The fan - Hunter Davies gets shirty with Andrew Martin

Anyone wise, sensible and quietly superior wouldn't respond. But I will

I got a bit upset last week, reading someone ranting against football fans, saying they were lumpen, stupid, boring, why didn't they get a life, while the players were vacuous and the media craven in devoting so much time to football. All of it spot on - have I not been saying it for years? So what's the problem, Hunt?

Just that I don't like it coming from someone who admits to not being a football fan. It's like someone outside the family rubbishing your wife, your kids, your house, your curtains, your tortoise. You can do it. They can't.

Anyone sure of themselves, their family, or their love for football, would naturally not respond, being wise, sensible and, of course, quietly superior. Being none of the above, I did find myself thinking about it for the rest of the day. Lost the article now. Oh yeah, it was in that excellent mag, the New Statesman. By Andrew Martin. Good piece, son.

But we've heard it all before, and much worse, right back to 1888, when an English professional league was first formed. That was football ruined, spoiled for ever, cried all the public-school amateurs; fair play, honesty and honour, that's gone for ever.

Football has become corrupt, so they all moaned. And it's still true. Players lie and cheat, if they think they can get away with it, say it's their throw-in when they knows it's not, claim false penalties, con the ref, try to injure rival players.

Football clubs themselves are corrupt. It began with pound notes in your boots after a game, at a time when any payments were illegal. Gate receipts were fiddles, cash creamed off to pay backhanders to seduce away rival stars. Today, the whole process of agents and transfers and bogus middlemen taking a share, along with some managers or their relations, is totally tainted. We all know that, we fans, yawn yawn.

Players' wages and transfers are said to be obscene today. And yesterday. In 1905, Alf Common was transferred from Sunderland to Middlesbrough for the then incredible sum of £1,000. We now have white slavery, said the back pages, players have become mercenaries, football will never be the same again, sob sob. Which, of course, was deadly inaccurate.

The fans, they are indeed stupid lumps, aren't they? Always have been. I have in front of me an article in the Graphic of 29 April 1911, in which Sir Philip Gibbs bewails the behaviour of Cup Final fans he has just witnessed. "A horde of barbarians invaded London on Saturday, many with big fists and brawny shoulders, hard and dour in the mould of their faces, not softness, nor grace, nor elegance . . . like sheer savages, they went stupidly about. It is rather awful to think that these loafers who invaded London have become decadent before becoming civilised."

God, he was enjoying himself, but he would have had more fun today, and produced even purpler prose, on realising that most fans have got decent jobs, that they work hard, have nice homes to go to, thin shoulders and slender fists, and that some can speak Latin. And they are bloody well-off. Have to be. Otherwise how could any of them afford £70 for a half-decent seat at Spurs?

Football, the game, is stupid. Twenty-two grown men with bare legs chasing a ball around a piece of grass - what's the point in that? None at all. It's not politics, or economics, war or peace, none of them serious things, know what I mean?

I must be utterly demented, pathetic, everything lacking in my life, to have watched three Premiership games live on TV the other Sunday, one after the other. Daft or what?

And yet I can get so elated by a good game, even a good move, can see elegance and grace in footballers and in the fans, where Gibbs could see none. I get depressed by a bad game, yet find myself looking forward, yearning, to the next. Football does enrich my life. I smile in anticipation of the World Cup.

But I don't see all this as a winning game. I never say football is better than cricket, that cricket is slow and boring (even though it is). I just like football. I do think it is a beautiful game.

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