My review of the football year, 2016

Pick-outs, flash gits and performance-enhancing underwear – it’s time to look back on the season.

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Halfway through another season. Football, like the academic year and the school year, does not stick to the normal calendar, but any road up, here goes the report on the season, so far.

Surprise of the Season This time last year it was Leicester City surprising us all. This time, it is Leicester City – surprising us all. By not playing as stunningly as they did. But they could still surprise us all. Well, we are easily surprised.

Team of the Season The four at the top of the Prem are separated by just a few points. No one looks like drawing ahead. But I think Chelsea,
who were dreadful last season, might do it. They have such a strong spine, with Costa, Hazard and Luiz, all of them at last coming into form.

Worldwide, All-Star, Amazing, Galactic Team of the Season Carlisle United, of course. They’ve lost only one league game all season. They could well rise to glory come May, leaping out of League Two.

Young Players of the Season There seemed to be so many, early doors, about to thrill us all, with massive reputations and price tags, such as Paul Pogba, John Stones, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, but they’ve all done little, moving backwards if anything, while poor old Ross Barkley has practically disappeared. What is the reason? Peaked
too early? Weren’t as good as we thought?

Jack Wilshere A young player who did seem to have peaked, thanks partly to always being injured. He got shunted out on loan from Arsenal to Bournemouth – yet he has played regularly and well for them. Could it be that it was the training and environment at Arsenal that somehow exacerbated his injuries?

Manager of the Season When Mourinho arrived at the beginning of the season at Man United, I told everyone within earshot, which means my four granddaughters and the tortoise, that you mark my words, he’ll be gone by Xmas. I’m now predicting gone by Easter. Are you listening, Tortee? Oh, she’s asleep.

Form is temporary, class is for ever . . . is one of football’s oldest clichés. I now think it’s bollocks. Look at Jamie Vardy, considered for most of his career to have little class, and then came a miraculous season. Now he appears to be coming back. Football, like life, is a matter of ups and downs. I got that from a Christmas cracker.

Hurrah for England We’re not so rubbish at football after all. The 30 names on the shortlist for this year’s Ballon d’Or did include one Englishman. Hence dancing in the streets of Leicester. Yes, Wee Jamie was the sole Inglander who made it.

Football Expert of Year Alan Shearer, who else? Usually he gives us his pearls on TV but he graced the radio airwaves when talking to Gary Richardson on the Radio 4 Today programme. Asked about Gareth Southgate getting the England job, Shearer thought and then said: “At this moment in time, we are where we are.”

Commentators’ Clichés
There’s a new one this season which they’re all trying to work in. “Oh, that was a lovely pick-out.” “Pick-out” just means “pass”.

Well Done, Tottingham
Ahead of the game as ever, world leaders in the field. It has been reported that Spurs’ most expensive season ticket in their new stadium will cost £18,000. A bargain. Where else will a fan find such joy for such a small amount of money?

Joke Which reminds me of an old seaside postcard, one of the vintage saucy ones that local “watch committees” used to ban. It shows a tout outside Wembley Stadium selling tickets. “£10 for a ticket?” exclaims a fan. “I could get a woman for that!” “Yes,” replies the tout, “but not 45 minutes each way and a brass band at half-time.” Note the two period references. Touts have all but disappeared and so have the brass bands who’d march round the pitch at half-time.

Arsenal also done good They have been using performance-enhancing undergarments. What cheaters. It’s to do
with some revolutionary tight, clingy Lycra underpants and vest. The sleeves tend to hang down, covering the arms, which means when the team has elected to play in short sleeves, as decreed by the captain of the day, those using artificial stimulants can be seen to have these dodgy enhancers underneath. There have been protests from diehard Gooners about this break with tradition. Well, they don’t have a lot to do.

Trendy Referees Who’d have thought it? That referees would ever become as cool as geography teachers. Mark Clattenburg has got a tattoo on each wrist, in honour of taking two European finals. I quite expected such outrageous behaviour from him, as he always appeared a flash git – for a referee. But Michael Oliver is a surprise. He looks about 13 but he is 31, younger than many of the players he bosses around. He has suddenly appeared with a fashionable hairstyle. Two lines shaved at the side, tramlines. He’s been ridiculed on social media for having a “Year Seven haircut”.

Most Annoying Advertisement “First Never Follows”. This is for Adidas. But is it true? Firsts have to follow, in order to get ahead, otherwise they’d have no one to get ahead of.

Haircut of the Season God, I nearly forgot. For over 20 years this has been the biggest accolade in football journalism, NS section. Alas, hmm, can’t think of any. Blond highlights have faded, beards are soooo last season. So who can it be? For the first time ever, the judging committee is being forced to award it to a referee. Step forward, Michael Oliver. Now go back and do your homework or you’ll never pass your GCSEs . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 15 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas and New Year special 2016