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17 October 2014

Football, home to the lost art of handwriting. And other silly rituals

Hunter Davies’s weekly column, The Fan. 

By Hunter Davies

You are what you write. A shame we don’t know what managers write. These useless Sky cameras are supposedly world-beaters, yet they never shoot over the shoulders of our managers and share with us what it is they are scribbling.

You are how you write. And with so many close-ups of so many managers going scribble, scribble, scribble, we can at least make a guess at their character.

Van Gaal of Man United supports his image as an arrogant, bossy, self-important, headmasterly manager by spreading across his ample lap a large writing board, on which he constantly jots down terribly important pensées and aperçus. I got right up to the screen last weekend, tried to see if, in fact, he’s using some kind of laptop, but it appears to be actual writing, with a pen, on a large notepad.

Brendan Rodgers of Liverpool is another note-taker, but he has a small, nondescript spiral notebook that he clutches, almost apologetically, while looking nervous and worried, which seems to be his true, or at least current, state.

Poor old Alan Pardew of Newcastle, if he is still there, was scribbling away when the rain started. His thick, grey hair grew thinner and darker, revealing itself as not quite so lush, but he carried on, his notebook sodden, his words waterlogged, their meaning drowned. By continuing to write notes in the rain he was letting all the Newcastle fans see how committed he was, the team comes first, oh yes, no one can accuse him of being a Wally with a Brolly – more of a Wally with a Biro.

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Mourinho, when he takes notes, uses little scraps of paper, dashes them off while hardly looking, another pearl, the latest wisdom, soon to be collected in a morocco-bound volume with Portuguese marbling and sold at Daunt.

I do like managers who handwrite, or anyone who handwrites, an art form that has taken a battering. Biographers of the future will be desperate for any written scraps. Far better than all those utterly boring, empty emails, which anyway will disappear with the next technological development.

My wife only handwrites, in pen and ink, having no computer, no mobile phone. When we are in the country and we have a power cut, she sits at her desk smiling to herself while I run around the house, shouting, “Whatthefuckinghell.”

While watching football, on telly or in the flesh, I do write notes. In fact, since 1996, when I began this column, I have kept notes of every game I have witnessed. (Yes, OK, it doesn’t show – thought he just dashed it off while half asleep.) Piddling notes, about a new haircut, a new player, new tight shirts that show their nipples, an unusual free-kick, a new obscenity from the crowd, a thought, an observation that I tell myself I will use some time, somewhere, such as this week, making a list of all the managers who write notes.

What they are doing, of course, is totally stupid. It’s become their ritual, but they distract themselves. The other week Pardew got his little pad out to make a note – and missed a goal, looking up ever so bemused. Far better if he had some sort of neck microphone to record his thoughts while watching. Not that he needs it. These days he has an army of back-room staff videoing and analysing every kick and cough. Anything he needs to say at half-time, he will remember. It is a bad time, anyway, to issue more than the simplest changes or instructions. The players are like zombies, eyes glazed.

Sitting on the bench is the stupidest thing of all for a manager, but they like to feel they are close to the action, seeing the sweat, hearing the crunches, which is true, but only for a sliver of the pitch nearest to them. Most of the action might as well be happening on Mars.

Far better to sit up in the stand, as this season Nigel Pearson of Leicester has been doing. He can see everything, remain calm and cool, yet send messages to the bench when necessary. He was sent to the stand for some misdemeanour, and realised it gave him a better, clearer view.

But he will probably come back. He knows he can see little down there, but, ah, the romance of being a manager, the smell of the greasepaint, the squish of his pen, the roar of his own voice . . .