Next week, we're in Europe again, which means lots of excellent matches, starting at different times, in different places, on different channels. God, I'm exhausted just thinking about it, but terribly excited, of course. This season it's even harder than usual as Sky offers the possibility of watching eight Euro matches at once. How strong do they think our eyes are, how big our brains, how deep our memories? Is it that they think we is an octopus?
I can manage two games at once, no bother, flicking back and forward. I've got a badge for it. A fortnight ago I tried three, following Man United and Chelsea properly, plus Real Madrid spasmodically, just to keep track of Becks's hairdo. What is he playing at? Same style for, oh, must be weeks now.
But it is jolly hard, watching more than one game at once. You really have to be in training. There is a narrative in every game, characters and plot that develop as the play progresses, and which can explain the crowd's reactions and a team's behaviour. Should you flick over to another channel, you can totally miss not just a goal but an injury, an insult, an off-the-ball punch, a mocking kiss, a spiteful spit, a deep sigh, a cynical shrug of a pretty shoulder, a toss of an expensive curl, a sideways glance of deep loathing, each of which, come the denouement in the last act, plus added time, can turn out tremendously significant. Or not.
Watching football these days, especially with back-to-back games, is very much like a long-haul flight. I often think I could have got to the Caribbean during the time I've been sat here. I have often asked the wife for hot towels, more of those little nuts that I don't like, but go on, they're free. OK, I'll have the red wine, as long as it's not chilled, and isn't it about time for the duty-free. I'm sure there will soon be a case of deep-vein thrombosis caused by watching footer, with some idiot having sat in the same position for too long. In fact, my right calf feels a bit funny, stewardess, is there not a masseuse on this flight? I'm going Virgin first class next time.
People brought up watching football only on TV must find it so strange going to a ground. The seats are so narrow, no cushions, only one game at a time to watch, and no one comes down the aisles, along the rows, offering you snacks and titbits. At half-time, it's hellish - everyone rushes at the same time to the same place and the queues and smoke are terrible.
At Spurs the other week, as the queues were so bad, I walked into one of the hospitality suites. A large goon barred my way. Excuse me, my good man, I said. The notice on the door is marked "Hospitality", which in my dictionary means "offering food and drink" and a "friendly welcome to strangers", look it up yourself, Chambers 21st Century Dictionary, page 650. If the notice had said Directors or Players or Sponsors, then naturally I would not have dared venture in there, but hospitality, by definition, means you are offering something free. Fuck off, right. Honestly, education in this country has gone to pot.
Europe, in football terms, is an education in itself. It gives us a chance to see how so many of our star players are in fact thugs. They can still be excellent players, like Roy Keane, Steven Gerrard, Alan Shearer, but basically they are hooligans, determined to intimidate the opposition physically. British teams still have a preponderance of heavies, brought up to get the boot in. In Europe, at the top, they have been brought up to control the ball, be comfortable with it, to beat the other player by skill and technique not brute strength. They have that as well, of course. Europeans are just as physically strong and committed as British teams. And they now play at the same frantic pace as we do, even in Italy, where traditionally they built up slowly from defence. I think they've been watching too many Brit games on telly.
I hope to learn a lot this month from all the European games, and enjoy the skill on show, and hope all our lads go through, but I'll also be pleased that this will be the last week of Euro 2004 until February. My calf could do with the rest.