Why I Don’t Like Football
… and this is why I don’t like football, not why it is dislikeable, and it’s ‘don’t like’ rather than ‘hate’.
Before you ask whether I’ve actually ever been to a match, I can tell you that I have: Crystal Palace v. somewhere, in the rather dodgy glory days of Malcolm Allison. Crystal Palace won 5-1, and it was quite fun, but not enough to make me want to go again.
After that, any interest I had in football peaked in 1990, when I was on a residential course for women in the civil service during the World Cup. One of the delegates was the daughter of a football coach, so in the bar of an evening she would talk us through the finer points of the matches as we watched. By the time we came home England were in with a chance so I watched until they got knocked out.
Practically as soon as my son went to primary school, he became a Man U supporter. I couldn’t help feeling that, as there was no geographical reason why it should be them, he should get behind a struggling team instead, one that could really do with some extra support. How about Accrington Stanley? Or even better, as he had been born on Merseyside, how about Tranmere Rovers? But he wasn’t having any of it.
I could say that what puts me off football is the tribalism, the undercurrent of violence (as the first item on BBC Radio 4 news recently the England v. Scotland match was billed as ‘a resumption of hostilities’ – I call that downright irresponsible), and the obscene amounts of money in the game, but I’d be lying. It’s really just the shortage of drama.
If I walk past a television showing a football match, it will spark no interest. But if there’s a soap, or a sitcom or a film, no matter how cheesy the dialogue I hear, it will stop me in my tracks while I try to work out who’s who and what their problem is.
And that’s why I like tennis. It ceases to be a sport and becomes a duel between two individuals for whom I’ve created backstories and personalities that enable me to favour one over the other. The Borg v. Connors Wimbledon final was an epic struggle between the enigmatic, measured stealth of Borg with his flowing locks, and the rude, excitable and generally crass Connors. I just haven’t the bandwidth to flesh out 22 players (plus subs) in this way.
The other problem is that most of the time nothing happens. If you’re very unlucky, nothing will happen for 90 minutes. If you’re unluckier still, nothing will happen for another half-hour. But then at least you’re rewarded with a penalty shoot-out, which, if you’ve even the slightest interest in the outcome of the game, is so wildly exciting that you wonder why they didn’t just do this in the first place. In tennis, by contrast, there are tiny triumphs and tragedies every few seconds.
But I bow to no one in my admiration for Gareth Southgate. I love his quiet authority, his dignity, his ability to articulate patriotism in a totally inclusive way – and all the more because I was there with him in spirit on that fateful night in Euro 1996 – sharing his despair, his dark night of the soul, when his saved penalty cost England the semi-final. Now that’s drama.