A depressing week for the true Brit football fan

I watched those four European matches featuring our lads - well, some were our lads - in four different places. That is the problem with following football today. We're all over the place.

I saw Barcelona v Chelsea at my son's house in downtown Tufnell Park. He's got ONdigital. Sounds like spots or a nasty rash. He's seen the doctor, who told him to stop paying and it would soon go away. Also with us was Amelia, who threw things around while she was watching, then she was sick (typical Chelsea behaviour). Like David Mellor, she is a bit of a baby. Nine months old to be exact - my first grandchild.

I had her on my knee, alternating between being doting and shouting at Flo. What a fairy, get stuck in; I don't think I've seen anyone of that height with less physical presence. No, not you pet, Tore Andre. Then, of course, he goes and scores a goal. Not that it did Chelsea any good.

I think my lasting memory of that game will be Barcelona's British tactics. They won by knocking high balls - from free kicks or the wing - into the box, and Chelsea just couldn't cope, despite their World Cup-winning defenders.

For Man Utd v Real Madrid, on ITV, I was here, at home, in my room, on my tod. Gary Neville made two awful errors in the first 16 minutes, even before Roy Keane's own goal, so I said to the room: "That's it. How can they claim to be the top side in Europe when they still have journeyman defenders like Gary Neville?" Lovely bloke, etc, Becks's best man, tra la, dedicated trainer; but come on, he's out of his depth at this level - and now it shows, with his confidence gone.

When Man Utd needed four goals to win, with not much time left, all Man Utd fans throughout the planet were no doubt thinking: "Don't worry, we know what Man U's like, rely on them to do the unexpected." Fatal thinking. By definition, you can't expect the unexpected. So it didn't happen. They got stuffed.

Arsenal v Lens was only on Sky Digital. I have basic Sky - what a swizz these channels are - so I went round to the pub, the Dartmouth Arms, and fought my way in, through the seething masses and the fug. I do live such a sheltered life. The noise, my dears, all these young women shouting and screaming, young men with shaven heads and tattoos, throwing their arms round each other. Almost all Arsenal fans, which I didn't mind, as I wanted them to win, so I joined in the cheering for Thierry Henry's goal.

The volume was on full blast, yet it was impossible to hear one word of the commentary. I fled at half-time - my head aching, my ears numb - came home, stripped off, switched on Five Live. Don't you listen to the radio naked? Oh, everyone does in NW5. I couldn't bear the smell of my clothes for another minute. All that smoke - yuck. Will takes weeks to get rid of it.

I listened in my bedroom in the dark, in total peace, to the second half of the Leeds game. So soothing, it took me back to my childhood. Radio has the best pictures; in the dark, they're even clearer. Shame about the result, but that was one we did expect. Leeds collapsed three months ago.

What did the week prove? First, Man Utd's pathetic performance in South America, when Neville started making all those silly mistakes, was a sure sign (not realised at the time) that, against top foreign clubs, they have got neither consistent technical nor tactical skill. We thought they were lucky against Bayern Munich last year. Now we know it. We also know that not taking part in the FA Cup was a nonsense. Didn't help them at all. A good team can play endless matches in a season - if they are good enough.

Second, it confirmed that Chelsea is too old and that Leeds is too young - as opposed to Man Utd, where the age balance is about right, with the best yet to come. With Chelsea, it's not really that those old sweats have done it all before, because in their minds I'm sure they are still keen to succeed, but that their old limbs can't manage it; or, in the case of Chris Sutton, will probably never manage it.

With Leeds, you begin to worry - despite their obvious natural talent and magnificent early form - whether the best is still to come from young players such as Bridges, Smith and Bowyer. Harry Kewell is clearly tough, in mind and body, but those others seem to be finishing the season with the stuffing knocked out of them. Hurry back Batty, the cry must be going up at Elland Road. Not a cry most football fans ever expected to hear.

Finally, the week showed Arsene Wenger to be an even better manager than I'd thought. He persevered with Henry when several experts, such as my good self (my opinion is highly revered in this room), thought that Henry would never hack it. Last season, he seemed frail in mind and body, a peripheral player; but Wenger knew better and has been proved right. As he was with Anelka, although that didn't help him much in the end.

So, that's it then. Been an exciting winter, with all those European games, which I greatly enjoyed despite all the messing around trying to track them down on the various nasty, horrible digital channels.

It was depressing for true Brit football fans - three of our four teams being knocked out in one week - but, on the other hand, think how the digital bosses must have felt. Nobody needs to watch them again this season. That'll larn them.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 May 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Why I am voting for Ken Livingstone