The fan - Hunter Davies

In a normal week, my wife, poor soul, will read five books while I watch five games. Fiction is a se

My cup of pleasure is running over at the moment. It's all so exciting, such fun. Who will win the Premiership - we still don't know. Who will go up or go down in all the leagues - there are still places to be decided. It could go right to the wire, Brian.

Then there's the European Championships, which Man Utd could well still win. And coming up soon, hold your breath, it's the World Cup. Goodness, what a lucky boy. How fortunate am I to have this as my pass time, my pash on, my Lolita, my love.

I set off singing as I go upstairs to my room to settle in front of my own telly, complete with every known football digital, with food and drinks to keep me going during the battle ahead, till it's half-time, then I'll come down and stock up.

This is the Big One, I say as I go upstairs, this is the one that matters. Are you listening, pet? It's Man Utd/Arsenal/ Liverpool/West Brom/ Wolves/Real Madrid, they have to win, or that's it. I'll let you know at half-time how it's going. "Do," she replies. She smiles from the sofa, goes back to her novel. Poor soul, I think, having reading as your pleasure in life, all on your own. Whereas we football fans, we are in the world, learning loads, about history, geography, language, haircuts.

In a normal week, she'll read five books while I'll watch five games. Bully for her. Football is considered sort of lumpen, yobbish, for simple, unformed minds - which is cobblers. Is not Sir Andrew Turnbull, the new cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, a football fan? According to his Who's Who entry, his club is Tottenham Hotspur. An intellectual already.

Football has heartbreak, just think of Bex's poorly toe; well-drawn characters, remember Five Bellies; villains we like to boo, usually Argentinians; clean-cut heroes, kissy kissy Michael; and surprising dollops of sex, thank you Sven.

Reading is portable, you can take it anywhere, so that's one advantage she has over me. I do get miserable, ratty, when there's no football. That's not quite true, she says. What about when you go on holiday to the West Indies? Hmm, yes, I am quite content to be without footer for a month, while she would go spare without a novel every day, everywhere.

"It's not just a passion," she says. "It's essential to my well-being. And it's not escape, as you allege. I am not escaping from some dreary life. I am going into other lives, using my imagination. My head would seethe, if I didn't have a book. It's like how an athlete has to run. I have to exercise my imagination. I would go mad without a book. If it came to it, I'd rather read than write . . . "

Now calm down, pet. We're only talking books, not life and death. Or football. I've been known to read a book. Sometimes I find one so fascinating that I read the good bits out. Like this one, on the floor beside me, which I might glance at during half-time. Preparing for Reunion: experiences from the adoption circle, published by the Children's Society. Have you read it? It's really good. I've been through it three times, which she never does with novels. She doesn't reread any, always preferring a new experience, the hussy. I'm reading this book for work, as I'm writing about triplets who were adopted as babies and didn't meet up till they were 69. That's the sort of reading I do, not soppy old fiction. Sorry, it's not a competition. I take that back. Let's just be happy, each with our own pleasures.

I suppose I find something ascetic, dried up, remote, cut off, antisocial about reading fiction. She doesn't even have a box of Black Magic by her side, doesn't drink or eat anything while she turns the pages, doesn't shout out, jump in the air, kick furniture. What sort of fun is that?

My little mind goes roaming about, taking things in, wondering at bodies and faces, advertisements and architecture, reacting to the play, criticising the commentators, swearing at the players. It can be pretty exhausting, watching footer. Not like reading a novel. No wonder I need all my rations and supplies.

"How was it for you, then?" I'll ask afterwards, when I come downstairs. Making conver-sation, being solicitous, as I do try to be interested in her boring old novels, but knowing there's not much she can say. Novels are difficult to describe, especially the sort of modern ones she reads. All those jumps in time, mysteries not explained, personal motives not clear. But then, we have that in football. Is it just a leg-over situation with Ulrika, or true love? Now that is a mystery.

My wife does, in fact, know a lot about football, can talk intelligently about Man Utd, Arsenal, Real Madrid, knows all the main characters, though she'll need to do more work on West Brom before next season. She will ask me the score, appear interested in what happened, not that she really needs to. When I come back from a Spurs game, she can tell what the score was from how I close the garage door. From the sound of me switching off the television, even on the floor above, she knows if it was a boring game or not.

Fiction is a secret vice. Football is for sharing.

Next Article