You don't need a blue plaque to win the World Cup

Why are there no blue plaques for footballers? I mean those things on the front of a house, telling you that Stanley Matthews once lived here, or Bobby Charlton, or Pele. If the National Trust can buy Paul McCartney's old house in Liverpool and open it for the world to come and gape, I don't see why it can't be done for famous footballers. These days, they are just as likely to have a world following.

I've agreed to give a National Trust lecture next month, I do like to help, and I'd planned to suggest to their big bosses that there's a little house in Hayes they might consider buying, the home where the infant Glenn first hoddled. They could organise tours, give the world a chance to see the ball of wool his mother used to roll up for him as his first football. Or the wall on the outside privy where he played head tennis. Or the back kitchen door where that first scout from Tottenham skulked, his pocket full of tenners. Or the mirror Glenn first stood in front of, pulling up his shorts, really, really tight, to show off his lovely creamy thighs. Or the bathroom where he had his first truly meaningful one-to-one spiritual experience.

Alas, I now don't think the Hoddle home is going to get a blue plaque. Which is a shame. I'd go, like a shot, as I love looking round the home of anyone famous.

Over the years, I've looked at scores of literary homes, from Wordsworth's Dove Cottage to Robert Louis Stevenson's Valima on Samoa, and masses of homes where artists once lived, from Beatrix Potter's Hill Top to Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Glasgow home, OK that was a repro, but I've never managed to get inside the birthplace of even one famous footballer.

Which explains why ten days ago I forced my wife to go with me to Desirade. That's a little island, about five miles off the coast of Guadeloupe, which is in the French West Indies, yes, thousands of miles away, but we did happen to be on Guadeloupe at the time, which was handy.

One of the interesting things about France's World Cup winning team was the lack of Frenchmen, true Frenchmen, with blue eyes, wearing berets and a string of onions round their necks. I didn't notice many of them. What we all noticed was the large number of North Africans, such as Zidane, or black Africans, such as Desailly, or West Indians, such as Thierry Henry and Lilian Thuram.The latter two both originated from Guadeloupe, one of two French departments in the West Indies, the other being Martinique. Guadeloupe itself only has a population of 300,000, so it's done well to produce two World Cup stars. Bernard Lambourde of Chelsea is also from Guadeloupe - yet the island hasn't even got a professional football league.

But it was when I was told that Thierry Henry's family was from Desirade, an island so small and isolated I couldn't find it on the map, I said come on, lass, let's go and have a butcher's. Plus someone in the hotel we were staying at mentioned there was a special offer on boat trips to Desirade - only 100 francs round trip as opposed to the normal 150 francs.

I soon discovered why. We were hardly at sea when the young Frenchwoman beside me started throwing up. The waves were enormous and the little boat was taking a pounding. The island has a population of just 1,600 and is only eight miles long, which I know because we walked it, from end to end, in 24 hours. (Our walking rate is three miles an hour.) It is in a time warp, and appeared totally asleep, not to say dead, so it was hard to find anyone to ask the way to the house where the Henry family lived. Or even anyone who had heard of him. That's because I kept on stopping people from French France, middle-class tourists from Paris. The other interesting thing about French football, despite their famous win, is that they are still hardly a football-mad nation, not compared with Italy. "I only follow rugby," said one man. "I only follow games played by French people," said another.

But in a bar at the far end of the island I did meet a local who told me that Henry's family home was in Grande Anse, the little harbour where the boat came in, so we walked back there. No we didn't. Hold on. We got a taxi. It was midday by then and I was knackered, what with the sun and the ti punches. That's what they call the favourite rum punch drink in Guadeloupe. Can you guess why?

Back in Grande Anse, I did eventually have the Henry home pointed out to me, or what purported to be his family's home, it looked like most of the other shacks, but his parents have long since gone. Where to? I asked. Monaco, I was told. They went with him when he went to play in Monte Carlo. Isn't that nice? I like it when lads who do well look after their old folks. Juninho did the same when he came to Middlesbrough, bringing his mum and dad, sisters and aunties and second cousins with him from Brazil.

Leaving Desirade must have been a lot easier. OK for a day trip, and we did enjoy it, but there are clearly a lot more mod cons and facilities in Monte Carlo than in Grande Anse. Or in Turin. Henry has now been transferred to Juventus, news of which had not then reached Desirade, which shows how out of touch they are.

Desirade hasn't even got a football pitch, and I looked everywhere, which makes Henry's success all the more remarkable, but I can vouch for the local ti punch.I had another, before we got the boat home. And I wasn't sick, either. Ti, by the way, is Creole, a shortened form of Petit. So what you are ordering is a small punch. So called, I like to think, in honour of the Arsenal midfield star. Famous footballers may not have many blue plaques, but it's nice to know that one of them has got a drink named after him.

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 05 February 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Think, think and think again

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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.