There was an interesting observation last week in the Evening Standard, a regional paper based in London, by David Mellor, a Tory ex-minister who used to be based at Fulham, writing about the first leg of the Champions League game between Chelsea and Arsenal: "The pulsating encounter between Chelsea and Arsenal was a good advertisement for the Premiership."
I thought it was dreadful as a spectacle, the two sides cancelling out each other, no one had any space, they were all kicking each other, the passing was appalling and all the way through I was thinking, hmm, if they're watching this in the rest of Europe, I bet they'll be switching off, saying isn't the Premiership shit. And it knows it is. Yet all the fans in Europe chant English. (And sing along to our tunes, such as "Yellow Submarine". Apple, on behalf of the Beatles, should claim royalties from every TV channel that transmits the sound of any football crowd caught singing it anywhere.)
For ten years, I've kept notes of each game I watch, it does help me keep awake, in a spiral-bound notebook, 80 pages long, which lasts exactly a season, then I file it away. They're all going to the British Library or Austin, Texas, whichever is quicker on the blower. Very handy in case I forget who scored, who played, what year is it, who am I, what's it all about.
My notes record that Chelsea's goal "was dead jammy, a terrible mistake by the Arsenal goalie" and that Arsenal's goal, a header by Robert Pires, "was the only decent move of the game".
So who is off their trolley, me or Mellor? Next morning, I was discussing the game with the window cleaner, the postman, a drunk at the bus stop, my son the barrister, and a very stupid Arsenal fan I meet most evenings in the newsagent's and try to avoid. All of them said the same: boring, boring.
Only one person that day, a woman called Ali Gunn, a literary agent I happened to be talking to on the phone, said didn't Chelsea play well, they really deserved to win. I said you're wandering, woman, they were both awful.
Then I remembered. She is a Chelsea season ticket-holder. So is Mellor, these days. So you have to know where they are coming from. They were watching it with Chelsea eyes, well pleased with how their lads done - which is to say, they weren't stuffed - and transmogrified this in their blinkered, biased minds into it being a good game. From there they made an enormous leap and imagined it was somehow an excellent reflection of the state of the Premiership. This latter claim is due to brainwashing by television commentators, who have orgasms whenever two Premiership teams don't give the ball away for longer than ten seconds.
But they are not wrong, those people who thought it was a good game. No critic is ever wrong. Having had 140 books published, I always tell myself when I get a lousy review that it's only their opinion, to which they are well entitled, the bastards.
In football itself, players get very upset by a bad press, but their rationale is to say that because the critic never played pro football, he doesn't know what he's on about. That's satisfying but wrong. If you talk to a player, straight off the pitch, and he is being honest, he knows the score but rarely knows how the game was for the rest of us, its shape, why certain things happened. What he got out of it was a headache, concentrating so hard on his patchwork part.
Last Sunday's game between Arsenal and Man United, another 1-1 draw, was excellent. They were well matched, yet it was an open game, lots of chances, excitement to the end. That's what I thought, me, personally.
One of the joys of football is that even the stupidest person can have a sensible opinion, regardless of age, class, sex, nationality. You don't even have to speak the language. Sign language or chanting "Yellow Submarine" will do. A paradox in football is that we all know nothing, yet we are all experts.
What I know is that whether Chelsea or Arsenal go through, Milan or Real Madrid will stuff them, no question.