I rushed back last Saturday from Broadstairs, where I had been spending a few days, all excited to see Spurs on the telly, away at Man United. I was so excited that I went mad and caught a black cab home from St Pancras Station. Cost me £15 for a 15-minute ride, as opposed to nothing with my Freedom Pass on the bus in 20 minutes, but I did not want to miss kick-off.
The taxi driver said she had been waiting in the long queue of taxis for 35 minutes, presumably most of that time with her engine running. All Saturday morning so far she’d had only three fares. Poor thing. I do have an Uber account but don’t use it. Can’t understand it. The taxi ride cost more than half my train return to Broadstairs. The economics of travel costs are beyond me.
I did make kick-off, however, settling down convinced that Spurs were going to make up for that awful performance against West Ham in the Carabao Cup, losing after being 2-0 up. But Man United won 1-0. It’s happened again. Despite all the media applause, Spurs are still a middling team. And I wasted 15 quid.
Then I noticed that the England under-17s were on BBC Two. Now how do I get that? I only ever watch football. All I know is Sky and BT Sport. It was the under-17s World Cup final, against Spain, in India – bound to get stuffed, they were quickly down 2-0. Amazingly, they came back to win 5-2. England’s second major success this year: the under-20s won a World Cup as well.
It was such fun watching the team celebrate. The players had looked so mature on the pitch, wearing their adult men faces, which they keep in a jar by the changing room door, but when it was over you could see their baby faces, their infantile delight. Then it got a bit weird. They started pulling off their shirts to reveal that most of them were wearing a bra.
A sort of sporting bra, which sportswomen wear. Some sort of new fitness fashion? You often see athletes, men and women, with a stomach belt, scared that they are going to pull something, but why do young men need to protect their upper chest? The BBC commentator did not tell us.
The remarkable thing about the win was that the majority of the team was black – eight out of 11. The proportion of non-white players in the Prem is now 33 per cent, double what it was 20 years ago. The mystery is still why there are so few non-white managers in the football league – I can find just three out of the 92. (Chris Hughton at Brighton, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at Northampton Town and Keith Curle at Carlisle.)
The other mystery is why England continue to play so badly when we have all these youth teams becoming world champions. The sudden improvement is being credited to the opening of St George’s Park National Football Centre at Burton-upon-Trent in 2012. Perhaps soon these young players will come through and win something at senior level.
That’s if they can get into the first team at their clubs. There is now the strange situation of some talented English teenagers moving to Germany in order to get experience of the Bundesliga, knowing they are unlikely to make it in the Prem if they stayed at Chelsea or Man City.
I like to believe if native players are good enough they will make it here, as Harry Kane and Harry Winks have done at Spurs, but on the other hand it is great experience for players, such as the 17-year-old Jadon Sancho at Borussia Dortmund, to go abroad.
The plus side to all the foreign players here is that our top teams – Man City, Man United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs – are doing well so far in the Champions League. We might have two of them still in the competition in the New Year. Gosh, so much to look forward to. And it’s not even Christmas…
PS Just done some research. The sports bra apparently conceals a monitoring device to track their performance. It needs to be held securely in place near the heart. Rugby players in Australia have been using them for some time. Isn’t science wonderful?
This article appears in the 01 Nov 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Boris: the joke’s over