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18 March 2020

For decades life has been bliss for football fans. What will we do now that the game has gone?

And yet, for about half of my life there was no regular football on TV. How did I cope? 

By Hunter Davies

I  am sitting here with my black armband on, a mark of respect for what could be the death of football, wondering what to do next. I have counted all the aspirins, pulled the rug straight, looked out of the window, emptied my waste-paper basket, done a recount on the aspirins. It’s too early in the day to start drinking… goodness, it’s almost midday, nearly time for lunch and cracking open a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. I always drink white wine at lunchtime. In my mind, it is non-alcoholic .

All these decades I have had five live games to watch over the weekend, plus a game at Spurs or Arsenal. I don’t watch Match of the Day live – too far past my bedtime. But I record it and watch on Monday. Then I have the sports pages in three newspapers to gobble up.

Life has been good. Bliss has it been, these last 40 years for any football fan, anywhere on the planet, to have a constant supply of games. 

Now, with no football, there is nothing in my life. I know, that is a silly thing to say when I have lovely children and grandchildren, a stunning young girlfriend of 71, and work. Thank God I have work.

But the joy of work is when you stop working, having done it. That’s when you can enjoy yourself. Or living, as it is often called. There’s no point in working if you have no treats lined up for afters.

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It’s my own fault, really, having boasted all these years how I never watch anything except football: no time, my dears, so much football, how can I fit in anything else? Now, I don’t know how to watch anything else.

I looked at the TV listings. It’s either popular reality programmes or fashionable crime series I know will be too clever for me. I would just find them annoying or confusing if I started with them now.

I could get a box set, but what is a box set? Do you have to buy it, open the box and get it out? Plus there’s Netflix – I should really find out what that is. I used to think it was a coffee drink.

And yet, for about half of my life there was no regular football on TV. How did I cope? When I was growing up the most you got was the FA Cup final. Wow. They spun it out for a whole day, starting with the players having breakfast; then following them on the coach to Wembley. You also saw their wives. Gawd, that was brilliant. 

The first international game on TV, England vs Scotland, was in 1938, two years after I was born. The first televised cup final was the same year: Huddersfield Town 0 – Preston North End 1. Alas, in 1938 only about ten people had a TV. 

Then the war came and things stopped, and then the boring Fifties, when nothing really happened. Then the Sixties, when too much happened. Then the Seventies, when it looked for a while as if football was finished. 

Decent floodlighting was vital for evening matches. The first floodlit league game was in 1956 between Portsmouth and Newcastle, but it was a few more decades before most grounds had proper floodlights. 

Match of the Day, with recorded highlights, began in 1964, but it was not really until the 1980s that commercial TV started seriously competing with the BBC for football rights, which resulted in the Prem being formed in 1992, purely to cash in on the billions we mad fans were willing to pay. So it’s only been 40 years that we have had round-the-clock football: the modern generation, totally spoiled. We had it tough in the dark ages.

I now have got so used to it, so dependent, that the thought of no football for months is appalling. I might have to hibernate, dig myself into the hole left by the tortoise when she finally wakes up in a few weeks.

I feel like a child again, when you moan to your mother you are bored. Don’t be silly, she says, only boring people are bored. Get out your Meccano set or read a book, or count all those aspirins again. Do some knitting.

Ah, knitting. During the war, boys and girls at primary school were taught to knit. It was a way of fighting Hitler, and it’s true. He was terrified of all the holey scarves I made. 

This article appears in the 18 Mar 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The final reckoning