All these years writing about football, yet I've never been to the Football Writers' Annual Dinner. It could be because I'm not really a football writer, doing it mostly for fun, for love, and so I can justify spending so much time and money watching football. Also I've never been a member of the Football Writers' Association.
Then I got a call from this friend at Spurs, asking if I'd like to be a guest on the Spurs table. Not Spurs the club I've been slagging off all season? Complaining about the price of their season tickets, their lousy showing at Cardiff in the Worthington Cup, moaning about how annoying and nasty it is going to Spurs, what a horrible, scruffy area? Yeh, the very same club. How embarrassing. Naturally I said yes please, at once.
I rang back with two questions. Where at and what to wear? I feared it might be evening dress. I don't do posh. When I did go to football occasions in the Seventies, such as charry-dee dinners in Park Lane hotels, everyone was in their finery, dressed to kill or score. There was often a boxing match afterwards, which was weird. The players in their frilly evening shirts and their good wives in their best frocks had looked so imposing and classy during the meal, then they started shouting and screaming. Not that I ever waited for the boxing.
An ordinary suit would do, I was told, so that was reassuring. I happen to have one at the moment. And it was to be at the Royal Lancaster Hotel. I have been there once in my life, some 35 years ago. It was a private party arranged by the Beatles for a showing of Magical Mystery Tour. Paul said I had to come in fancy dress. What a faff that was. I wasn't going to hire anything, was I, too mean for that. I went as a Boy Scout and my lady wife as a Girl Guide, outfits borrowed from families in the street.
All the other guests, most of them from Apple, had spent a fortune hiring incredible costumes. Paul and Jane Asher were dressed as a pearly king and queen. John was dressed as a Teddy boy. Have I made that up? No, I have a snap of him somewhere. I'm only having second thoughts because today one thinks of nostalgia for the late Fifties as being more recent. In 1967 there were still people in Carlisle going about dressed as Teds. And not ironically.
Outside the Football Writers' dinner, there was a gaggle of autograph hunters, waiting for the football stars. Inside, all guests were told that mobile phones should be switched off and no asking for autographs. There were indeed lots of stars - most of them managers or retired players. I spotted Arsene Wenger, Bobby Robson, Peter Reid, George Graham, Joe Kinnear, Pat Jennings, Emlyn Hughes, Geoff Hurst - all of them smaller, frailer than they look on TV or appear on the pitch. George Graham's hair has grown even darker, very surprising. Geoff Hurst looked glowing.
In the lavatory, before it all started, I found myself standing beside a bloke who was singing loudly to himself. It was Terry Venables. He said he sings all the time, non-stop, being a happy, chirpy fellow. When I introduced myself, he wasn't quite as chirpy, complaining about something I'd written two weeks ago in another publication, mentioning his "financial escapades". I thought I'd carefully chosen those words so as not to cause offence or libel. He said I should try harder in future.
Looking round at all the tables, I could see few black faces and hardly any women. I estimated that a large proportion were either agents or sponsors in some form. They have the money these days, and are able to lash out on tables and treat their chums and contacts.
Many of the football hacks on the popular papers looked physically much as they did in the Seventies, thick-set, quite smallish, broad shoulders, thick hair carefully coiffed. I walked behind three as I went in, identical-looking, all combing their hair. They appeared very like the way Terry Venables looks now. Oh no. He'll have me for that.
The meal and wine were excellent, the company at the Spurs table most stimulating, the directors and officials I spoke to most intelligent - oh, do get on with it Hunt, we know you were on a freebie. No, really, altogether a great evening, though I did leave before the end. Last time it was the boxing I couldn't stand. This time, when an after-dinner comedian stood up, I decided it was time for my beddy-byes.
Footballer of the Year was Robert Pires. He wasn't there as he's abroad, having treatment. We saw him on a video link and Arsene Wenger eloquently accepted the award on his behalf.
I'd almost forgotten the existence of Pires, yet he was so brilliant early doors, one of the surprise blossomings. It has been a long season. I'm now going to take two weeks off, returning in time for the World Cup. Inger-land, Inger-land. That's me singing, trying to be chirpy . . .