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5 December 2018

Double-barrelled names and arm-crossing coaches: highlights from this football season

Season’s greetings, bottle of wine, will you still need me, will you still read me, when I tell you what the season has provided so far?

By Hunter Davies


We have seen the arrival of so many double-barrels. At one time, when a double-barrelled name cropped up, you knew it was a posho. In school stories, Just William or the comics I grew up on, the arrival of someone with a hyphenated name meant the county quality had arrived, or someone silly with aspirations to be superior to the rest of us.

Now every club, and England, has young double-barrelled players, all doing well: Ruben Loftus-Cheek at Chelsea, Ainsley Maitland-Niles at Arsenal, Kyle Walker-Peters at Spurs, Trent Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool, Dominic Calvert-Lewin at Everton. Don’t they all sound awfully upper class. Must have gone to good schools.

What it generally means is that their background is mixed race – a reflection of the times and society in which we live. Which my own family reflects. I have four grandchildren, each with blood from different nations and cultures. Two are called Kingue-Kouta and one Maggiore-Davies. Smart, eh? Who wants to go through life with a boring single-surname name like Davies. A double-barrel means a bigger byline in the public prints. And if you are a footballer, more letters on the back of your shirt.

Breaking news

In the New Year, West Ham are hopeful that Andy Carroll will be back after ten years suffering from ligament problems/a sore head/has to do the washing up, while Jack Wilshire should be back on the pitch soon after 12 years recovering from ankle surgery/cutting the grass/his mum wouldn’t let him out. Poor lads. Some players have all the bad luck.

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Well Mourinho is still there, his eyes getting baggier every week, and so is Theresa May, looking stressed, though by the end of this sentence they both may have gone. So let’s leave this paragraph here and move on to…


Wow, what a season we have had so far, such unexpected delights. We know the reasons for the constant change – no, not vanity or craven following of fashion. They have all this money, all these houses, all these motors, but they are bored, unable to go out and truly enjoy themselves. They look in the mirror and think, hmm, I know, today I’ll go blond.

Sergio Aguero of Man City, normally the most sensible of players, has gone bright, gleaming grey. Most fetching. But the biggest shock has been Marouane Fellaini of Man United. I had to look at the team sheet to confirm it was he. (Subs, that is correct, no need to check, I did go to grammar school.) Fellaini had gone through our lives trailing a skyscraper of an Afro, so bushy and bouncy we never saw his face. Now he has emerged with a short back and sides. He is like a new signing.

I do so miss my dear wife, who died three years ago. After the England-USA friendly, when Wayne Rooney was honoured with yet another cap, he appeared on the pitch with his four kids. “Come here, pet,” I shouted – forgetting she was no longer downstairs in the kitchen slaving away; “You’ll love this, come and see Wayne’s bairns. Now, what are they called?” She would have told me at once. Or Steven Gerrard’s, or John Terry’s. I just had to ask if they had children and she instantly gave me the ages, sexes and names. Such a gift. (To save you looking it up, dear Wayne and Coleen have been blessed with Kai, aged nine; Klay, five; Kit, two; and baby Cass.)

*We apologise for any inappropriate language during the writing of this column, picked up by our pitch-side microphone. If you missed it, because you were not listening/not concentrating/ had gone to the lavatory/and want to hear it all now, in full, and be offended, then rewind and go back to the beginning at once. Thank you.

Back to hair. I predict that the next fashion will be Brylcreemed, slicked-down 1930s film-star hair – lush and dark, as sported by Ben Chilwell of Leicester and England, and the Arsenal manager, Unai Emery.

Prem football

The clubs are so rich these days, they have loads of background staff. The average is 50 video analysts, ten goalkeeper coaches, five throw-in coaches. At Arsenal, the manager has a hand-over-his-mouth coach to check his hand is over his mouth when talking rubbish in Spanish to his staff, so the cameras can’t pick it up. At Brighton, Chris Hughton has his own arm-crossing coach. He has to make sure Hughton always has his arms folded while standing on the touchline, making him look serious and executive.

Prem football – now part of the worldwide betting industry, hence the endless adverts and shirt-sponsoring – is trying to give itself an executive image. TV commentators are instructed to talk like FT journalists. When a brutal tackle goes in, they have to say, “He has made a statement there.” Past behaviour is not described, they have to dismiss it as “having been well documented”.

Success for Success

Isaac Success of Watford has had a good season, signed a new contract and dyed his dark locks orange. It’s all going hair-shaped.

Best dressed

This has been Pep Guardiola, the Manchester City coach. I do love his classy new grey duffel coat with the dinky hood, partly knitted by the look of it, so probably does not totally keep the rain out, but ever so stylish. Fashionable men never start trends, yet any dopey TV reality star or minor royalty who wears something half-fetching has thousands rushing the next day to buy it. However, I have written to Santa. Let’s hope he is listening. Or she. This is 2019, almost. 

Hunter’s most recent memoir, “A Life In The Day”, is published by Simon & Schuster

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This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special