Recovering from a triple heart bypass, I’m housebound with nowt to do but watch football

In normal times, I only ever watch the game itself, avoid the build-ups and studio discussions. But now I am stuck in my chair, unable to move, captive.

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There are not many pluses to being housebound, but watching football is such a blessing. If only my father had had footer on TV in the 1950s when he was lying in bed with MS, perhaps he would not have thrown his meals at my mother so often.

It is now four weeks since I had my triple heart bypass and I like to think I have not become bad tempered or depressed. Just furious, still can’t believe it happened, and fed up, stuck here in the house for another four weeks at least, unable to do nowt. I can’t face TV drama, but then I never watched it anyway, although everyone has recently been raving. I can never understand the plots. And when I do, I am not interested in the characters; I don’t care what happens. But with live football, I care about every game – I do – until it is over. Then I forget totally what has occurred.

In normal times, I only ever watch the game itself, avoid the build-ups and studio discussions. I jump up the second the whistle blows, rush into the garden, walk round the block. I have enough of my own banal comments, thank you. But now I can’t rush, or jump up. I am stuck here in my chair. The slightest movement and my chest is in agony.

An operation is bad enough, but painkillers are often worse, the awful side effects more hellish than the problem itself. So I have to sit still, unable to move, captive, while Alan Shearer drones on, stating the bleedin’ obvious. Danny Murphy, his love child, is being groomed to replace him: same shaved head, shirt, mad stare. I like Ian Wright, he amuses me, twittering away, though I suspect the other Football Brains around the table think he is an absolute idiot.

Graeme Souness commands respect, just as he did on the field. You don’t mess with his arguments. I gather Souness has had a triple bypass – so naturally I study him, looking for signs. You do empathise with folks in similar positions: did Glenn Hoddle have a bypass after his heart attack?

If I am furious, think how these ex-footballers must feel, having spent their professional lives being ever so sensible with diet and fitness.

Gary Lineker is an admirable, well-loved media star. And he smiles flirtatiously. He deserves to be well paid. He made himself into a star, and has a good agent, Jon Holmes. I went to see Lineker once when he was at Spurs and was surprised to find him living in a Georgian gem in St John’s Wood. He had just been interviewed by some lads from a fanzine. I asked why he had bothered and he said, after playing, he wanted to get into the media, so the more he experienced the better.

I thought at first his Leicester accent would hold him back. It did seem so broad and whiny and he seemed embarrassed by it. But now he is so fluent and polished and classless. And also amused. You feel he does not take football too seriously.

Alan Smith, also ex-Leicester, and later Arsenal, has to my ears a similar Midlands accent – which has not left him. He is bright, more O-levels than Gary, yet he has not progressed far in the media, still co-commentating for Sky Sports, saying very little of interest. Gary is a media sophisticate by comparison.

Jimmy Hill, another ex-player who became a media star, progressed further than any of them, in that he moved from chairing studio chat to TV management. But he was such a know-all, and humourless, and his voice grated.

Gary Neville arrived to acclaim, the dressing room lawyer, he would sort out all the sloppy thinking, but now he spends too much time on the electronic board, pushing balls around. His failure as a manager at Valencia has lessened his credibility. His hair is beginning to recede, making him look like the new Arsenal manager.

Jamie Carragher has the most distinctive accent of all the pundits: I suspect in real life he went to Eton and has picked up his Scouse tones from listening to The Fast Show. When he talks, there suddenly appears a no-go zone around him, the others back off, listen in awe, showing respect, while trying not to laugh. I never do. It would hurt my chest. 

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 first appeared in the 09 November 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Revenge of the nation state