Hunter Davies on Margaret Forster: What my late wife taught me about football

I first met my wife when we were teenagers, and she was protesting the half-day we'd been given off school to watch Carlisle United.

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I first heard about my wife in 1951 when she was 13 and I was 15. Carlisle United had drawn Arsenal in a Cup replay and the match was going to be at Brunton Park on a Thursday afternoon, as there were no floodlights. Our schools were near the ground, so it was decided to give us all a half-day off.

A girl called Margaret Forster got up a petition at the High School to the headmistress, protesting about the half-day off. School and education were much more important than any silly football game. We couldn’t believe it. Protesting against a holiday from school.

Margaret has just died, on 8 February, aged 77. After 55 years of marriage, I would say she had become a football fan. Not in the sense of going to games, watching on TV, but following it, knowing the main characters, the dramas.

I did drag her to a few Spurs games when we first came to London, saying it would be sociologically interesting. Had sociology been invented in 1960? I think they were still working on the terminology.

Everyone should go to a top football match, along with the Derby, opera, ballet, Grand Prix, circus, pop concert. You should experience each once, so you know why you hate it.

Margaret did not go much after that first year in London. Not with three children, house to clean, useless husband to cook for, and in any spare time writing novels on the kitchen table. She used to maintain that when our son Jake and I came back from White Hart Lane she could tell by how we came through the front door whether Spurs had won. I’d then tell her every detail of the game, whether she asked or not.

In some ways she was more knowledgeable about sport than I was. In the Indie and the Guardian, she always read all the interviews with sportsmen and women, the human-interest ones, rather than the purely sporting. So she always knew how many children John Terry had, or Steven Gerrard, their names and sexes.

But she also knew about the lives of our leading tennis players, cricketers, boxers, athletes, especially athletes. She was interested in them all, and their lives, whereas I can’t multitask in that way. Keeping up with football is more than enough for my tiny mind. So, when watching the Olympics, she could identify the stars, would point them out to me, tell me their life stories, their strengths and weaknesses.

One of the things we used to do, all our married life, was on New Year’s Eve we would sit up late – sometimes till five past ten – and do Our Predictions. First, we took a look back at the year just gone, listing the highlights. Mainly family-related events, like the arrival of a relation’s new baby, a leaking roof repaired.

We also had a short list of Current Topics. This was about the subjects worrying us that very moment, as the New Year arrived. I liked doing that one. A year later, when I read out last year’s worries, we had totally forgotten most of them, the things that had been driving us mad.

Then we did the Predictions for the year ahead. If someone was pregnant, or sitting some exams, we would guess the outcome. Exact dates would be predicted for births – plus names. We never predicted sad things, never listed deaths or failures, just all the happy or relatively happy outcomes.

We did national and world things as well. If there was a general election or presidential election coming up in the year ahead, we each had to guess the winners. With figures.

If there was a World Cup, we had to name the two finalists; the same with the Euro Cup. And each year who would win the Premiership and the FA Cup.

In later years she was becoming fed up with all the football stuff I insisted on. “How long is this going on? I want to go to bed.”

But she usually played the guessing game, to indulge me. I have now forgotten what she predicted on last New Year’s Eve. I can’t look it up till next New Year’s Eve. That was the rule. Neither of us would have predicted Leicester.

I probably said Spurs to win the Prem. I do that every year. Could it be this year – the year she has gone? 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 18 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, A storm is coming

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