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7 December 2022

How I went viral at Spurs, why believing isn’t magic, and Jack Grealish’s calves go global

It feels weird having it in the desert, but the highlight of the season is still the World Cup.

By Hunter Davies

Highlight of the season so far is the World Cup. It still feels weird having it in December and in the desert, but there have been some great upsets: poor old Germany and Belgium going out early doors, hee hee. Ingerland have turned out not quite as rubbish as we feared. Jordan Henderson is possibly not a total lump. Gareth is on course again for a knighthood, if they have avoided getting stuffed by France.

Asian teams have done jolly well – and for the first time many of the African and Asian teams are not being managed by Europeans, but by their own ex-players. Hurrah.

I am still confused, though, by all those potty slogans around the grounds in Qatar – “Believing Is Magic”, “Impossible Is Nothing”. It’s like the annoying one at the Spurs ground, “To Dare Is to Do”. Even if you switch the verbs round, it’s still bollocks. And who are “Byju’s”? I hope by the final on 18 December I will have worked them all out.

Looking back to the part-season just gone in the Prem, Wilfried Zaha of Palace gets the prize for best teeth. Best hair goes to Fred of Man United. Calves of the year, if not the century? Who else but Gorgeous Grealish, having now made them world-renowned.

Team of the season back home has to be Newcastle. Yes, they are now moneybags, but still not on the scale of Man City, nor have they got real world-class stars like Haaland. Well done, Eddie Howe. Hope they win the Prem next season.

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Names of the year. Watching Alexis Mac Allister playing so well earlier this season for Brighton I thought, at last, Scotland have a decent midfielder. Then he turns up at the World Cup for Argentina. Similarly Alphonso Davies, another World Cup star, must surely be Welsh. He plays for Bayern Munich but no, he is not even German. He is Canadian.

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I hope Sony, which owns the copyright for “Hey Jude”, does not charge England fans for singing it in honour of Bellingham.

Super sponsors. Portsmouth proudly sport Portsmouth University on their shirts. How did they get the money? Will more universities sponsor their local team? Derby have the NSPCC on their front. Are we seeing the end of all those awful gambling firms on the chests of our brave lads?

Big footer event of the season (well, in my life, till the World Cup started). I got a call from Spurs, someone called Steve, who said congrats. I said, what on? He said it is 50 years this week since your 1972 book The Glory Game came out, about a year in the life of Spurs.

He wanted to invite me to the last game before the World Cup, at home against Leeds, to have lunch and bring a guest. So I asked my lady friend, Miranda. All I had to do was be interviewed at half-time on the pitch, along with Terry Naylor, from the 1972 team. On retirement, Terry became a postman. Imagine that happening today.

Usually, the guests on the pitch at half-time are either famous ex-players or some actor who is a Spurs fan.

In the interview I reminisced about how when I was travelling with the team, I used to amuse them by asking questions about the other players. I had been to their homes, met their wives, interviewed them one-to-one, without other players listening and mocking. In the book I finished with 40 pages of surveys that didn’t otherwise fit in.

One question I would ask was: which player had voted Labour in the last election? The answer was Steve Perryman. Which player has a share in a fish and chip shop? Cyril Knowles. Then, I told the crowd, I’d ask which player was the most well-endowed. There was a gasp from the announcer doing the interview, putting his hand to his mouth, saying he would now be sacked.

During the course of the 1971-72 season, I had been constantly in the dressing room and was accustomed to seeing them all naked. Back then, the players all said it must be Martin Chivers, as he was so big and strong. In fact it was a rather thin, lanky player. “And the winner of my little childish competition was…” I pointed to Terry Naylor, who by chance was standing beside me.

Many of the 62,000 in the ground were watching the interview on the big screen and caught it on their mobile. They then put it out on Twitter and Facebook and elsewhere, not that I ever follow such dopey things.

But my two daughters, who had no idea I was at the ground, were suddenly bombarded by their friends sending the clip on to them. They said they were appalled. How childish, how embarrassing, telling some story about willies at your age.

Ah well, it’s forgotten now. And probably not as embarrassing as the German players trailing home with their tails between their legs.

[See also: Backing Wales for the World Cup, same old Ingerland, and a word for my sponsors]

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This article appears in the 07 Dec 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special