up only a few hours a day, the boredom is appalling, endlessly on planes or coaches or in some hotel that could be anywhere.

The only bright spot in the long days is to look in the mirror and think: “Hmm, I wonder what highlights would look like? I’ve done the beard and the tattoos. Now let’s go for blond. Wow, gorgeous.”

They influence each other, being simple souls, so when one dyes his hair, depending on where he is in the macho pecking order, others follow. They put in the day by looking at themselves. Harmless fun. Bless ’em.

But I expect all the faux blonds to have gone by Christmas. Along with Mourinho. I said that to myself the moment he arrived in Manchester, smirking away. Pep will see him off. OK then, let’s say Easter at the latest . . . 

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 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times