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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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.