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8 July 2020

Why my tortoise is better than Mourinho, and other lessons from the return of the Prem

Why on Earth did the Spurs board think Mourinho would do any better than Pochettino?

By Hunter Davies

Time for a rundown of things we have learned since the Restart started…

We now know that Mourinho really was a mistake for Spurs. He was making a right mess of it before lockdown, but he had serious injuries to Kane and Son to justify poor performances. With all his so-called stars fit, he is being revealed for what he has become – a loser. Why on Earth did the Spurs board think he would do any better than Pochettino? Chucked out at Chelsea, a failure at Man Utd, far too keen on doing advertising, his glory days are so long in the past only he remembers them. Before being stuffed by Sheffield United, he moaned that having a whole week between games was not fair. Give me strength.

Football mascots. I do miss them, though not as much as their adoring mums and dads watching from the stands. It is not generally realised that many clubs charge for your boy or girl to walk out with the team, stand in front of the players at the line-up, looking either totally embarrassed and nervous or grinning inanely. The price in the Prem and the Championship can be as high as £700, but you do get free tickets and kit. Clubs must miss this easy money, even if it is piddling.

The Prem is really about making money. I wonder if Sky and BT will ever reimburse those fans who have unwittingly been paying their TV sports subs these past four months, the ones who didn’t know they could have subscription pauses or bill credits. No chance, but it could make an interesting legal case.

Ball boys have disappeared as well. Now we have the spare balls poised on little tripods beside the pitch. Ball boys do get paid – a very small amount. When Wayne Rooney was an apprentice at Everton, he got to be a ball boy and was told always to pass the ball back by hand. But when it was a throw-in, he would kick the ball straight into the player’s hand, showing off his skills. For which he got a bollocking. 

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Refs are just like us, really. One, Mike Dean, has even grown a beard, for which he has been mocked on Twitter. I think it’s rather fetching, mainly ’cos it looks like mine. 

Is the game slower? It does feel that way, as the players are clearly not knocking themselves out without the home crowd cheering them on. Or booing them. Lucky for José. Spurs would have been booed off the pitch at half-time in that Sheffield Utd shambles.

The drinks break has quickly turned into a tactics break. In football, as in life, there are often unexpected consequences. 

So many games, on so many days, we fans are being spoiled. The result is I never know the day of the week. Every day feels like Sunday.

You would have thought the commentators would have tried harder to excite us more, and themselves. They seem to fall asleep in the second half. I assume the lack of a crowd makes them flop, just as it does the players. 

TV directors have had to do without shots of attractive women in the crowd, or of young fans with their hands over their eyes, or overweight blokes with interesting tattoos. Will they ever come back? Or will it be decided they were sexist, ageist, sizeist, and an invasion of privacy?

Artificial crowds. Quite a few grounds, such as Old Trafford, appear to have painted figures behind the goals, or possibly photos, or holograms. I do wish they would show us close-ups.

I can at last get the games on my laptop. It took ages, but my lodger, a young woman of 27, managed it for me. I took it last week when I went for a couple of days to Broadstairs with my girlfriend – who was not best pleased when I set it up on the kitchen table during supper.

Who have been the winners in all this? Clearly, mask manufacturers have had a field day, and plastic-glove makers, bike shops, Amazon, and those producing crisps, pizzas, or any sort of food delivered to your door. While you are slumped in front of the game, you need sustenance. It takes energy to keep shouting at José for being such a total eejit, bloody hell, what is he doing, my tortoise could do better… 

This article appears in the 08 Jul 2020 issue of the New Statesman, State of the nation