How I stayed in with Ruby and Flora, and lost £60

I hate waste, hate expense - in fact, I hate spending money. I can lash out on big things, such as going to the Caribbean in January, but would never get a taxi, even if it was pouring down. I don't buy new clothes, always get the cheapest shoes and steam stamps off envelopes if they haven't been franked. And yet, and yet, I've done something so wildly wasteful that I'm bound to go to the bad fire. That's what my mother always said, unable to use the word "hell".

It was Tuesday evening, the night of the Spurs home tie in the Worthington Cup against Birmingham. I told myself all day that I was going, did lots of work, got ahead, washed my Thermos out in preparation - goodness, doesn't it get cacky and pongy if you don't rinse it?

Our elder daughter, Caitlin, had just arrived with baby Ruby, all the way from Botswana. They are with us until Christmas, and I still intended to go to the match. I do have my priorities. Am I not a loyal supporter? Don't people such as George Graham and Roy Keane depend on people like me? I have never knowingly eaten a prawn sandwich. And I have paid £795 for my season ticket.

But as it grew dark, the rain came down. Outside began to look so miserable, while inside Ruby looked so lovely. Can I really drag myself through boring old Crouch End, horrible Hornsey, turdy Turnpike Lane, all those places I hate to hate, just to watch a team I am beginning also to hate?

I'll be giving away four hours of my short, but so far very exciting, life. Four hours that I could spend with my loved ones - less, say, 90 minutes max watching the live match on the telly. Yes, I had suddenly noticed that it was on.

It would also mean I could have a proper supper with the family, drink without worrying about driving, play with Ruby at half-time - perhaps even during throw-ins, if it's boring. So I didn't go.

Next evening, it was Arsenal at home to Ipswich in the Worthington Cup, which I planned to attend, thanks to my half of a £778 season ticket. All day I told myself I was going, laid out my knapsack, quite forgetting it was the birthday of Flora, our younger daughter, and she was coming for supper. Could I really rush off just after she arrived?

I did get to the front door, but my hand got stuck in my pocket. I won't be able drive, will I? Won't be able to read the programme. I know: I'll just stay at home. I'll open another bottle - for Flora, naturally. All right then, might as well watch bits of the game on the telly in my room upstairs. You lot don't want me down here, all women together, chuntering on.

So I didn't go to either match. I willingly, wilfully threw away extremely desirable tickets worth £60. Perhaps more. I reckon my Spurs season ticket probably costs me £40 a game.

I could have given each ticket to a poor person. Yes, I know the government doesn't want us to spoil them, wants us to walk past them in the gutter, not give them anything, but I could have gone down to Kentish Town Tube and said: "Here, poor person, do have this ticket for Spurs, but please don't swap it for drugs, poor person." And what would they have said? "A ticket for Spurs? Up your arse." And they would have been right. Both Spurs and Arsenal got stuffed. So I missed nuffink.

But the point of it all is this: I predict that, eventually, there will be so many live games on television that it will have an adverse effect on gates.

It's hardly happened yet, not over a season, but I did notice lots of empty seats at the two matches I watched on TV. And at both games I didn't go to, crowds were down by around 10,000. At Arsenal, currently in good form and playing a top Premier team, the gate that night was only 25,105 - compared to 37,679 for the next home game against bottom-of-the-Premiership Derby.

But ah, that was on the Saturday. Saturday afternoon is when God intended us to go to football matches. It was His plan, His wish, back in 1888 when He created the Football League. "Let there always be Saturday afternoon games," He said. "Let rattles be rattled, but Bovril can be optional and may be replaced in due course by prawn sandwiches." (Where did Roy Keane get them from? Never seen a prawn sandwich at a football game, not even at Carlisle United. Smoked salmon bagels, yes. Shitloads of them at White Hart Lane.)

I don't think I would ever give up the chance of a Saturday afternoon game. Not even for a brilliant live match on TV at the same time - which, needless to say, they'd never allow (they're not that daft). But on those increasingly common Saturday afternoons without a game, I never know what to do. I am distraught. Might as well go to bed. Yet I have two teams to watch. The normal fan has one.

Each season, we lose more and more of our Saturday afternoon games as they bugger about, changing games to Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon, Monday evening, just to suit the television companies.

So far, the clubs don't care about the gaps on the terraces for mid-week games. Ten thousand not turning up is meaningless to them, because we have all been tricked into buying season tickets. They've had our money, months and months in advance. If we then waste our tickets, that's our stupidity.

But as football life goes on, with more and more games on television during the week - by which time, most of us will also have been tricked into having those stupid digital channels - it will become less and less attractive to drag ourselves out to watch a run-of-the-mill evening game. More hands will get stuck in more pockets. And eventually, what you'll get at some games is total silence from a totally empty stadium. That'll larn 'em.

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 20 November 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Interview - Lord Falconer