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 Post subject: Why The Hell Do We Love Football...?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 26, 2010 12:37 pm 
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We football fans are a strange lot.

After an especially tedious game last season, I turned off the TV in disgust and said "Christ that was a waste of time, what a load of bloody rubbish!"

This will be a familiar feeling to all of you, I know.

"So why do you watch every single game then?" said Dawn, ever the pragmatic Geordie, sucking down on a large tequila.

I didn't have a glib answer, prepared.

She continued,

"You always seem to be watching rubbish football matches; almost none of them are particularly exciting and you're always moaning about it. Half the players and managers annoy the hell out you and the side you want to win almost always seems to lose. You've spent 40 years supporting Middlesbrough which you've always said has been more akin to torture than pleasure and they've won almost nothing. Doesn't it strike you as, well, downright insane?"

When she put it like that, yes it did and it got me thinking.

Why the hell do we love football? Why the hell is football so damn popular? It can't just be the occasionally exciting game of 22 men kicking a ball around a rectangle of grass that keeps us addicted to it in such massive numbers, at all levels, week after week, year after year, can it? I mean, there's no guarantee of any quality or excitement at any game. It's not like going to see Springsteen where you know he'll play to a certain standard. Even the biggest, most important, high-level football game can be so boring it makes your eyeballs melt. But that doesn't stop us watching in huge numbers.

Think about it, how many hours have you spent just in the last week watching, reading, thinking, talking and arguing about football? If you love your football, I'd wager its one hell of a lot of hours; more hours than you've spent on politics, news, or food, more even than sex. When you love the game, football totally dominates your life from early morning to late at night.

Even clubs located on the edge of bleak moors who play their football in biting winds that chill you to the bone still regularly attract more people than a provincial theatre could reasonably attract for a top flight production. And they have comfy seats and don't treat you as though you are little more than a farmyard animal.

This is all a bit odd really. If any other form of entertainment is persistently rubbish, or is performed in cold, uncomfortable and possibly dangerous surroundings, you wouldn't wilfully return to witness it perhaps up to 40 or 50 times a year, let alone call yourself a fan of it, tattoo its crest on your arm or spend a small fortune on nylon shirts to show your loyalty to it.

We don't pay up to seventy quid go to the movies and stand in the freezing rain, bored rigid for an hour and half and risk getting food poisoning from a half frozen pie. No-one travels hundreds of miles for ninety minutes of dubious entertainment every other week, as dedicated away fans do. Even the more wealthy middle-class arts crowd don't regularly travel to distant parts of Europe just to see an hour and a half of their favourite cultural activity, especially when to do so often risks being whacked about the head with a large piece of wood by the police or being confronted with a few thousand locals brandishing a banner reading, 'welcome to hell.'

Only football fans do all these things in significant numbers. It is extraordinary, yet all of these things are accepted as normal life for the football fan.

No-one seemed to have asked why football is so popular before, which is exactly why I set about writing my new book, We Ate All The Pies; How Football Swallowed Britain Whole, now available from all the usual book-type places.

Football is a major part of millions of people's lives, a part that they simply cannot live without, as compulsive as any addictive narcotic. We buy the shirts, the season tickets, the magazines, the TV subscriptions and of course, the pies. We drink in pubs and watch it on big screens, we meet up and talk about it - talk about it endlessly. We visit websites to find out news, views and to abuse those with whom we disagree on message boards. We take it all for granted as a normal part of our daily lives. But how did we get here?

In We Ate All The Pies I go back through the history of my football life to better understand how football gets under your skin from an early age, buries itself deep and never leaves you; how it helps to create a lifestyle and an attitude for you, how it expands your horizons and helps shape and express the person you are.

I look at everything from replica shirts and memorabilia, to the history of football on TV, to football food. I look at its own unique language and beyond to see how the game helps us deal with life's ups and down and how it influences our relationships.

Yes, it's a book about drinking, eating, fighting and swearing. Yes, there are many football-based tales that involve vomiting up a whole fried egg, tying an Arsenal fan to a lamp post with his own shirt, wiping sperm off Jimmy Hill's beard; not to mention being tortured by the face of Nottingham Forest's Ian Storey-Moore. There's all that and much more as I try to uncover just how our lives become dominated by the game of Association Football from an early age.

Until I undertook this task, I hadn't fully realised just how I got hooked on football as a small boy and exactly why this addiction remains as strong as ever over 40 years later and perhaps more amazing still, will remain a passion until the day I pass beyond the corporeal world. Even then I intend to haunt the housing estate that now sits on top of Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough's old ground, the place where I was indoctrinated into the beautiful game, despite it rarely, if ever, being beautiful.

So if you fancy going on this journey into the culture of football with me, I'd love you to buy a copy of We Ate All The Pies and after you've read it, maybe, just maybe, it'll provide you with an answer when that non-football-loving person in your life asks you, 'Why the hell do you love football so much?' And it's much more dangerous relation, 'You love football more than me.'

Fancy a free book? If you'd like a copy of Johnny's great new book just email us your name and address to theeditor@football365.com, put We Ate All The Pies in the subject box and we'll draw three lucky winners out of a hat. It's a dandyish yet attractive purple fedora with a little feather, in case you're interested.

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