Why I like my pleasures one at a time
We were on the way to Spurs for the home game against West Ham. The conversation in the car was so technical, I could hardly bother to listen - about loyalty points, how many you would need for a Bernabéu ticket, early-morning flights from Luton or would Gatwick be cheaper, hostels in Milan that cost only €20 - yeah, it was a shithole and you had to share with two strangers, but it was cheap. That was according to one of my companions, a well-brought-up young woman called Katherine who is a director of HR. It stands for Human Remains, so she told
me last time I went with her to Spurs. Could be her little joke.
She is a devoted Spurs fan who has followed them all over, often on her own, but tries to do it as cheaply and quickly as possible, as she has work
to get back to.
Derek and Sue, my neighbours, who are my age and certainly don't swear, are also planning to go to Madrid for the Champions League quarter-final, spending a leisurely three days there. But they couldn't decide which flights to get, or from where, and so all three twittered on about the logistics of getting to Madrid as we made our way to White Hart Lane.
Give it a break, I said. Can't we just concentrate on the game ahead? One pleasure at a time, please. I wanted to talk about West Ham - is Scott Parker really an England player? And do look out for Ba, I wonder if his shirt is selling. They were more obsessed by the thought of Spurs against Real Madrid.
I used to tell my children off when we were in the middle of one activity and they would say "what are we doing next, Hunt?" Oh God, I would say, let's get this excitement over with first. But we all do that, living in the future.
On holiday these days I find myself planning the next one.
I do like the idea of these football tourists, travelling the world to see their team. I have an English friend in California, a nuclear scientist, who always goes to the World Cup, wherever it is, with a group of his friends, turning it into exotic holiday.
When you see away fans on TV, in some far-flung stadium, half naked, sweaty and scruffy, jumping up and down, you have to realise the young ones must be in well-paid jobs, while the older ones are perhaps retired middle-class professionals. How else can they all afford at least £300 - for the flight, ticket, hotel, food and drink - or more like £1,000, if they are wangling a few days off.
Football tourism has been with us since the beginning. From the 1870s to the 1960s, when package tours abroad became common, the only experience most northerners had of long-distance travelling was a day trip down to Wembley for the FA Cup final. (Two deliberate mistakes in that sentence: northern teams didn't get to the Cup final till 1882 and Wembley didn't host the cup final till 1923, but the point is that football has always offered an excuse to travel.)
I have a theory that one reason organised football succeeded in England when it did, apart from hearty Christian public-school headmasters wanting their charges to stop playing with themselves, was that it coincided with the birth of mass railway transport.
Football could easily have been invented a hundred years earlier, for some sort of football had been played in almost every country for a thousand years, but it would never have caught on in the same way if the railways had not arrived.
Players could play games away from their local area and, more importantly, fans could follow them, easily and cheaply, coming either from the surrounding area for home games, or from across the country for away games.
I'm not going to Madrid. Too much work on. Too much of a faff to organise it. "Would you have gone to Donetsk," I asked Katherine, "if we had drawn Shakhtar? I'm told Ukraine has very cheap hostels . . ."
She did hesitate for a moment, then said, er, no. But she would be going to Barcelona, if we beat Real Madrid. Yeah, said Derek and Sue, they would go to Barcelona as well.
Calm down, dears, I said. One excitement at a time . . . l
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