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

Photo: Getty
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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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