Footballers, let’s keep it friendly

There was a period in football that I have never understood. From 1863, when football as we know it was invented, till 1888, when the Football League was formed, there were no leagues. For 25 years, no points for games, no tables, no pots for League champs, no ups and downs, no going right to the wire because there was no wire. Where was the fun in that?

I came away from the Arsenal- Spurs game feeling so depressed. Robbie Keane had allowed us to talk up our chances, saying our bench was so strong, much better than Arsenal's. Harry said much the same, and once again, poor fools that we are, we believed it. For 40 years, I have believed it. And the same thing has happened. Spurs has ended up middling.

I comfort myself by saying this is the nature of football. The majority of fans follow football for the suffering. During the game, we experience anger and fury, which is good for us, doctors say: letting it all out, the only occasion when we can truly scream and swear, then we try to forget, till next Saturday.

I rather admire fans of Man City. God, how they suffered for so long. But they got through it by revelling in their own uselessness, mocking themselves.

It's a pyramid, innit - that's another thing I told myself. The nearer you get to the top, the more likely it will end in tears. I had this friend who won a scholarship to Eton, then to Oxford, but failed to get into All Souls - and he was devastated. End of his world, the ladder he had been climbing. Football, like politics, always ends in failure. So I said.

All the same, that Arsenal game, getting stuffed 3-0 by kids: what a sickener. Yes, I know our three best players didn't play - Modric, Lennon and Defoe - but wasn't our squad supposed to be strong this season? Arsenal have clearly got quality and we have journeymen. Wenger is officer class, Harry is an NCO, and it is reflected in their teams.

Perhaps the worst part of the suffering was the reaction of the Arsenal fans - barely triumphant. This season, they have hardly had the interest or energy to shout: "Stand up if you hate Totting-ham!" Despite having won nothing for five years, they don't care any more about Spurs. We are off their radar; it's Chelsea they truly fear and hate.

And yet, and yet, Liverpool look bound to fall out of the top four this season, this is our best chance for years, surely we are as good as Man City or Villa, Harry has done well, there are no real dummies like most seasons, this could be the year, oh no, now I am doing it, bigging up piddling signs of hope, ignoring reality, I'll be turning into an England fan next.

It was Hallowe'en, which happens to be my daughter Flora's birthday, always has been, and she came for her birthday cake with her two daughters, so within two hours of the game the joys of family life had taken over. I had forgotten my depression - unlike the players, poor sad millionaires, they have to live it night and day for another week. That's another thing I have always told myself to brighten up dark moods.

But really, I now think the only escape from suffering is the old one - no leagues. Let's just always play friendlies.

Hunter Davies's latest book is "Confessions of a Collector" (Quercus, £20)

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 09 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Castro