The fat-faced curse that stalks the terraces
To the Arsenal game, I took my Thermos flask of coffee for half-time, as per usual, carrying it in my new and rather bijou, chic, shiny rucksack, along with two tangerines and a packet of Strepsils. I haven't got a cold, but I find they're awfully efficacious for keeping the mouth active, the throat lubricated and the jaw engaged during those moments in the match when I might get caught with nothing to eat or drink.
Despite taking my own provisions, I bought a cup of tea the very minute I got there, price 70p. I did look at the smoked-salmon bagels, price £2.20, and the chicken mayo, only £1.70, but decided to stick to my own supplies and manage somehow to spin them out for 90 minutes.
I've already forgotten the score, but my record for spinning out one Strepsil during the match - which was against, hold on, I have it somewhere, oh yeah, Southampton - was 13 1/2 minutes.
Then, before watching the Chelsea match on television, against another team, I had a cappuccino and a slice of home-made gingerbread. That was just to get me upstairs and settled down in front of Andy Gray. During the match itself, first half, I had, now let me see, a pear, an orange, an apple and a plum, making them last about ten minutes each. Good job there wasn't much extra time for injuries. I'd have been well stuck.
At half-time, I went downstairs and had a glass of Chablis and some peanuts, my little refresher. I then took up with me a large glass of Safeway's Beaujolais, my favourite drink at the moment (hope Santa's listening), to get me through the second half. Well, it was a late-afternoon Sunday game. For an evening, eight o'clock kick-off, it's all of the above, plus a hot toddy.
Now why is this? Why do I have a compulsion to eat and drink all the way through a game?
First of all, I don't think I'm untypical. I remember years ago interviewing Brigid Brophy and her husband Michael Levey, neither of them football fans, and discovering that their weekend fix was Match of the Day while drinking whisky.
All round me at Spurs and Arsenal each week, I am surrounded by people stuffing their fat faces. The smells, the burgers and cheap tomato sauce, the nasty chips, the bottles of horrible fizzy drinks - yuk. I like to think the stuff I shove into my fat face is very healthy. All right, apart from the gingerbread. But come on. It is home-made. Inside and outside Highbury and White Hart Lane, as at football stadia all over the world, there are fans stuffing their stupid faces with sweets and savouries, snacks and drinks. And nougat. That's what disappears into the fat faces in France and Spain. Disgusting.
When I first started going to Spurs in the 1960s, standing on the Shelf, there was this bloke who sold peanuts in little white paper bags. You'd put your hand up and he'd throw one to you, even if you were miles away. Bloody clever. Then you'd pass the money along, hand to hand. Very trusting. Wonder where he is now.
Going to Carlisle United, in the 1950s, it was Bovril and hot pies, yum yum. "Who stole all the pies?" That's the name of a fanzine, I think. It has been with us for ever, you see, part of the culture. They have always gone together, food and football.
Yet I despise myself. When I find myself watching the clock, rather than the match, to see if I'm due my next top-up - as I do like to spin them out - I think, how awful, how pathetic.
I used to criticise my sister Marion when she had a cigarette during a meal. Isn't one pleasure at a time enough, I'd say to her piously. Are you not ruining the taste of the meal by smoking at the same time, my petal?
At a recent New Statesman lunch, I sat next to Des Wilson. He asked me to pass him the butter. And I said no. The bread is delicious, I said, there is no need to put butter on it. Pass the bloody butter, he said. No, I replied. Butter is your enemy. You don't need it. He had to ask someone at the far end of the table to pass him their butter, and didn't speak to me again.
I don't know why I did it. Being silly, being stupid, being against the weakness that I myself suffer from. Doubling pleasures, when there's no need to. Or greed, as it's called. My greed seems to have trebled in the past year, which is why I bought myself the dinky little rucksack. At this rate, I'll soon need an Eddie Stobart truck to get me to each match. One pleasure at a time should be enough. If I say I love going to football, surely I can be content with that. Why pile on other pleasures?
Is it like a contagious disease? Because I see others eating, all around me, is that why I follow suit? Not really. At home, I am watching and guzzling all on my own.
A nervous habit, perhaps? In some senses. I do twitch if I time it badly and there is a gap between Strepsils. But it can't be nerves brought on by worrying about the football. At Arsenal, I don't care who wins, yet I still eat throughout.
At Spurs, I am always nervous. That's why I have chips afterwards. I tell myself, during the match, I'll only have them to celebrate us winning. When it's clear we're not going to win, even if the match goes on for 90 days, I say, OK then, I'll get some chips, just to make up for losing. If it's a boring draw, I find myself getting a packet out of boredom.
In my normal, non-football life, I never eat between meals, so that can mean five hours with nothing in my mouth. But when it comes to football, I can't manage five minutes without something in my gob. I must have put on pounds this season already. What am I going to do? I can think of only one solution. Anyone like a rather chic, silky, bijou rucksack?
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