They may be foreign players, but they’re our foreign players

Hunter Davies’s weekly football column, The Fan.

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In these hard times, when so much is going wrong, we need some good excuses. The Spurs manager has blamed the White Hart Lane pitch for being too small. Mourinho at Chelsea, despite being at the top of the league, has accused the Chelsea crowd of being too quiet. Wenger of Arsenal has complained about his parka being too hard to zip up.

The other thing we need in hard times is something to hold on to. I felt so depressed reading the names of the 23 players who have been nominated for this year’s Ballon d’Or. There are six Germans, three Spaniards, three Argentinians, two each from France and Belgium, one each from Wales, Sweden, Brazil, Colombia, the Ivory Coast, Portugal and Holland. Five of them do currently play in the Prem but not one is bloody English. Oh, the shame. Being shite in the World Cup was bad enough.

So last Saturday afternoon, as there was no Prem game on the telly, I decided not to watch the Championship match on offer, Bournemouth v Brighton, billed as “the South Coast Derby” (exciting, huh?). Instead I watched the big game in Germany – Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund.

I knew there would be many ex-Prem players on show, so if they do well, I thought, I would feel a sense of pride. I could tell myself England made them. Well, we have to cling on to anything we can.

Remember Arjen Robben at Chelsea? What a diver, falling all over the shop. They were well shot of him, he wasn’t up to the Prem. But, blow me, after starring for Real Madrid he is now at Bayern – and seems to have got younger, fitter, quicker, better with age. All thanks to those three years at Chelsea. Must be. Well done us.

Xabi Alonso used to be at Liverpool, ages ago. You probably can’t remember him – pretty anonymous, moany-minny-looking, always in need of a shave. Then he, too, went on to Real Madrid and now Munich. Never looked back. Well done, Liverpool.

You will, of course, remember Shinji Kagawa. Only a few months ago he was sitting forlorn on the bench at Man United, hardly getting a kick, disappearing almost before our eyes. But now, bingo, he has bounced back at Dortmund, from whence he had originally come. All three played well. Much to my pleasure and pride.

You could say all that these born-again players prove is how rubbish our Premier League is – unable to recognise talent, nurture talent, or, when they turn out half-decent, hold on to talent. I prefer to think otherwise. When I see ex-Prem players doing well, I tell myself, bully for us.

There was an unexpected bonus in watching the Bayern Munich game. When I wasn’t shouting, “Come on, you Blue!” at Robben, or, “Always a Red!” whenever Kagawa got the ball, I began to notice the German advertising on the perimeter boards at the Allianz Arena. There were so many English words and phrases mixed up with the German, such as Bayern Fan Shop, Run Simple, Sport Back, Power Player, Selfie, VIP Tickets, Fire Phone, Sports App Downloaden. Clearly English words but often in combinations we would not normally use. The advert for Lufthansa kept on yelling at us “Non-stop you”.

It did make me glow. Germany is obviously miles ahead of us in football but not in its premier league when it comes to language.

I then realised why our Premier League, despite our English players being so useless, is the most watched around the world. It is not because the Prem is the best in the world, as Sky is always telling us, or the quickest, or the most exciting, but because all around the world there are sad, pathetic football fans, just like me, hoping for reflected glory to cheer us up.

I bet during the Manchester United-City derby, the whole of Argentina tuned in, just to see five of their World Cup stars. Probably the Ivory Coast comes to a halt when Drogba staggers on as sub for Chelsea.

Nobody anywhere in the world would tune in to watch our England stars, ’cause we ain’t got none. But by having our top teams filled with foreigners – even if they will soon be moving on – we still have the world watching. I feel another glow coming on . . . 

Hunter Davies’s latest book is “The Biscuit Girls” (Ebury Press, £6.99)

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 06 November 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Running out of Time

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