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14 May 2016

It’s the end of the season: here’s what we’ve learned

It's time for the round-up of bests – so I'm revisiting my notes, from chants to haircuts.

By Hunter Davies

It’s that time of the season when it’s time to say it’s that time of the season. I’ll check my notes for any interesting free-kicks, throw-ins, players and, tarran tarran, haircuts.

Team of the Season: Atlético Madrid? Burnley? Carlisle United. Escaped relegation again. That team from the West Midlands, or is it East Midlands – where’s Leicester, when it’s at home? Out of sight, is where.

Players Surprising Us: . . . and surprising those eejits at Chelsea who let them go. Fernando Torres is thriving at Atlético Madrid, showing the class we knew he had, and Kevin De Bruyne done good at Man City. Players need to be loved, encouraged, surrounded by support in order to thrive. Like normal human beings.

Chants of the Season: “We’re gonna win the League” – Aston Villa supporters at the end of the season, when already relegated, cheering their team doing something unusual: scoring a goal. It was against Watford. And they got beaten 3-2. “We’re staying up, we’re staying up!” – Leicester supporters against Man United when they were already eight points ahead at the top.

Commentators: Clive Allen has taken over as the most irritating, telling us only the most obvious things, making Alan Shearer sound like a fellow of All Souls.

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Free-kicks: Poor season for them, apart from Payet of  West Ham, Eriksen of Spurs and Mahrez of Leicester. They were better thirty years ago, thanks to the Brazilians, yet the ball is supposed to be easier to bend today. “Loads of dip on that one,” the commentators say, as if they’re having a fondue party in the penalty area.

New Stars: Marcus Rashford of Man United is the find of the season, well, of the half-season, since last week anyway.

Fading New Stars: John Stones and Ross Barkley of Everton and Raheem Sterling of Man City seemed destined for greatness last season. Now they’re marking time, if not going backwards.

Typeface of the season: Players’ names on shirts at Villarreal. Really arty – curly, handwritten letters. Wish I knew the font.

Thin Players . . . are getting even thinner. Aren’t they feedin’ them? You can’t see Jamie Vardy and Dele Alli when they turn sideways. What happened to all the hunks?

Spurs: The darlings of the southern media need a back-up striker and a proper captain, not a goalie who shouts and snarls, bosses them around like Roy Keane once did. Roy Keane types have disappeared.

Image 1: Ronaldo on the bench for Real Madrid, belching, then clutching his tum. Yes, he did . . . and you never thought he was human. Was it stress, an ulcer coming on?

Image 2: Sean Dyche, manager of Burnley. During the vital game against QPR, which they won, and so were assured of the Prem, he rubbed his nose and picked his nostrils all the way through, for 94 minutes.

Not the Manager of the Season: Why did Gary Neville go to Valencia? Believed in his own popularity and cleverness. And I really can’t work out what the Arse fans have against Wenger. He is so consistent, clever, wise, sensible. Over 90 per cent of Prem clubs would jump at the chance to have him. Spurs could have done with him these past 20 years. Until now.

Mis-quotation: “Franck Ribéry is now being introduced,” said a commentator on the Bayern Munich game. I honestly expected him to shake hands with the ref, the ballboys, every player, then bow and make conversation while cucumber sandwiches were served.

Hair: Not much to report – still the shaved back and sides, so low class and common, my dear. I did used to enjoy Leighton Baines with his upmarket, public-school-floppy hair, but he’s cut it a bit shorter. So disappointing. Just leaves Joey Barton with a decent upper-class haircut.

Euros: I predict an England-Spain final, which I do every Euro and World Cup. Barney Ronay will be your guide: he’ll be there in the flesh, reporting. I’ll be watching at our Lakeland home, wondering if I should sell. For 30 years my wife and I spent almost half the year there. This season, she departed. But I’ll see yous in September . . . 

Perfect summer reading: Hunter Davies’s “The Co-Op’s Got Bananas! (Simon & Schuster)

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This article appears in the 11 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The anti-Trump