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27 October 2014

Which is better – watching football in the flesh or on the telly?

Hunter Davies’s weekly column, The Fan. 

By Hunter Davies

It’s been tough having two weeks without any Prem football, despite the thrill of England hammering the amateurs of San Marino and narrowly overcoming the ten men of Estonia, but now I am longing for normal, ever so exciting, best players in the best league in the world, blah blah, to start up for our delight all over again.

But which delights me more these days – watching my heroes in the flesh, or on the telly?

A few weeks ago, when I went to watch Man City, I set off at ten in the morning and didn’t get home till ten at night. Yes, I was stuffing my face in a hospitality suite, so it was pure self-indulgence. But on the way home, in a hellish overcrowded train, I began to wonder if it had been worth it, giving up a whole day of what’s left of my life. Watching it at home on the telly would have taken only two hours, leaving me free to do loads of other, nice things such as . . . hmm, must be some.

So which is better?

Being There

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1. The atmosphere, can’t get that at home: the camaraderie, the jokes, the chants, the songs, the feeling of participating in an emotional event.

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2. It’s social history, what we’ve done on Saturday afternoons for 150 years. At a game, I like to think I am communing with all those fans who’ve gone before, and those to come, and those all over the world now, going to the match, just like me.

3. The feeling of being able to affect what is going on. You can have a real influence on the players, by shouting and supporting, willing them on, or booing when they are rubbish. All fans believe this, that players do play better having you there. Even the players agree. You affect nothing, sitting at home and shouting at the telly.

4. Being there is three-dimensional: you get the smells, not just the sounds and sights. And also the touch. OK, you don’t touch the players, but you are aware of the physical impact, hear the crunch, shudder at the collisions, whereas on the telly it’s bloodless, remote, as pointless as acting.

5. It’s tribal. We are not isolated animals, sitting alone in our holes. It gives a sense of belonging, identifying with other families and our neighbourhood. Supporting our team – it’s in our blood, who we are.

6. It’s a release. Shouting and swearing: how often can we do that in our workplace? It’s often the best fun at a boring match, effing and blinding. And also an escape; everyday life fades; only the game matters. Hard to feel that, watching a box in the corner.

Watching on the Telly

1. You don’t have to trail all that way. The experience of going to a game is now horrendous – you can’t park, get on a train. In the old days, when no one had cars, there were football buses. Driving to see Spurs these days, six miles away, I have to allow 60 minutes at least, each way.

2. The cost of a Premiership season ticket is now roughly £1,000 – plus extras such as transport, programme, food and drink, so let’s say £2,000 a season. Sky and BT are total rip-offs, but probably work out at about half that price.

3. Telly is brilliant. No, it is. You get instant action replays of goals, penalty claims, dodgy incidents. Very often at a game, I have no idea who has scored until the name comes up on the screen.

4. You see everything in all corners of the ground. No matter how brilliant your seat in the stand may be, stuff will happen on the far side which you miss.

5. You get expert analysis – mostly dickheads at half-time repeating so-called talking points. But you don’t have to listen, just switch off, relax.

6. Telly is a private pleasure. With age, I find I don’t like anyone talking during a game, even my own son. If he insists on sitting with me, I repeat the house rules – no comments whatsoever, except about what’s happening on the screen. I don’t want to know about his day, or what he might be cooking tonight. Just shurrup, eh?

Sitting silently before the telly can make a football game bloodless and remote, academic and clinical, but on the other hand it is far less emotionally draining than being there.

So, which is better ? Still deciding . . . 

Hunter Davies’s latest book is ‘The Biscuit Girls” (Ebury Press, £6.99)