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10 September 2017

My dream is to see Harry Maguire play for Britannia at Neasden Stadium

First of all I like his name, as if he might be one of Flashman’s friends.

By Hunter Davies

I have been so looking forward to seeing Harry Maguire play for England. He was a surprise choice for the squad for the Malta and Slovakia games, but had a poorly knee and didn’t make either.

The thing about following England is that you have to cling to anything, any little novelty, self-induced fantasy, hoping they might turn out half decent and end those long decades of disappointment and depression.

 Playing for England, pulling on that shirt, seems to turn even reasonable club players into feckless footballers with no ideas or imagination. Is it the name England that does it, freezing their brains and their bodies? In which case, the solution is obvious. From now on, they must call themselves Britannia, not England. Think of all the new commercial deals the FA would instantly be able to sell. Not to mention shirts.

By the same milk token, for the rest of this season Spurs should no longer play at Wembley. That is clearly causing problems in their little minds. From now on, it must be renamed Neasden Stadium.

Footballers are simple souls. Most will never twig that Britannia was once England and Neasden Stadium formerly Wembley. It will put a bounce in their step, release their souls.

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Back to Harry Maguire. First of all I like his name, as if he might be one of Flashman’s friends. I like the fact he has spent much of his career in the lower divisions, struggling in League One with Sheffield United, eventually reaching the Prem with Hull – and a lot of fun that must have been, as they got relegated last season.

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This summer he moved to Leicester, for a piddling £17 million. After just three games, he was hailed as our new salvation, the hope for England in these sad times. Gareth Southgate heard the calls, sensed our beating hearts, and bingo, up Maguire’s name popped in the England squad, even though most football fans outside Sheffield, Hull or Leicester will not have heard of him. There were even those heralding him as a future captain of England – despite never having played for them.

But what I really, really love about Maguire is his frame. He is built like a brick shithouse, an outdoor privy which used to a be a feature of so many back yards in tenement blocks. I remember them well: the communal key, about the size of a Mini, which you needed to get in, and the torn sheets of Sporting Life hung up on a nail.

Footballers built like Maguire – with huge shoulders and chest, thighs like tree trunks, narrow eyes and scary scowls – were a feature of every football team. Tommy Smith, so they said at Liverpool, ate razor blades for breakfast. Beat Vinnie Jones of Wimbledon and he would bite your balls off.

Our present-day football heroes are more like matchstick men. Messi and Neymar, when they stand sideways, can’t be seen. And Modric, so flimsy and frail you fear he won’t have the strength to take the free kicks. Unlike these seven-stone weaklings, Maguire is a 15-stone lump of concrete. Not hugely tall, just six feet two inches, but  so broad it must take half an hour to dribble round him. He is still quite young, just 24, but seems older.

They’ve not totally died out, these Desperate Dan defenders. Phil Jones of Man United, now he is a lump, goodness knows how he has managed to play so often for England. He has so little basic skill, always looks worried and clueless. Harry Maguire can pass the ball, has more finesse than his figure might suggest, seems confident and knows what he is doing, which is why those who have followed his career carefully have been suggesting him as a future captain.

I have to admit I was never aware of him last season at Hull, yet I did see them play a couple of times. It was in his three recent games for Leicester, before he got injured, that he suddenly stood out, looking solid yet comfortable. That often happens in life, in work and in play. It needs the right environment for the right person at the right time to flourish. Yes folks, there is hope for us all. 

This article appears in the 06 Sep 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s next move