John Betjeman wanted more sex. I want more football

Sex doesn’t take up that much time, unlike football: you get 90 minutes, a chance to change ends, extra time and then often a penalty shoot-out. Football, it does put in your day.

I used to think that when I grow old and have got no more work and no one wants me any more – when I’ve fallen down all the divisions, work-wise, and been reduced to writing a book for some Division Three North publisher – at least I will have football. I can just lie back and enjoy it, all the time.
 
John Betjeman, on his deathbed, said his one regret was not having had enough sex. My fear was not having had enough football. Sex doesn’t take up that much time, unlike football: you get 90 minutes, a chance to change ends, extra time and then often a penalty shoot-out. Football, it does put in your day.
 
Now I am going to die happy. For not only do I know what I’ll be doing, work-wise, for the next four years – some Premiership projects – but something else I never expected to happen has happened: a surfeit of lampreys. I mean Lampards. I mean football.
 
This was the other week: let me see. There was Monday-night football – gawd, I can’t remember which game, give me a chance, it was ages ago. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Chelsea, Man United, Man City and Arsenal were all in the Champions League. The ones that clashed, as they were on at the same time, I copied and watched the next morning, making sure I didn’t know the scores.
 
On Thursday, there was Swansea in Europe at six o’clock, followed by Spurs in Europe. Both excellent games and good victories. Then two games on Saturday and Sunday, finishing with Man City stuffing Man United. My cup overfloweth.
 
A few years ago, I might not have bothered much with a team like Swansea but now, with all the money in the Prem, even the socalled lowly teams have good players, who have cost real money. I am fascinated by Michu and wonder how long Swansea can keep him – and by Brady at Hull, Benteke at Villa. Every team has one decent player worth watching.
 
The other big change is that all the Euro group games are on the telly, four at a time, so you can record the clashes and also the top leagues of Europe, such as Spain, Germany, Italy and France. It costs a fortune in subscriptions but, come on, think how much you spend on other, more short-lived and passing pleasures.
 
I reckon that week – which was a beezer of a week, a proper cracker – I spent 44 hours watching football over seven days. That’s more than the average person’s working week. In the UK, it’s 40.5 hours. The average for Europe is 39.7 hours. In France, where they are frightful slackers, the average is only 35.6 hours a week.
 
Is it gross, pathetic, reprehensible, stupid, selfish, self-indulgent? All of the above. Fortunately,
 
I don’t watch any other TV. Can’t fit it in. If I do happen to catch something non-football, I have no idea what is going on. The crime dramas are too clever and confusing. The costume dramas: risible. The soaps: too quick. The comedy is unfunny, though I did laugh at Mrs Brown’s Boys. Just my level: obvious and vulgar, perfect for the average football fan. I like to think I do more work because of football. When I know something good is coming up, I rise extra early, work extra hard, in order to deserve it when finally I flop. I do cut corners all the time, never watching the preview stuff, the half-time chat, the studio discussions. I restrict myself to the game.
 
At half-time, I rush down to cut the grass or do some digging – or I totally surprise the family by talking to them. What a fright they get, having thought I’d passed away.
 
The coverage is so rich and so comprehensive these days that, even in a boring game, there is something to ponder. Especially the close-ups of the managers.
 
They are all actors, in that they know they are on show and every mannerism is captured. You see a hand go to pick a nose, then stop, realising. The ones that swig water all the time yet have not exerted themselves, sweated it out – surely they must need to go to the lavatory?
 
When it gets really, really boring, I start counting up the number of World Cups I might still live to see, given a good wind. I smile contentedly and sing to myself, “Heaven, I’m in heaven . . .”
John Betjeman, on his deathbed, said his one regret was not having had enough sex. Image: Getty

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 30 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Game of Thrones

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The murder of fearless journalist Pavel Sheremet must be solved - but Ukraine needs more

Sheremet was blown up as he drove to host a morning radio programme

On 20th of July Kiev was shaken by the news of the assassination of the respected Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet. Outside the ex-Soviet republics he was hardly known. Yet the murder is one that the West should reflect on, as it could do much to aggravate the Ukrainian-Russian conflict. 

Sheremet was one of the most significant and high profile investigative journalists of his generation. His career as an archetypal  examiner of the post-Soviet regimes in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia bought him fame and notoriety in the region. From 1997 onwards Sheremet became a name for fearless and non-partisan interrogation, both in print and as also as TV presenter. He paid the price early on when he was incarcerated by the Belarus government, then stripped of his Belarusian nationality and deported. Such is the way of things in the region.

Taking up residence in Kiev, Sheremet became immersed in interrogating the political life of Ukraine. He wrote for the Ukrayinska Pravda publication and also helped to develop a journalism school. Under these auspices he was a participant of a congress, "The dialogue between Ukraine and Russia", in April 2014. He reported on beginnings of the Euromaidan uprising. He warned of the rise of the concept  of "Novorossia" and suggested that Ukraine needed to reset its current status and stand up to Russian pressure. After the Russian occupation of Crimea his blame for the Ukrainian government was ferocious. He alleged that that they "left their soldiers face to face the [Russian] aggressor and had given up the Crimean peninsula with no attempt to defend it." These, he said "are going to be the most disgraceful pages of Ukrainian history."

Sheremet was blown up at 7.45am on 20 July as he drove to host a morning radio programme.

Ukraine is a dangerous place for journalists. Fifty of them have been murdered since Ukraine achieved independence. However, this murder is different from the others. Firstly, both the Ukrainian President and the Interior minister immediately sought assistance from FBI and EU investigators. For once it seems that the Ukrainian government is serious about solving this crime. Secondly, this IED type assassination had all the trappings of a professional operation. To blow a car up in rush hour Kiev needs a surveillance team and sophisticated explosive expertise. 

Where to lay the blame? Pavel Sheremet had plenty of enemies, including those in power in Belarus, Russia and the militias in Ukraine (his last blog warned of a possible coup by the militias). But Ukraine needs assistance beyond investigators from the FBI and the EU. It needs more financial help to support credible investigative journalism.   

The murder of Pavel Sheremet was an attack on the already fragile Ukrainian civil society, a country on the doorstep of the EU. The fear is that the latest murder might well be the beginning of worse to come.

Mohammad Zahoor is the publisher of Ukrainian newspaper The Kyiv Post.