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8 December 2021

The sack race, self-pity and Smith Rowe’s pudding bowl: the Prem season so far

Every half-decent goal is world-class. A goalie is world-class after a simple save. Even throw-ins can be world-class.

By Hunter Davies

What has been the chant of the season? The one most heard on the terraces? Stands, I mean, though standing on the terraces is coming back. It’s not sweary. The smug, self-righteous, creepy commentator does not have to put on a prim voice and say “we apologise if you heard any unsuitable language there”.

It’s an old chant, though not as old as “who’s the wanker in the black?” Yelling abuse at referees goes back to the 19th century. They were always a source of dislike. This chant became common only about 30 years ago, when the Prem started, trillions of pounds flooded in and the managerial merry-go-round began, with the mad panic to buy success.

“YOU’RE GETTING SACKED IN THE MORNING.”

The clever-clogs political commentators have been saying this about Boris for, oh, months, if not years, now. Yet it never happens. He staggers, bumbles on. Not so in football management. Chop, chop. I don’t think I have known a season in which so many Prem managers have been shown the door. Poor old Nuno at Spurs got the push early, despite taking Spurs, unbelievably, to top of the league for well, 20 seconds. The other fallen include the managers of Man Utd, Watford, Norwich and Villa. There will probably be more, come Christmas.

No use saying it’s OK for them, with £5m severance in their back pocket. They don’t think that when stuck at home all day long, shouting at the dog.

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Dean Smith of Villa was lucky. He had just half an hour at home, before finding himself back in the Prem in charge of Norwich. They were 1-0 down to Southampton in his first game at home, and the away fans immediately starting chanting “YOU’RE GETTING SACKED IN THE MORNING”. Top banter, for Saints fans. But guess what happened? Norwich came back to win 2-1 and lifted themselves off the bottom of the table.

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Now to important matters – haircuts. The prize this half-season is going to someone who clearly does not have a haircut, or his own stylist installed at home – which is normal for Prem stars. Ronaldo and Grealish even have them in the dressing room, ready to touch up, tie down, or just lacquer their locks before kick-off.

Emile Smith Rowe, the young Arsenal player, has been one of the discoveries of the season, already notching up two England caps, scoring his first international goal against the might of San Marino (result: 10-0). And yet, despite playing in such giddy games, he has not gone for the full Prem makeover, hair-wise. This usually means following whatever style the top stars are sporting. Have you noticed that even though Grealish has gone, at least one Aston Villa player still has Jack’s hair, tied with a hair band? Spooky.

Smith Rowe’s mum, with whom he still lives, is obviously still doing his hair. She must stick a bowl on his head and cut around it.

Poor old Ronaldo must be well pissed off, wondering why he refused offers from Man City and returned to Man Utd. For much of the season so far, the team and the club have been a shambles. Fond memories are never enough reason to go back. To anywhere, or to anyone. Yet he is still trying so jolly hard to save Man Utd from greater ignominies and still scoring goals. Bless him, and his designer cotton socks.

Back to Gorgeous Grealish – he must also be feeling sorry for himself. All that excitement over his £100m transfer, yet so often he has ended on the Man City bench or hauled off on the hour. He will have to pull up his cotton socks. I think we have had enough of his gorgeous bare calves…

Well, what a great season so far. I do like it when at Christmas one team is not miles ahead. We now have three excellent teams on top form, with world-class players – Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City. And a team in the chasing pack might also manage a surge.

Sorry about “world-class”. I vowed never to use that term. It’s been rampant in football for over ten years, with every half decent Prem goal being described as world-class. A goalie is world-class after a simple save; even throw-ins can be world-class.

It has now moved sideways into politics. Government ministers endlessly tell us our vaccination level is world-class, our NHS is world-class.

In football, though, if one of our four clubs still in Europe wins the Champions League, they can truly call themselves world-class. Or if England wins the World Cup. Something nice to look forward to in the New Year. Enjoy…

Hunter’s latest book is “The Heath: My Year on Hampstead Heath” (Head of Zeus). Proceeds go to the Heath & Hampstead Society

[See also: In today’s fickle world, who would be a sports star?]

This article appears in the 09 Dec 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special