I was lunching with the enemy, said my wife. Had I no loyalty?
Arsenal double, that's what I landed last week, a double at Arsenal. I'll start again. For four seasons, I've had half a season ticket, courtesy of an Arsenal friend whose son has been away at college. This season, he returned to live in London and claimed his ticket, his inheritance. Some people are so selfish. He's away skiing at present, so I've got it back for two games, oh joy, both of them Saturdays. Oh, I do love going to a match on a Saturday afternoon, which is what nature always intended humans to do. I am so pissed off with all these games at funny times on funny days of the week.
Equally joyous, I also got invited to the pre-match literary lunch. This is a group of writers and publishers, all Arsenal fans, who eat together before each match. Very select, so I'd always heard, both the food and the members. I can't think of anything comparable at Spurs. I sometimes had a pre-match drink with Peter Cook, but that was a pretty drunken, low-class, scruffy affair. And all we ate was chips. Tottenham is even scruffier these days, the surrounding streets horrible, nowhere to eat, hell to park. In the past decade, Arsenal have not only pulled well ahead of Spurs in footballing terms, but also moved more upmarket. Highbury has some very posh streets, highly desirable. I blame that Nick Hornby, bringing in all the middle classes.
On the pitch, Thierry Henry has turned into an aristocrat, so haughty, so superior, so confident. Robert Pires is equally blue-blooded. Even Tony Adams could pass for couth these days. Wenger is the noblest of managers. Unlike Fergie, Hoddle or O'Leary, he has not stooped to cashing in on his position by writing a book. Even the blessed Sven has rather ruined his reputation by lending his name to commercial products. It could backfire on him, if England do badly in June.
So I put on a jacket - not like me - as I was lunching with the quality. Or the enemy, as my wife pointed out when I left home. Had I no loyalty, no principles? It's a spying mission, I said.
The restaurant was an Italian one in Highbury Park, rather smart, where they had a table at the back booked for 12. I found myself sitting beside Laurence Marks, the scriptwriter, who lives in Oxfordshire. I dunno, I said, Arsenal are getting just like Man Utd, attracting fans from all over the shop. If you do win the double, there'll be coaches coming down from Cheshire next season. He assured me he had always been an Arsenal fan.
"I don't come to see them win. I come to see them play well."
I think that was his wording. I agree with it anyway. It's how I reconcile going to watch both Spurs and Arsenal.
On my other side was Anthony Holden, who had come even further - from New York that morning, straight from Heathrow to the match. What devotion. I used to work with him, many years ago on the Sunday Times, but during the meal he told me something I never knew before - his grandad played for England in the 1930s. I was so jealous. I know, silly reaction. But I just wished my grandad had been a footballer. My life would have been so much richer. Typical of these Arsenal fans. Not fair.
At the end of the lunch, there was a sweepstake. You had to predict the scores in all the weekend Premier games. It was £5 to enter, the money being collected by the well-known publisher Alan Samson, of Little, Brown. It seemed a lot, £5, but I didn't let on - mixing with the nobs, one doesn't want to appear cheap.
Over lunch, they all asked if Sol was being missed at Spurs. Not at all, I said. It's a Spurs plot to ruin Arsenal's season, Sol will do something really stupid in your big game with Man Utd, you'll see, mark my words. And anyway, we've got Ledley King.
Judging by what I've seen of Arsenal on TV, and from what the commentators have been saying, Sol has got better recently. But during the match itself, I could hear a section of the crowd moaning and groaning every time he belted the ball upfield, straight to a Sunderland player. You have to be at a game, in the flesh, to pick up these undercurrents. I was also surprised to find that the Arsenal fans have a new favourite. (Apart from Thierry Henry, we all know it's kissy-kissy with him, or "We've Got Dennis Bergkamp", or Paddy. Paddy who? I asked my neighbour. Vieira, stoopid.) It's Edu, the Brazilian, they now love him, compared with last season when he did nothing. He's even got his own song, "Hay Doooo", which they sing to the tune of "Hey Jude".
And the crowd sang it so well, which was also very annoying, proving what that dopey music professor found out the other day. He analysed the singing of every crowd in the Premier League for its musical content, not wit and wisdom. Spurs were way down the list, coming 19th out of 20. Arsenal were six places higher at number 13. They can even beat us at chanting.
On the way out of the ground, after Arsenal had stuffed Sunderland 3-0, with hardly a sign of sweat, hardly exerting themselves, I found myself counting all the chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royces and white limos outside the West Stand, purring away, waiting for their lords and masters.
On the way home, I passed Ashburton Grove, where Arsenal are about to build a monster, state-of-the art stadium, twice as big as Spurs, probably twice as grand. Makes you sick.
The future of English football could be a rerun of the 1930s, when Arsenal lorded it over everyone. Then I stopped myself. I mustn't get more twisted and jealous. Not till after Arsenal's next home match, which I also have a ticket for. It just happens to be against Spurs. Gawd preserve us all.