Hammering: England playing San Marino on 9 October. Photo: Getty
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Which is better – watching football in the flesh or on the telly?

Hunter Davies’s weekly column, The Fan. 

It’s been tough having two weeks without any Prem football, despite the thrill of England hammering the amateurs of San Marino and narrowly overcoming the ten men of Estonia, but now I am longing for normal, ever so exciting, best players in the best league in the world, blah blah, to start up for our delight all over again.

But which delights me more these days – watching my heroes in the flesh, or on the telly?

A few weeks ago, when I went to watch Man City, I set off at ten in the morning and didn’t get home till ten at night. Yes, I was stuffing my face in a hospitality suite, so it was pure self-indulgence. But on the way home, in a hellish overcrowded train, I began to wonder if it had been worth it, giving up a whole day of what’s left of my life. Watching it at home on the telly would have taken only two hours, leaving me free to do loads of other, nice things such as . . . hmm, must be some.

So which is better?

Being There

1. The atmosphere, can’t get that at home: the camaraderie, the jokes, the chants, the songs, the feeling of participating in an emotional event.

2. It’s social history, what we’ve done on Saturday afternoons for 150 years. At a game, I like to think I am communing with all those fans who’ve gone before, and those to come, and those all over the world now, going to the match, just like me.

3. The feeling of being able to affect what is going on. You can have a real influence on the players, by shouting and supporting, willing them on, or booing when they are rubbish. All fans believe this, that players do play better having you there. Even the players agree. You affect nothing, sitting at home and shouting at the telly.

4. Being there is three-dimensional: you get the smells, not just the sounds and sights. And also the touch. OK, you don’t touch the players, but you are aware of the physical impact, hear the crunch, shudder at the collisions, whereas on the telly it’s bloodless, remote, as pointless as acting.

5. It’s tribal. We are not isolated animals, sitting alone in our holes. It gives a sense of belonging, identifying with other families and our neighbourhood. Supporting our team – it’s in our blood, who we are.

6. It’s a release. Shouting and swearing: how often can we do that in our workplace? It’s often the best fun at a boring match, effing and blinding. And also an escape; everyday life fades; only the game matters. Hard to feel that, watching a box in the corner.

Watching on the Telly

1. You don’t have to trail all that way. The experience of going to a game is now horrendous – you can’t park, get on a train. In the old days, when no one had cars, there were football buses. Driving to see Spurs these days, six miles away, I have to allow 60 minutes at least, each way.

2. The cost of a Premiership season ticket is now roughly £1,000 – plus extras such as transport, programme, food and drink, so let’s say £2,000 a season. Sky and BT are total rip-offs, but probably work out at about half that price.

3. Telly is brilliant. No, it is. You get instant action replays of goals, penalty claims, dodgy incidents. Very often at a game, I have no idea who has scored until the name comes up on the screen.

4. You see everything in all corners of the ground. No matter how brilliant your seat in the stand may be, stuff will happen on the far side which you miss.

5. You get expert analysis – mostly dickheads at half-time repeating so-called talking points. But you don’t have to listen, just switch off, relax.

6. Telly is a private pleasure. With age, I find I don’t like anyone talking during a game, even my own son. If he insists on sitting with me, I repeat the house rules – no comments whatsoever, except about what’s happening on the screen. I don’t want to know about his day, or what he might be cooking tonight. Just shurrup, eh?

Sitting silently before the telly can make a football game bloodless and remote, academic and clinical, but on the other hand it is far less emotionally draining than being there.

So, which is better ? Still deciding . . . 

Hunter Davies’s latest book is ‘The Biscuit Girls” (Ebury Press, £6.99)

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 15 October 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Isis can be beaten

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The government must demand that Iran release Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Iran's imprisonment of my constituent breaches the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I grew up with a very paranoid mother. She had tragically lost members of her family as a teenager and, as a result, she is extremely fearful when it came to her children. I used to laugh at her growing up – I indulged it but often scoffed at her constant need to hear from us.

A few days ago, I was in Parliament as normal. My husband, his parents and our baby daughter were all in Parliament. This rare occasion had come about due to my mother in law’s birthday – I thought it would be a treat for her to lunch in the Mother of Parliaments!

The division bells rang half way through our meal and I left them to vote, grabbing my phone of the table. “See you in ten minutes!” I told them. I didn’t see them for more than five hours.

The minute the doors bolted and the Deputy Speaker announced that we were indefinitely being kept safe in the chamber, all I could think about was my daughter. In my heart of hearts, I knew she was safe. She was surrounded by people who loved her and would protect her even more ferociously than I ever could.

But try explaining that to a paranoid mother. Those five hours felt like an eternity. In my head, I imagined she was crying for me and that I couldn’t be there for her while the building we were in was under attack. In reality, I later found out she had been happily singing Twinkle Twinkle little star and showing off her latest crawl.

That sense of helplessness and desperate impatience is hard to describe. I counted down the minutes until I could see her, as my imagination ran away with me. In those 5 hours, I started thinking more and more about my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Here I was, temporarily locked in the Parliamentary chamber, surrounded by friends and colleagues and door keepers who were doing all they could to keep me safe. I knew I was going to be let out eventually and that I would be reunited with my daughter and husband within hours.

Nazanin has been detained in the notorious Evin prison in Iran for nearly a year. She only gets an occasional supervised visit with her two-year-old daughter Gabriella. She’s missed Christmas with Gabriella, she missed Gabriella’s second birthday and no doubt she will be missing Mother’s Day with Gabriella.

But it’s not just the big occasions, it’s the everyday developments when Gabriella learns a new song, discovers a new story, makes a new friend. Those are the important milestones that my mother never missed with me and the ones I want to make sure I don’t miss with my daughter.

Unfortunately, Nazanin is just one of many examples to choose from. Globally there are more than half a million women in prison serving a sentence following conviction, or are awaiting trial. Many of these women are mothers who have been separated from their children for years.

In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the Bangkok Rules - the first international instrument to explicitly address the different needs that female prisoners have. It was also the first instrument to outline safeguards for the children of imprisoned mothers.

The Bangkok Rules apply to all women prisoners throughout all stages of the criminal justice system, including before sentencing and after release. However, Nazanin’s case has seen a wilful flouting of the rules at each and every stage.

Rule 23 states that ‘Disciplinary sanctions for women prisoners shall not include a prohibition of family contact, especially with children’. Tell that to her daughter, Gabriella, who has barely seen her mother for the best part of a year.

Rule 26 adds that women prisoners’ contact with their families shall be facilitated by all reasonable means, especially for those detained in prisons located far from their homes. Tell that to her husband, Richard, who in almost a year has only spoken to his wife via a few calls monitored by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Iran has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and supported the Bangkok Rules, yet it is breaching both with its treatment of Nazanin. It is therefore incumbent upon our government to take the formal step of calling for Nazanin's release - it is staggering they have not yet done so.

As I pass the window displays in shops for Mother’s Day, most of the cards have messages centred around ‘making your mother happy’. If there’s one mother I’d like to make happy this year, it’s Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Tulip Siddiq is Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn