The night my telly steamed, as it showed a full frontal kiss

I've lost my half-season ticket to Arsenal. It started about four years ago, when a friend who supports Arsenal (no one can say I'm prejudiced) was looking for someone to help him out. He has three tickets, for himself and two sons - but one son was going off to college far away. He didn't want to give up the ticket, as there's a waiting list of years, but he didn't want the faff each week of looking for someone to take it. I said I'd pay him half the total price, and use it for half the season. That way I wasn't compromising my Spurs loyalties by paying money into the Arsenal coffers. Not directly. Look, don't expect logic here, or principles.

It was agreed, centuries ago when football began, that Spurs and Arsenal would always be at home on alternate Saturdays. So almost every Saturday during the winter in London I've had a top game to go to. Life was good, life was fun.

But since Sky started mucking around with the schedules, you can never be sure that a game which would normally be on a Saturday at three has not been moved to mid-morning Sunday, midnight on Tuesday, breakfast time a week on Thursday, possibly, maybe.

This season, my friend's son has returned from the far-off college to reclaim his inheritance. I am bereft. Half my Saturdays from now on will be empty. The other Saturday, I even found myself sitting watching the rugby on the telly, cheering Ireland on to beat England, which they did. Why Ireland? When it's England playing a foreign country at anything, I want them to win. But when England play Scotland,Wales or Ireland, I want to see England get stuffed. All very logical.

Until I get something else sorted, I'm likely to see fewer games in the flesh and more on the box. Is this good or is this bad ? What exactly are the pros and cons? Discuss.

There are millions of sad souls who rely solely on the telly, all the year round, who never go to matches, who don't know what it's like to be there - that is, Man Utd fans. Who knows football who knows it only from the telly? Though it does offer some unique insights.

I remember watching a game last season on the telly - Spurs playing away at Leeds - and I saw this amazing, emotional moment. Alan Smith had just scored, the one we haven't seen much of recently, the one with the full red lips and the steel in his soul.

Gary Kelly, the rather dour, dark-haired little Irish full-back, rushed up. They kissed each other, full smack on the lips, mouth to mouth, face to face, no messing. My telly was steaming. I had to open the back door to let fresh air in.

We know footballers have been kissing for years, but it's usually a peck on the cheek or the back of the head. Never before had I seen a two-way, reciprocated, full-frontal, real, juicy kiss between consenting adult footballers on the pitch. Well done, lasses - I mean lads.

If I had been there, in the flesh, even behind the goals, with my best specs on, would I have seen it? Highly unlikely. Only television can give you those intimate moments, close-ups of the latest hairstyles, the sweat, the spit, the swearing, so easy now to lip-read, even without digital.

But you don't get the real atmosphere, no matter how much the telly flams it up with heaving crowd shots, throbbing music, flashing images or, worst of all, screaming Jonathan Pearce.

In the stadium, it's three-dimensional. You share the mass emotion, the physical experience. A crunching tackle can come across as a mere tickle on television. Being there, you realise that most tackles are absolutely brutal, meant to stop the other person dead, or for longer.

Television makes it look like ballet out there, as if they're skipping about, floating around, playing pretty passes. And what happens off the ball, which can be just as terrifying, is seen by us who are there, not by those at home.

Where television scores is, well, when football scores. Most goals seem to be over in a second; when you are there, blink and you've missed it. Even if you have watched exactly the move build up, the chances are that your sight will be impeded at some stage. You scream and shout if it's your lads what done it, but often you have no idea which one.

These days, they show action replays on the big screens at White Hart Lane, Highbury and elsewhere, but they are not as good, as detailed, and anyway your eyes are also watching the real thing, so it's hard to concentrate.

When I watch Carlisle at Brunton Park, there is no big screen to distract. Nor any goals either, come to that.

Television does make football more exciting, especially when they're only showing highlights. Not just by picking out the best bits, but by speeding up the game.

It's the nature of a camera, and a television screen, to condense, to reduce the space, to fit it all in for our one-dimensional viewing. You get people - that is, Man Utd fans - when they eventually do get to see a real game, who say it's not as good as the telly.

I want both, personally. They complement, serve as tasters for each other. But most of all, I want to see a real game every Saturday afternoon. Anyone got a half-a-season ticket to spare for Arsenal?

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 05 November 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The rise and rise of President Blair