In early August, if you lie very still and close your eyes, you can make out a rumble. At first, you think it's the distant echo of a summer storm or the sound of a thousand City traders' heads hitting their desks in despair. Then the rumble grows and becomes a roar. You assume that the noise will die down again, that you'll be able to return to the quiet of those woozy summer months. But you can't. The roar is lodged in your consciousness and will remain there, at a frenzied pitch, for the next ten months. The football season has begun.
(You can break the roar down into its constituent parts: the sound of a nation of football lovers rushing to buy a bigger telly, the crack of their knees
as they rise from the sofa to cheer the first goal of the season and the clatter of gold coins dropping into the vaults at Murdoch Towers as another generation of fans signs up to the comprehensive Sky Sports package. If you've been worried about Rupert post-pie, don't be. He's going to be just fine.)
In the interest of full disclosure, I should come clean: I like football. Between Italia '90 and Euro '96, I was a Spurs fan. Not diehard, I admit - it's hard to be diehard when you're a nine-year-old girl living a long way from White Hart Lane - but I went to the odd game, wore the scarf and developed a committed and loyal crush on Teddy Sheringham. Fandom faded in my teens, but I have an abiding affection for Spurs, a nostalgia for the Jürgen Klinsmann years and a respect for Harry Redknapp. (At the end of the 2009-2010 season, the day after Spurs beat Man City to qualify for the Champions League, I happened to walk past Harry as he drove his oversized car through London and found myself thumbs-upping at him
like a loon.)
Despite a lingering fondness for the game, I couldn't call myself a true fan any more. I live with one, though, and so absorb football by osmosis. I'll be honest: I have a limit, which I usually hit in November. This is followed by a grisly winter when I think the season will Never End, before a surge in excitement as the Champions League reaches its final rounds and the Premier League wraps up.
The relief when it's all over! This summer was particularly special. It was one of those rare times when there is no football - no European Championship, no World Cup. Quiet patches such as this occur only every other year: two blissful months when there is not a match to be seen, apart from pot-bellied, beer-in-one-hand games in the park. Saturday afternoons reclaim a sleepy peace, uninterrupted by the echo of stadiums in uproar, streams of results and statistics and heated discussions of fantasy football teams.
Keep it real
Now that I think about it, the fantasy version of the game is the far greater burden for non-fans or lapsed fans like me.
I can just about understand the primal urgency that accompanies lifelong support for a real team, watching it win and lose year after year - 11 men you grow to love and loathe in equal measure - but I struggle to fathom the desperate enthusiasm for a game that takes place only on
a website. The clue's in the name: it's a fantasy.
Inevitably, the fantasy starts to destroy the reality. I've watched a game with someone who didn't seem to mind that their own team lost, because they had the striker from the winning side in their fantasy team. That can't be right. If you live with someone whose fantasy team takes on an unrivalled position of importance in their lives, as I do, you can't help but worry about their grip on reality.
There is, however, no avoiding it. Once the season's begun, the juggernaut that is football, real or imagined, destroys all in its path. So, for those of you whose heart, like mine, is sinking a little as the Match of the Day theme tune once again becomes the soundtrack to life, look on the bright side. It's only another two years until we get a break.
In the meantime, look out for post-match interviews with Joe Cole - always good for a laugh - and remember Harry. Tax aside, the man's got a big-hearted passion and a cheeky enthusiasm that feels rare in a sport sullied by corporate-speak and over-randy players. Enjoy the season, one and all.
Hunter Davies is away