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The Premier League's Weirdest Player Is the Christmas Hero We All Need

An ode to Callum Paterson, Cardiff City's moustachioed wiggling weirdo.

by Hydall Codeen; illustrated by Dan Evans
14 December 2018, 10:58am

Illustration: Dan Evans 

Run and tell your dad: there is nothing new to say about Christmas. And that, in many ways, is the joy of it – the abiding sense of the big turkey party as a break in play, a time when we can all set aside the toil of innovation and the vanity of radical thought to collapse back into the cosy ruts of our own worst and most tedious impulses. So let the sad dads and the Instagram vegans jeer if they want to. It's Christmas; that’s their role, man. Don’t chide the Twitter Communists for their ability to peer through the complex veneer and see that, yes, actually Christmas is just a kind of fake retail Moon Landing perpetrated on the British people by Michael Bublé, Jeff Bezos and a talking donkey.

Everyone finds their own way to enjoy Christmas, a tiny porthole of light in an ocean of dilapidated midwinter sadness. Certainly you can see why the Pagans invented it, begging the sun to return by pretending that the 25th of December was "its birthday", a ludicrous ruse that at least provided some solace (and presumably, a few laughs) until it was light enough out that you didn’t need to burn one of your kids just to avoid pissing all over your shoes.

How better to toast this ancient season than to raise a glass to the Premier League's last godless pagan, a player so Medieval he's almost German, a player so old-fashioned he was described as "old-fashioned" by Neil Warnock last week? Come on down, Callum Paterson, a man so far out of time and place that his mere presence in the Premier League feels like a Christmas miracle, the story of a working men’s club Santa Claus who somehow taught his plastic reindeer to fly.

Felipe Anderson. Ryan Fraser. Mattéo Guendouzi. Potential cult heroes can be found everywhere in what still feels, somehow, like a nascent Premier League campaign. So why have we alighted on one who looks like an especially jovial Yorkshire policeman who eats kids? Or at least a big bowl of pork scratchings for breakfast, every single day, without cutlery, like a dog? Because Callum Paterson is a cult hero in the truest and most traditional sense of the word, a right-back converted into a striker who better resembles a streaker, a joyous interloper stowing away in the bowels of the world’s most avidly consumed elite division.

Callum Paterson has scored more league goals this season than Gabriel Jesus, Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez combined, yet still he flies so far beneath the radar that he was able to attend Cardiff's Christmas party dressed as a leather daddy policeman without anyone getting outraged about it. He is the polar opposite to the flash kid who turns up to Under-13s training in Beats headphones and a brand new pair of Preds, and for that alone he deserves to be adored, albeit only after the 9PM watershed.

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Callum Paterson at the Cardiff Christmas party. Screenshot via Instagram / @joshymurph

Perhaps best of all is the sense that Paterson is building his own legend in a manner bordering on the unconscious. If he's the Premier League's weirdest player, that's because he appears to be a man wholly bereft of pretence and artifice, bullocking his way through English football's multi-million-pound defences with a plan thrown together off the cuff and a moustache that looks like it doesn't owe its existence to craft beer or Peaky Blinders. There is a real buzz in turning up at his Wikipedia page and seeing his position listed as "utility player"; this weird beast dragged from the swamps of the Scottish leagues as a defender but shunted further and further forwards because, as his manager explained, he simply "can't defend" – rare is the maverick force of nature who, even in a Warnock team, demands to be freed from the chains of defensive culpability.

Not everyone has been happy about this. Before they hosted Fulham in October, former Cardiff forward Nathan Blake declared in a newspaper column that City's other strikers – Kenneth Zohore, Danny Ward, Gary Madine and the £11 million Bobby Reid – should be existentially distressed that Paterson was playing ahead of them. "If I were them, I would be embarrassed and insulted that a full-back-cum-midfielder, who can play No. 9 in an emergency, was playing ahead of me," said Blake. "One thing Callum Paterson is not is a centre-forward himself. No, no, no, no. And no again. And I say that as someone who played the role myself, understands what is required there."

As it happens, Paterson did start that game at centre-forward, scoring the crucial third in a 4-2 win against opponents Cardiff hadn't beaten for almost four years. The stage, rightfully, is his.

What he does with that stage now seems up to him. In the next 18 days, Cardiff travel to Watford, Crystal Palace and Leicester, and host Manchester United and Spurs at Colin Wanker’s Stadiwm Dinas Caerdydd. For all his apparent lack of refine, Paterson feels precision-engineered for this kind of slog, the bear-pit brutality of English football’s Christmas traipse, when the games come at you like a greasy spoon gut-buster brunch and all the players are so tired they seem pissed. A lot of kids get their first experience of top-level football at Christmas, when families are lulled out to stadiums almost as rite and en masse, knowing that atmospheres should be safely sedated by meat and cheese, and perhaps tickets to Selhurst Park were always lurking in Santa’s sack anyway. It's not hard to fall in love with the idea of some wide-eyed boys and girls from Grangetown or Canton making their first pilgrimage to City and discovering a formative hero in the berserker shape of Paterson. It is perhaps even easier to love the idea of a young Palace fan skipping off to discover what this football lark is all about and being scarred for life on Boxing Day as Paterson wiggles and gyrates just yards away like a moustachioed Queensferry Elvis.

For all the undeniable, violent sleaze of his goal celebrations, ultimately Paterson is a warming and reassuring presence in a top tier that could do with a little less self-seriousness, more players who seem like they could be relied upon to pick you up from the airport, helm a stag do or take you out for a few pints and a surprisingly well handled chat about your latest breakup. Pray to Santa that no heartache visits Callum Paterson this festive season, as he hums along to Chris Rea on the motorway home to his adoring family for the most heroic Christmas of his life, an anachronistic cult figure in a mad, bad world of increasingly furious and dystopian cultish concerns.

@hydallcodeen / @Dan_Draws