You've gotta laugh

Watching England play football inspires some other jokes

Young fish cost a fortune. It is true, that phrase, just ask any fishmonger, but did it really ever happen on a football pitch?

I find the only way to get over England's abject performance against Israel, and against Croatia, and Macedonia - oh don't get me started - is to think of funny things.

I've got over blame, because they are all to blame, every one of them. I've got over trying to think of explanations why top-class players can perform each week for their clubs yet play like dead sheep for their country.

I've exhausted all the possible conspiracy theories. It would make sense if there was a fiendish, match-fixing betting racket, in which every England player gets paid to perform like a dead sheep. But why would they do that, when, unlike cricketers, they're all multimillionaires?

So, instead, I think of silly, amusing, witty things to distract me from suicide or kicking in the telly. Such as "Young Fish Costa Fortune". I recite it to myself and smile.

It's become a football legend, that four players with those names once lined up across the back four for Charlton Athletic. Or did they?

Luke Young, once of Spurs, and of England, is still playing for Charlton. Mark Fish returned to South Africa and has recently been signed by Jomo Cosmos. Jorge Costa is back in Portugal - as manager of Braga, who played Spurs the other week. Jonathan Fortune is still on Charlton's books, but is at present on loan to Stoke City.

So the names are real, but did they ever line up together? I rang Charlton's press office. The first voice I spoke to had no idea what I was on about. But he did some research and eventually came back. All four started in the home game against Spurs on 8 December 2001, which Charlton won 3-1. They also appeared together several times later that season. What a relief. So it did happen.

Now I can tell you some really good jokes. Why did Peter Crouch? Because he saw Darren Bent.

Why is a football stadium a cool place to be? Because it's full of fans.

Aaron Lennon goes up to a girl in the street. "Can I give you a kiss?" he says. "Ooh, you're a little forward," replies the girl.

Why did Wayne Rooney take some jam when he joined up with the England team? Because he'd been told he'd have a free role.

I made up the Crouch-Bent joke all on my own, but the other three are at least 50 years old. I just changed the names.

We've had football jokes ever since football began. Some have been of the boys' comics-Christmas-cracker variety, but others have been created and passed around by adult fans, often to stop themselves crying.

I have a copy of an 1893 poster which was sold after a cup game between Everton and Wolves that Wolves won. The poster has a thick black border, like an in memoriam card, and commemorates, in verse, the death of Everton.

There's also a well-known poster that has often been reprinted in which you can insert the name of the team that's currently letting you down. I'm thinking of printing a new version:

Wanted.

On Saturday 24 March 2007, the England trophy room at the FA's HQ was broken into and the contents stolen. Police are looking for a man with two spiders and some cobwebs. If you see this man, on no account approach him. Just point and laugh.

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 first appeared in the 02 April 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Africa: How we killed our dreams of freedom