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14 April 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:24pm

Knighthoods, chicken wings and plantar fasciitis: my World Cup predictions

We know which players are likely to go, but what will happen when our lads finally get to Russia?

By Hunter Davies

Not long now till the World Cup, hurrah, and am soooo looking forward. Every tournament since 1966 I told my wife the same thing. “If you have anything to say to me, pet, say it now. For the next five weeks, I will be watching the football.”

I didn’t realise, back in 2014, that it would be the last time I said it. She died in 2016.

So I will be on my own this summer, able to watch round the clock, have the telly really loud. Life is good. Not.

The back pages have already had fun listing players who might make the England squad, putting them in categories: the ones already on the plane, the ones waiting in the departure lounge, the ones at home sitting by the phone, the ones who need not cancel their summer holidays. The taste of the moment is Raheem Sterling, who everyone says is a certainty. The goalkeepers, though, are a problem. Nobody can agree. I am therefore tipping Peter Shilton for a late call-up, even at 68.

The World Cup copy has started early – not because the nation is ever so optimistic but because the Prem is over. Man City have won it by miles. So much for Sky TV constantly telling us the Premier League “is the most competitive league in the world”. How can that be, when one team has been so much better than the rest?

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We know which players are likely to go, because the brains of the back pages have told us, but what will happen when our lads finally get to Russia? This too can be arranged under various headings – of possibility and surmise.

Dead certain

An injury we have never heard of before, like that metatarsal, will dominate the last week as a nation agonises about whether Harry or Raheem or even Eric or Jordan – for we will have to worry about the mediocre as well – will recover in time.

I am predicting this summer’s headline injury will be plantar fasciitis. One of my dear friends has it, on the ball of her foot. She is very glamorous and fashionable. And athletic. Medical experts and graphic artists will have a field day.

Pretty certain

“Flexible players” will be what Gareth reveals he is looking for. He wants central defenders who can play full-back, do a bit of physio, carry the towels, sell hot dogs, drive the team coach and generally muck in when the going gets tough. Lucky for Eric and Jordan. Perfect fits.

Just vaguely possible

We will manage a 0-0 draw with both Tunisia and Panama, leading to dancing in the street, bonfires, and Gareth receiving a knighthood. Or at least being made archbishop. He has always looked the part.


England will get an award as the dullest team so far at the World Cup – plus a Highly Commended for Special Skills, which covers pointing violently at nowhere when you have done something really stupid, and the new trick of holding one hand over the mouth so that English speakers around the world can’t work out what the f*** you are saying. They have been practising all season.


Gary Lineker says England are a disgrace, he is not watching football any more. Clare Balding stands by.

Highly unlikely

We get a 0-0 draw with Belgium – which means we go out, but will be welcomed home as heroes for not getting stuffed by anyone and not conceding a goal. Clare Balding is on the tarmac at Stansted. The lads arrive at Southend. At last, she says, we have avenged that humiliation inflicted upon us by those giants of the game, Iceland. Clare moves on to report wild scenes in Trafalgar Square. The lads are still at Nando’s at Southend.


Belgium drops out. All their diplomats and chocolates have been expelled from Moscow. Belgian government withdraws team in retaliation. England get their place. They return to Russia, without finishing their chicken wings.

Totally impossible

England win the final against Spain! On penalties! Peter Shilton saves them all, despite being in his pyjamas and on crutches. Gareth becomes a duke. 

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This article appears in the 11 Apr 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Syria’s world war