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18 August 2021

Crazy money, strange similes and stranger haircuts. The Premier League is back, and so are the fans

After all those months of empty stadiums, I think the fans’ enthusiasm has fired up the players, making them quicker and braver. 

By Hunter Davies

In with the new, in with the old. That’s how it seems so far this new Premier League season. There was Benítez standing on the Everton touchline with his silly little goatee beard, still nicely plump, yet I thought he had scarpered, off to the managers’ rest home on the Costa Gaffa in Spain. And Bielsa of Leeds, still on his haunches. Those two dinosaurs, Steve Bruce and David Moyes, now have jet-white hair.

Jürgen Klopp of Liverpool looks a bit different, growing a beard and getting rid of his specs: must be contact lenses. I didn’t recognise him at first.

Gorgeous Jack Grealish, on signing for Man City, appeared in photos to have cut off his lovely long hair, but on the pitch against Spurs there were the same locks, pushed back with a hairband. I think both are true: he has just gone short at the back. Richarlison of Everton has had his hair dyed. But he’s still scowling.

Good old Glenn Hoddle has returned in fine fettle. I do hope he is getting paid double, now he has perfected the art of speaking in dialogue with himself. “Super goal,” he says. Then he pauses, waiting for someone else to speak, which turns out to be himself. “Yeah, super goal.” Then for a bonus. “It really was…”

[See also: A strange season ends: Foden, Mount and public-school floppy hair starred. Tuchel blew bubbles]

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On the pitch, there has been one really welcome return from ye olden days when Martin Chivers was throwing the ball 50 yards for Alan “Gilly” Gilzean to head on, or when Rory Delap was winding himself up for Stoke.

Good old Brentford, so nice to see them back, scoring a goal from a monster throw-in – and going on to stuff Arsenal 2-0. Ha ha (the editor is a Gooner, so any chance to wind him up). The Bees’ long throw-in expert is called Mads. I’ve not taken in his second name yet, but I hope he keeps lobbing the ball in. It’s a shame long throw-ins went out of fashion. Snobbery, I think. They are too simple, too crude for modern coaches, and yet they do cause panic in defences. Perhaps modern players have evolved physically, building up their thighs and pecs and abs, but neglecting their arm muscles.

I noticed Brentford had a shirt sponsor on I have not seen before: Hollywoodbets, presumably a gambling firm. I thought they had gone, along with the smoking and the drinking ads?

There was also a new commercial on BT Sport, which suddenly appeared at half-time during Man Utd vs Leeds. It was for erectile dysfunction. Much more useful than helping us all to bet.

There have been two great natural history quotes of the season so far, yet we have only just begun. Brentford manager Thomas Frank produced a simile from the Cantona book of confusing comparisons. (Remember when he was going on about the seagulls and sardines and the boat?)

[See also: Why is Harry Kane still at Spurs? I can think of 20 reasons]

“I think we are a bumble bee,” said Mr Frank. “They are not designed to fly, but we are still able to fly into the Premier League. We will keep trying to fly as high as possible…”

Then the philosopher-poet Guardiola also became inspired by the wonders of nature, drawing inspiration from migrating geese. He had obviously been watching them during the long, hot Manchester summer, observing how one goose goes to the front of the formation, then another. “Not all the time one person leading everything… Football is not an individual sport.”

That’s not what he used to say when Harry Kane was leading Spurs from the front.

The money sloshing around has been even madder than usual. Alf Common astounded the world in 1905 when Sunderland sold him to Middlesbrough for the first ever £1k transfer. Now we have had £100m for Gorgeous Grealish. That will probably rise by up to 50 per cent when Harry, formerly One Of Our Own, leaves for Man City.

The crowds have been noisier and more excited than usual. I have had to put the sound down a bit. I think they are so pleased to be back, after all those dreary months of empty, echoing stadiums. And I think the fans’ enthusiasm has fired up the players, making them more positive and adventurous, quicker and braver. A brilliant start, all round.

[See also: A long retirement is the price footballers pay. Is 15 years of glory worth 50 years of emptiness?]

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