I have gained two lasting pieces of wisdom from the sweary, eardrum-splitting, foam-at-the-mouth, opponent-baiting cacophony that was watching football in my youth.
The first is that however good the football is, if you sit in the cheap seats behind goal it’s like trying to view an exhibition at the National Gallery while somebody stands very close to you and shouts in your face for 90 minutes.
The second is that, at 50, you can recognise masochism when you see it. You no longer feel the visceral, near-psychotic commitment of the 30-something footie fan, for whom the grimness of queuing in the rain for a pie and the obligation to journey to FA Cup ties in lower-league northern park-your-whippets-here stadiums is an essential part of the package.
When you get to middle life, your needs as a football consumer change. For a start, you can afford a seat with a decent view
What does this tell us about watching football at 50? It’s that when you get to middle life, your needs as a football consumer change. For a start, you can afford a seat with a decent view. You’re grown-up now, and aesthetic pleasure matters more than tribal values.
You don’t have to watch Bolton any more, just because your dad and grandad did. And you have the detachment and experience to appreciate the game on an intellectual level rather than a martial one.
Who to watch
This season, there’s a host of reasons why it could be the best yet. You can enjoy Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea and David Moyes’ debut season at reigning champions Manchester United following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement after 26 years. (Both proving that managers come into their own with the big five-oh.)
Or, you can see if Manchester City’s star-studded squad and unlimited financial resources enable them to regain the league title they lost to their derby rivals last season.
Food is another case in point. Consult Football Ground Guide. You want a civilised meal, not pastry-encased dog food or a burger with a fingernail in it. For a proper meal, Norwich and Canary Catering is the kingdom of Delia Smith, and the football is classy, too. If you’re in Manchester, try Manchester Confidential at the National Football Museum.
You’re also allowed to admit you enjoy celebrity spotting. The success of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch triggered the metropolitan middle-class passion for footie. In consequence, a lot of people adopted Hornby’s club, Arsenal, which now features Prince Harry, Tom Cruise and Mo Farah among its supporters. A bonus is that there is no longer the risk of running into their most notorious fan, Osama bin Laden.
Along with various politicians of 1990s vintage, Chelsea can offer David Baddiel, Sir Steve Redgrave and Sebastian Coe.
Then there are the actual stadia to be appreciated. In your youth, the football grounds of the UK were dumps, by and large. Now, many of them are gorgeous and impressive.
In England, Arsenal’s stadium, the Emirates, is outstanding, as is Manchester United’s Old Trafford. At some clubs, the architecture or the location is worth seeing more than the football.
Finally, one of the pleasures of football that can only be admitted to in maturity: ogling. Girls! We women always had too much taste to aspire to being a footballer’s wife, but let’s be honest with ourselves: Premier League football players are some of the finest examples of masculinity, all making having-sex faces when they score goals.
It’s best to look on these pampered, lithe and muscular specimens as if you were a member of the cat fancy, appreciating a supreme champion Burmese. And gentlemen, don’t feel left out. At 50, you should have the confidence to indulge in a little homoerotic appreciation…