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19 November 2023

If you watch football with me, you need to respect my rules

Watching a game is a private pleasure, I don’t want to listen to any banal observations – I have enough of my own.

By Hunter Davies

I always hate watching football with anyone else. I mean watching on the telly, sitting at home with my feet up, crisps and Sauvignon Blanc at the ready. I find watching football a singular, private pleasure.

I never watch the studio previews and switch off at half-time when they start their boring analysis. Instead I go for a walk around the garden. I don’t want to listen to any banal observations. I have enough of my own.

When my son was young, he enjoyed watching with me, but I established house rules. We could only talk about the game on the telly. If we were watching Spurs-Arsenal, I did not want him twitting on about Manchester United or Manchester City, or Spurs’ next fixture, or wondering what we were having for supper, Dad. He could only talk about the game we were watching.

My lady friend Miranda has taken to joining me for the weekend games, hoping of course to share my Sauvignon Blanc. No chance, she can go and get her own bottle, she knows where I keep them. Not the best New Zealand Marlborough though, but cheap Chilean.

There’s just one condition, pet. You can only talk about the game. Right? Agreed? She nodded. And sat down.

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“Why have they all got hideous haircuts?”

Oh God. Because they all have too much money but are unable to spend it and get dead bored when they are not training, so they get a new expensive haircut every week, copying whoever is thought to be the coolest in the dressing room. At the moment they have short hair and silly shaved bits at the side. Anything else while your mouth is warm? As my mother used to say.

“Why do they spit all the time?”

They don’t. Just now and again.

“Look, they are now pushing and shoving each other. I thought they were not allowed to do that?”

They are not supposed to. But when one team is taking a corner, the defending team tries to stop them, any way they can, hoping the ref won’t see, or at least won’t penalise them.

“Why has that one got a fat bum when the rest are so lean and thin?”

Don’t be rude. That is the goalie, pet. Goalies tend to be heavier than the rest, it helps them develop a very strong kick, sending the ball right upfield. He is the England goalie.

“Oh, that one looks nice. What’s his name?”

Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

“Nice name as well.”

You are supposed to be watching the game, not fancying the players.

“Why do the managers all chew gum?”

They don’t. Just some.

“Is that one dead? He is writhing in agony. Goodness, he’s now got up and running. Is that part of the game?”

Yes they go to acting lessons.

“Oh he looks horrible. And what an awful tie. What’s his name?”

Sean Dyche. Good manager, doing a good job with a rubbish team.

“Looks like he should be managing a pub. That one is interesting, with the long hair. Did he used to be a folk singer?”|

He is the Brentford manager. Comes from Denmark.

“Why have they all got funny names?”

Because they come from funny places.

“What are they singing now?”

It’s rude. You wouldn’t understand.

“I went to a girls’ boarding school and we sang rude songs in the dorm all the time.”

You have been warned. Stick to the game.

“The commentator keeps saying that the play is end to end. And that it’s a game of two halves. Isn’t that the point?”

Well spotted. They have to speak in clichés as they have 90 minutes to fill in.

“Goodness, that was an exciting bit, the commentator is still shouting. But where is the ball? I couldn’t follow it.”

Nor could he. It’s called a goalmouth scramble.

“It was more like table football. Or do I mean a pinball machine? I used to love playing that when I was young…”

Just concentrate on the game. Keep your childhood memories to yourself.

“Hey, you’ve turned it off. Is it half-time? I wanted to watch Gary Lineker. Is he playing? Which side was he on ? Did I miss him?”

That’s it. You are banned.

[See also: Sarina Wiegman’s mystery playbook]

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This article appears in the 22 Nov 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The paranoid style