Thank God for Rio

Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column.

New Statesman
Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column appears weekly in the New Statesman magazine.

Thank God for Rio. This has been the most boring, depressing, empty, dreary, pointless weekend since, since, since, er, let me think, the last time all Prem games were cancelled. Nowhere to go, nothing to watch. If it hadn’t been for Rio Ferdinand, I dunno, I would have thrown myself off my wallet.

It is pathetic, I know, that a grown man with a loving family, so many interests and so much work I could be doing, just collapses when there is no football.

It is not that I am 100 per cent devoted to football from breakfast to bed every Saturday and Sunday. I do manage to fit in food, two walks round the block, two quick bursts of work and often speak to visitors for two mins max – but these are just peripheral activities.

The whole object, purpose, pleasure is to worship football: going to Spurs or Arsenal in the flesh, or what’s left of it, plus four games on the telly. If that is all taken away, the centre caves in, everything falls apart.

I have asked my wife to look at the TV programmes, check it out. But you have looked ten times, for I have seen you, she replies. Yes, but you are a better looker than me. My eyes go glazed, it all becomes a blur, I take in none of the words, nothing registers, yet she can often find a fab programme I have looked at and not seen, read but not understood.

I have been reduced to Scottish third division games, full of amateurs and part-time footballers. A bit like watching England-San Marino but without the goals. How could the mighty Glasgow Rangers be held 0-0 at Ibrox by Stirling Albion? So humiliating, with their pride and history. I empathised for at least three minutes.

Stirling even played a 17-year-old schoolboy called Sandy Cunningham. He is at Dollar Academy, one of Scotland’s top private schools. You what? That kept me pondering for another four minutes. Then it was back to moping around. Till my thoughts returned again to good old Rio.

It was brilliant how he handled not playing for England. In his statement, he said that nothing would give him greater pride and pleasure than playing for England, he hoped he had made that completely clear, he had always loved England, meant everything to him, but alas he had to have his hair done this weekend, which was part of his intensive and intricate training schedule.

Took me a while to digest that, wondering what spin doctor from No 10 had prepared the wording for him. Then blow me, he is off to Qatar to commentate on a football game for Al Jazeera Sport, which is watched by about ten people. The very same game, in San Marino, that he was not playing in. Could he not have contributed his pearls sitting in a studio in Manchester while having his hair done – who would have known? – instead of spending 20 hours on planes, there and back? Of course he couldn’t. He does not want to let people down and anyway it fitted in with his intricate training. Marvellous.

Then afterwards he gave the world a lecture on the poor standard of coaching in England, his words again dictated by Alastair Campbell, or similar. “Maybe we have to go back to the drawing board and look at ourselves from top to bottom, and round the side, and in those little cracks.”

Oh, it was priceless. I could just see Rio’s little pinhead and his little face, with his little tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth, trying to look solemn as he read it out but unable to stop grinning. Taking the piss, it’s called.

This is what England has come to. Fair cheered me up, it did . . .