It's exhausting being a couch potato at this time of year

In a few days, that will be the European games over till well into the new year. And which British teams will then be left to follow? Only Manchester United looks capable of progressing. And they'd bloody better. I've been putting it off all season, but I've just splashed out and upgraded my digital thing, going for an extra bit of nonsense, something called ITV Sport, not to be confused with ITV Select, whatever that is. It means I'm now paying £6.99 extra every month. If they all get stuffed, it could turn out to be a total waste.

Spending the money, that's bad enough. Expending all that emotion, that's worse. We all got so excited earlier in the season, after England's amazing win against Germany, telling ourselves we were on our way, here we go, England are back. Man Utd, are they not fab? Is not Bex bound to be Global Player of All Time? We could also see seeds of greatness in the new revitalised Liverpool, detect signs that Arsenal at last knew how to play in Europe. Then it all began to collapse before our eyes. Which I had shut for much of that Liverpool v Barcelona game. I can't remember a more embarrassing, humiliating period of play from a so-called top English team than that sequence when Barcelona strung together 1,300 passes without Liverpool touching the ball.

During that sequence, my moustache grew about one inch, so the time wasn't totally wasted. I'm growing it again.* Something to do, something to contemplate, if our finest and fittest do fail next week.

Arsenal were hardly any better against Deportivo. In that match, Vieira was the poorest I've seen him, non-existent at times, while Henry was back to his early form when he arrived at Arsenal, petty and petulant, blaming everyone but himself.

It's noticeable that each of those teams, Liverpool and Arsenal, contains a player that the world and his whippet were raving about only half an hour ago. Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole were the future, they could do anything, how lucky we were to have two such brilliant young English players suddenly emerging. Having emerged, received plaudits from the pundits, they've got stuck, standing still in their development.

Once again, Man Utd looks to be the best hope in the Champions League, though if Barthez plays like he did last Sunday against Arsenal in the Premiership, they've had it. They could have beaten Bayern, not drawn, which was the match I watched on the new ITV channel - and discovered that Jim Rosenthal is still alive. I wondered where he'd gone. That's the thing about all these new channels: they do provide jobs for commentators you thought were in rest homes. He came out with a new word during that game, "functionality". As did Clive Allen when he observed that Hargreaves of Bayern was "eligible for England". Robbie Earle, whom I do like, vee much, describing the Germans before the game, said they would as usual be "tall, blond and physical", which was verging on the racial. And also not true. When they came on the pitch, it turned out that only two of them were German.

As for the Uefa Cup, I can't see Leeds going very far, or Ipswich, Rangers and Celtic progressing at all. Channel 5 will no doubt have the Leeds return game next week, which means another dose of Jonathan Pearce - oh no, spare us. They've also introduced this potty idea of having Pat Nevin sitting at home, on his potty, giving us his banal thoughts on the game so far. I've got enough of my own, thank you. The thing about European games is that every commentator immediately discards any attempt at being neutral. With normal league games, they have to restrain themselves, unless it's Man Utd, kissy-kissy, please, Sir Alex, oh do give us an interview afterwards, your holiness, your wonderfulness.

When it's an English team against a European team, then they are totally one-sided, praising our lads if they win the toss-up, congratulating them for every throw-in, applauding if we string together two passes, cheering when we leave our own half, becoming hysterical if we have a shot on goal, orgasms if we hit the post.

The trouble with all this excitement is that you begin to think they might be right, your eyes could be wrong. They are there, after all. So the let-down is so much worse. Sometimes I think playing in Europe is too much of a strain on the old heart. And the old fingers. At this stage, when a lot of our teams are still alive and kicking, if only just, it often happens that two of our teams are playing live on television at the same time, even for those with the steam version, not yet digitally enhanced.

When one starts half an hour before the other, I always think, goody, I'll be able to see most of both - but dear God, the concentration needed to work the remote control properly and dash instantly between channels when it's an injury, just to find out the score in the other match, only to end up screaming in fury 'cos you've tuned in to the parliament channel, can't get out and have missed a goal.

Then, when you do get it right, it's hard to remember the different players, the different plots, in each game.

Potato couching at this time of the year is exhausting. In a way, it will be a blessed relief when the break from Europe comes, even if for some teams the break will be final. For this season anyway. Next season, Spurs will be there. Oh yes they will.

*Editor's note: The progress of the moustache will be carefully monitored and the picture byline changed when it has settled down

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 03 December 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Who needs 12 when one will do?