Back in town: a new route, a new seat, a new mate

And so back to London, heart of the empire, heart of the matter, after five months in the provinces, living as a provincial. Oh what bliss it was to be alive up there and not having to read about Ken Livingstone, beginning to believe he never existed. The only thing I ever truly miss in Lakeland is the Evening Standard, and even that I don't miss very much. When I got back and rushed for my first copy, it was to discover, oh no, they've still got Brian Sewell.

There is always a re-entry period, three days to get my bearings, get up to speed, assume my hard London face, my pushy metropolitan demeanour, my city-slicky attitudes, till I'm able to bustle about, elbows out, effing and blinding, carving up others at the lights, knowing that the weak are suckers who get left behind.

All of which meant that, by last Saturday, when I strolled up Tottenham High Road for my first of the season, it was like I'd never been away. And nothing had changed. I walked behind two blokes who were saying they hoped Derby would beat us, so that fucking Graham would have to resign.

I got there by a new route. After 30 years, I've given up the hell of Turnpike Lane. During that time, I'd memorised every sari in every shop window, every Indian butcher, every Cypriot club, every abandoned car, every boarded-up window. Thirty years ago, I used to do it in 20 minutes. Last year, it took an average of one hour. So I said: that's it.

My new way, copied from my neighbour and fellow season-ticket holder, Sue, is a bit roundabout: up the M1 to junction five, round Watford and back - just joking. But I did think I'd messed it up when I couldn't find Ally Pally. It all worked out, though, and I was there in half an hour. From now on, I'll be able to say: rubbish match, but at least it didn't take long to get home.

Saturday was also another first for me. I have a new seat. For the past five years, I've been driven mad by a family behind me. He's a geezer, or similar, while his three boys, aged between ten and 14, are all at some potty fee-paying school. They talk in loud voices all the way through. Stupid stuff, mainly about school. Their wittiest shouts were "The referee's a virgin". At the end of last season, I couldn't stand it any more and asked for a change.

I knew from the plan where my new seat was, just one row in front, but further along. In my absence, in loco parentis, my son had been using my ticket. He'd told me it's a brilliant position, really good, but he hadn't mentioned what my new neighbours were like. I might find them more objectionable than the ones I've left behind. What if they are screamers and shouters, idiots or nutters, racists or bruisers? Fat or smelly? The seats at Spurs are so tight together, being a tight club, that you can end up in the lap of the next person.

It turned out to be excellent. Bang on the halfway line and at the end of a row, which is what I had requested.

Then, oh no, as I sat down, I could see that the bloke in the next seat was smoking. I hate smokers. And he had a kid of about ten with him who was stuffing his face with chocolate while clutching two plastic carrier bags containing enough emergency rations of sweets and horrible drinks to keep him going till he's 21. Probably at a private school as well. What have I done?

There is an etiquette in football stadia. People have the same seats for generations, know each other, have a history, even if they never meet apart from at the match. I was the newcomer. So I didn't say nuffink. I thought it might take a few games before he realised I was the new season-ticket holder, as opposed to a one-off punter. But, at half-time, he said that Stephen Carr done well, innee, the only player who's got better under George Graham, the rest have got bleedin' worse, innay.

I thought he was speaking to his kid, but the boy was busy on his 15th Mars Bar. The wisdom was being addressed to me. I said yeh, spot on, couldn't agree more, always liked Stephen Carr, for years, since I first sat . . . but he was on to Ben Thatcher before I could drag in my provenance. Thatcher turned out to be his No 1 hate, bleedin' hell, cost five million bloody quid, our cat could do better. So nice to have a decent, adult, intelligent conversation for a change. My dear wife does her best, bless her, but she gets all her opinions from the back pages of the Independent. Up in Lakeland, our copy hardly ever has last night's scores, never mind last night's opinions.

When Anderton got a little itsy scratch on his forehead, the petal, and reappeared with a monster bandage round his head, I said to my neighbour, watch this, when he takes a free kick, he'll still try to push back his floppy hair. And it came true.

Together, we loudly cheered every half-decent pass Ramon Vega made. He has taken over the Ronny Rosenthal role, a vital one in every team. This is the person who makes all fans groan, but, with time, the groans turn into ironic cheers when it's clear that, however useless he might be, he is at least trying, unlike some players we could mention whom we now really really hate.

For half an hour, that was the whole Spurs team as they let Derby back into the game. Immediately, the crowd was shouting for Graham's blood. Not a pretty sound. There is always something malicious, nasty, when a crowd turns against its team. Yes, it upsets the players; yes, it makes the manager bitter and twisted about so-called loyal fans; but this is the nature of modern football. Big fees, big wages, big fame, mean that fans have big expectations and low tolerance. Even at Man Utd, there is hate lurking underneath the love for certain players.

But Spurs won. My neighbour didn't smoke during the game itself. Which was good. I'm now back. With a new best friend . . .

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 30 October 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Divorce your husband and watch him get rich