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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What David Hockney has to tell us about football

Why the sudden glut of blond footballers? A conversation I had with the artist back in 1966 gave me a clue. . .

In 1966, I went to interview David Hockney at a rather run-down flat in Bayswater, central London. He was 28 and had just won a gold medal at the Royal College of Art.

In his lavatory, I noticed a cut-out photograph from a newspaper of Denis Law scoring a goal. I asked if he was a football fan. He said no, he just liked Denis Law’s thighs.

The sub-editors cut that remark out of the story, to save any gossip or legal problems. In 1966 homosexual activity could still be an offence.

Hockney and a friend had recently been in the United States and had been watching an advert on TV that said “Blondes have more fun”. At two o’clock in the morning, slightly drunk, they both went out, bought some hair dye and became blond. Hockney decided to remain blond from then on, though he has naturally dark hair.

Is it true that blonds have more fun? Lionel Messi presumably thinks so, otherwise why has he greeted this brand-new season with that weird blond hair? We look at his face, his figure, his posture and we know it’s him – then we blink, thinking what the heck, does he realise some joker has been pouring stuff on his head?

He has always been such a staid, old-fashioned-looking lad, never messing around with his hair till now. Neymar, beside him, has gone even blonder, but somehow we expect it of him. He had foony hair even before he left Brazil.

Over here, blonds are popping up all over the shop. Most teams now have a born-again blondie. It must take a fortune for Marouane Fellaini of Man United to brighten up his hair, as he has so much. But it’s already fading. Cheapskate.

Mesut Özil of Arsenal held back, not going the full head, just bits of it, which I suspect is a clue to his wavering, hesitant personality. His colleague Aaron Ramsey has almost the full blond monty. Paul Pogba of Man United has a sort of blond streak, more like a marker pen than a makeover. His colleague Phil Jones has appeared blond, but he seems to have disappeared from the team sheet. Samir Nasri of Man City went startlingly blond, but is on loan to Seville, so we’re not able to enjoy his locks. And Didier Ndong of Sunderland is a striking blond, thanks to gallons of bleach.

Remember the Romanians in the 1998 World Cup? They suddenly appeared blond, every one of them. God, that was brilliant. One of my all-time best World Cup moments, and I was at Wembley in 1966.

So, why do they do it? Well, Hockney was right, in a sense. Not to have more fun – meaning more sex – because top footballers are more than well supplied, but because their normal working lives are on the whole devoid of fun.

They can’t stuff their faces with fast food, drink themselves stupid, stay up all night, take a few silly pills – which is what many of our healthy 25-year-old lads consider a reasonably fun evening. Nor can they spend all their millions on fun hols, such as skiing in the winter, a safari in the spring, or hang-gliding at the weekend. Prem players have to be so boringly sensible these days, or their foreign managers will be screaming at them in their funny foreign accents.

While not on the pitch, or training, which takes up only a few hours a day, the boredom is appalling, endlessly on planes or coaches or in some hotel that could be anywhere.

The only bright spot in the long days is to look in the mirror and think: “Hmm, I wonder what highlights would look like? I’ve done the beard and the tattoos. Now let’s go for blond. Wow, gorgeous.”

They influence each other, being simple souls, so when one dyes his hair, depending on where he is in the macho pecking order, others follow. They put in the day by looking at themselves. Harmless fun. Bless ’em.

But I expect all the faux blonds to have gone by Christmas. Along with Mourinho. I said that to myself the moment he arrived in Manchester, smirking away. Pep will see him off. OK then, let’s say Easter at the latest . . . 

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 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times