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22 October 2018updated 07 Jun 2021 4:32pm

Why I’ll see James Milner in court, Mike Dean in the stands, and Jack Grealish at the barber’s

By Hunter Davies

Well what an end to the season. For the past 30 years, at this time I am tramping the fells by now, swimming in the Lake, lonely as a daffodil, just me and the Herdwicks, London only a faint memory… and football, what was all that about?

Now, as I write, there are two fab Euro matches still to come, featuring four English teams. Who could have predicted that? And this last week or so we have had some amazing games in the finals of the play-offs. So much to contemplate

Liverpool-Spurs (1 June). Liverpool are the better team, better players, more of them, but they will have more pressure – hoping not to suffer another failure. They will still be thinking, how can we have had such a good season, scored so many points, yet still not won the Prem? Spurs have over achieved, surprised everyone by getting this far, so should be more relaxed. All of this could quickly be revealed as total bollocks, which has been a feature of the season – predictions going wrong.

The league play-offs. It struck me, watching them fighting it out for promotion, just how much talent there is lower down – such crowds, such excitement… and such money, judging by all the free flags given by clubs to their fans, copying the largesse of their big brothers in the Prem. Oh, if only in the country generally, money and opportunity was spread around more.

Villa-Derby. The £170m play-off game to get into the Prem. Jack Grealish of Villa is so lovely, so cool, so contemporary. Players lower down the leagues have already been copying his 1930s Hollywood swept-back hair. And his socks always half down, what a rebel.

James Milner. Up to now, he has been another of my heroes; a player with no charisma, no exceptional skills, just dogged and sensible, mouth tightly closed, willing to play anywhere. He has been at so many clubs, then been let go. He came to Liverpool from Man City in 2015 on a free transfer. Most fans usually dismiss him as boring. I remember watching him at the Etihad Stadium. He came on as a sub – and all the Man City fans rose to their feet: “There’s only one James Milner, only one James Milner…” Heavy irony, of course, how could he be a hero? They were all laughing, convulsed by their wit.

Now, at Liverpool, they have slowly recognised his many qualities. All teams need two boring, sensible players. I have always warmed to him – until he took a vital penalty for Liverpool against Cardiff.

He scored, then hobbled back – pretending to be an old man with a stick. He is 33, in the late stages of his career, and has had to put up with the press describing him as a veteran. In the dressing room, the wits are doubtless making silly jokes about him being an old geezer.

 So he was clearly poking fun at himself and his critics – but I was not amused. As an elderly person, I object to being subjected to mockery. I was straight on to my legal advisers.

According to the Equality Act 2010, age is one of the protected characteristics, along with race and gender, among others. Therefore you can’t take the piss out of the elderly just for being elderly.

My legal friend then said: ah, but you have also got to prove you were harmed or suffered loss in some way from this alleged abuse. Loss of self-esteem? No, not enough. I am still working on it. But if Liverpool get stuffed by Spurs, I will be happy to drop my case.

Referee Mike Dean. A heart-lifting image from the Tranmere-Newport League Two play-off. The camera suddenly cut to the crowd and there was a boring-looking middle-aged bloke in a black T-shirt going mental. Blow me, it was Mike Dean, the top Prem ref. Like most fans, I had only ever seen him in his ref’s outfit, with his superior, smug, bossy expression. He turned out to be a fan of Tranmere – who had just scored – and in real life a human being. I should have guessed. Referees, like TV and radio presenters, appear tough and fierce and emotionless, but they are but actors, playing their part while on duty. Off duty, they are as daft and emotional as the rest of us.

Throw-in Coaches. Liverpool have now got one; yes, a full-time job, showing the lads how to take throw-ins. Also, a pulling-up-your-socks coach: Villa has got several, hoping to counter the effect of Grealish on younger players. And a swigging-from-a-bottle-on-the-touchline coach: when global warming heats up, all clubs will have to have a team of such coaches. We don’t want the silly lumps doing themselves an injury by holding the bottle the wrong way, choking or having a coughing fit.

Subtitles. During the season, I have started using subtitles when watching footer on Sky. It pumps up the crowd sound effects so high you can’t hear the commentators. It means words flash across the screen about 30 seconds after they have been spoken. During a Man Utd game, the text read “De Gea, say thanks” when what was actually said was “De Gea, safe hands”. In a Man City game, the words on screen declared “Man City feel the picture should have been watered at half-time”. Took me a while to work that out.

Hair of the Season. Oh God, I nearly forgot. For 23 seasons, this column has always awarded this coveted prize – but earlier I gave away the winner. Step forward Gentleman Jack! No, not that Gentleman Jack, off the telly, do concentrate. Her barnet is totally fake. Poor thing, having to carry that ugly mess around, good job she is so brilliant in the part.

I mean Villa’s Jack Grealish. What an adornment he will be to the Prem next season. See you then. 

Hunter Davies’s most recent memoir, “Happy Old Me”, is published by Simon & Schuster

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This article appears in the 29 May 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Theresa May’s toxic legacy

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