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3 November 2021

In today’s fickle world, who would be a sports star?

When you rise to the top, success is only fleeting, and when the fall comes you get a kicking.

By Hunter Davies

About 30 minutes ago, possibly 37, Gareth Southgate was God, the best manager of Ingerland we have ever been blessed with, a shoo-in for a dukedom in the New Year Honours. Had he not made us all proud of the Three Lions? Had he not provided us with attractive, positive and even more amazing, winning football? Forget all that backward-passing, hesitant, negative useless football we have had from England these past decades. We were now miles ahead in our World Cup group, a jolly difficult one, including the might of San Marino, still to come on 15 November.

Most of all, he has made the players happy, holding their heads high. No more cliques based on which clubs they played for. They were caring people. Loved playing for England, which apparently they never used to do. Gareth was nice to the press. Treating them as human, giving them lovely intelligent quotes and access to the players and the inner sanctums while training, letting them hear about the brilliant coaches and sports psychologists getting the bodies and minds of the players into a good place, the right place.

As for Gareth’s clothes, how the nation did swoon when he wore clothes on the touchline. Until then, England managers never wore clothes. Sven-Göran Eriksson, you must remember him, he was always naked during games, the better to rush off and meet his fancy woman at the final whistle. Gareth’s waistcoat saved England’s fashion industry, not just our football.

Emma Radacanu made the front page, and in fact every page of the Telegraph, for days after her incredible win at the US Open, or whatever it was she won, aged only 13. Definitely going to be voted sports person of the year, if not the decade. A shoo-in for a damehood in the New Year Honours.

And then what happened? It was too sad, too predictable. Ingerland were totally hopeless against Hungary and were lucky to get a draw. Emma got knocked out in the first game of her next tournament.

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[See also: Why there is melancholy in Emma Raducanu’s New York fairy tale]

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The Great Brains of Football on the back pages were immediately able to explain it. Gareth messed it up by having Foden and Mount playing in the same position, cancelling each other out. What a dummy. If only he had read the Times match report before the game had started, surely he would not have made such a silly amateur mistake?

Who would be a sports star, eh? Or anyone who rises to the top in any activity. You will enjoy the adoration on the way up, but beware, when the fall comes, you will get a kicking.

Take gorgeous Jack Grealish, honestly, I did want to have his babies. When he went to City for £100m, with his fab hairstyle, we thought: what a bargain, cheap at the price. Then St Gareth hauled him off in that Hungary match after 62 minutes. There was a shot of him sitting on the bench, hand on his head, almost but not quite mucking up his hair band. He was looking so sad, so pensive, so alone, so puzzled. I rushed to the screen and tried to cuddle him; there, there, pet, don’t let them get you down, they are just jealous.

Top sports men and women are tough, physically and mentally. They have to be, whatever the sport. From the age of eight, they have been shouted at by horrible coaches, then every year tested and tried, with 90 per cent of contenders weeded out. It is surprising that more footballers don’t have mental and emotional problems when they get abused for any lapses by armchair know-alls. It’s because only the mentally armour-plated get to the top.

Harry Kane, when he was removed after 76 minutes against Hungary, did not look sad or pathetic. He looked resigned, giving nothing away about how he really felt. In his career, he has had to take rejection, having been sent out on loan to lower-league clubs. He knows how and why things can go wrong. And also what can happen next.

Yes, fame is fickle, success comes and goes, the critics know nothing, except after it is all over. All you can do is rise above them, and work your balls off. Sorry, forgot about Emma. I mean work your ass off…

[See also: From Cristiano Ronaldo to Jamie Vardy, today’s strikers will do anything to endure]

This article appears in the 03 Nov 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Britannia Chained