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I never thought it was possible to have too much football

Eleven hours of the beautiful game on one day: is it enough?

Can you be too thin, too rich, too popular, too old, too handsome, too prolific, too lovely? In my long-legged life, I have been all of those things, oh yes. Not always easy.

But can you have too much football? Until yesterday I’d have said no: impossible, it’s the icing on the cherry.

My week totally revolves around football, organising my family, my work, my everything to fit. For example, tonight – Monday – I am going to give a talk to the NUJ Freelance branch at Friends House. Dunno why. I never do such things, but months ago I got an email from someone I don’t know asking nicely if I would. Months ago, you think today will never happen. First I checked to see there were no Prem games on telly tonight. Which is why I said yes.

But at the time I didn’t think I would feel like I do this morning, never having checked what was happening yesterday. I spent a total of 11 – repeat, 11 – hours watching football. Is this the way madness is?

Early doors, I watched Match of the Day, which I’d recorded. I go to bed at ten, so never watch it live, desperately avoiding all scores in order to have virgin, unsullied eyes. I can whizz on and miss all the studio stuff, daft talking points, pointless analysis. I have my own daft, pointless opinions.

At midday there came three live Prem games, one after the other, all on Sky Sports. Often there are days when there is only one live game, alas – then once every few weeks they bludgeon us over the head.

I watched every minute of each, though the moment one was over, I couldn’t remember the score, or who was playing, the time or day, what is the capital of England, who is the Prime Minister, yet I had been concentrating – really hard. Football might not rot the brain but it does deaden the senses.

That took me to 6.30pm and kick-off for the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, hurrah, between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. I didn’t watch the earlier rounds, as they were on Eurosport. By some oversight, it’s the only sports channel in the world I don’t subscribe to. But I’d discovered that the final was on ITV4. Not many people know there is such a channel, lurking away.

It went to extra time and penalties – which Côte d’Ivoire won – so it was precisely 30 seconds to ten o’clock when I collapsed into bed. Oh, you’re still alive, she said. Thought you’d popped it.

A whole day, glued to the football. Thank God for half-time. A chance to take sustenance and go to the lav.

Now, do I need therapy? Is there something lacking in my life? What am I escaping?

Growing up, I wouldn’t do this, as there was no live football on the telly except the Cup final. Instead, we crouched round the family radio, which was connected by a wire to the light socket above the kitchen table (how on earth did we not set fire to the house?), while my little heart pounded, willing on Scotland to beat England. Perhaps my deprived childhood is to blame for my overdosing today. That’ll be five guineas.

I couldn’t do it as a young dad either. Having three kids screaming round the house made it harder to crouch in my room with the door barricaded, though God, I did try. Anyway you didn’t get wall-to-wall TV until twenty years ago when the Prem began.

Now there’s only about five days or five minutes in the middle of August each year when it is impossible to find football on the telly somewhere. Should there be a health warning? To save the vulnerable from themselves. You get barren patches when there’s just one game a day – then suddenly, like yesterday, there’s four live games in a day. What can an addict do?

I could have stayed up even later and watched Barcelona, done 24 hours’ solid football and made the Guinness World Records.

The current sale of Prem games to TV is going to include Friday-night games as well. Brilliant. I’ll be dancing in the street, if I can find the strength, and the street.

Next week – can you have too much sex? A doctor writes ... 

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 13 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Assad vs Isis

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Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.