How to enjoy the beautiful game when Saturday comes

TOMORROW IS the big day. Until this summer, you had resisted the social pressure to join the Saturday afternoon crowd. You had read your Nick Hornby but had been unimpressed by his portrait of a game as some kind of tedious universal metaphor. You were irritated by the way everyone seems to have become infected by a Motsonesque world-view. Give and go, late tackle, he'll be disappointed with himself for that one: how puerile it all seemed.

It changed, didn't it? Maybe it Was the Blanco Bounce or the chirpy Nigerians, or the enchantingly naive Americans. Even before Hoddle's Heartbreak Heroes triumphed, all but technically, against the Argies, you were hooked.

Now you cannot wait for the new season to start. You have chosen your team. You have bought your scarf. But do you know how to behave when Saturday comes?

On being moved along by a policeman on a horse

Football fans and police officers have a joshing, happy relationship. So when a mounted policeman attempts to herd you forward with other supporters, nothing amuses him more than if you surreptitiously loosen the girths of his saddle. Seeing a PC slither under his horse's stomach will always add to the good spirit of the occasion.

Chatting with supporters of the opposing team

Ever since football was transformed from being a national disgrace into the game with a smile on its face, clubs have encouraged fans to mingle with each other, comparing the relative merits of each team with good- natured ragging and badinage. If you are lucky enough to be surrounded by opposing supporters, it can add to the atmosphere to express a provocatively interesting view of their players, asking, for example, the name of the big carthorse they have in central defence. If they express disappointment with one of their own team, do not hesitate to agree.

Supporting the sincere efforts at impartiality on the part of the referee

There are few lonelier jobs in football that that of referee. At moments of controversy, express your solidarity with the official by standing up, pointing your finger and singing a traditional song created in the memory of the World Cup's first referee, the Burmese legend Hustha Wan Ka. Many a game has been marked by supporters revealing their sense of history by chanting "Hustha Wan Ka, Hustha Wan Ka, Hustha Wan Ka in the black'

Expressing solidarity with fans in the traditional way

Although the abolition of terracing has sadly led to decline in this practice, there are moments when supporters, standing close together, bond with the fan in front of them by "marking" them rather as dogs mark lampposts. Do not on any account remonstrate if someone marks you in this manner. It is his way of saying, with direct, manly body language, "You're all right, mate [or darling]. You're one of us."

Invading the pitch

Around their ground, crouching with their backs to the game and watching you are people in yellow coats known as "stewards". They are there to make you feel at home, rather in the manner of Redcoats at Butlin's holiday camps. A sure way of endearing yourself to a steward is to run on to the pitch when a goal is scored, skipping past his attempts to bring you down, and gambol about, swinging from the crossbar of the goal, embracing players and waving to the crowd. Purists insist you should remove all your clothes before you invade the pitch but this is a skilled manoeuvre that should perhaps be kept until your third or fourth visit.

Conversing with middle-class intellectuals in the crowd

These days, every club has its resident media thinker. Leicester City has Julian Barnes, Spurs have Karl Miller and Ian Hamilton. The wing-collared scholar and biographer DJ Taylor is a Norwich fan or, as he puts it, "numbers himself among stalwarts of the Norvicensian persuasion". If you hear one of these intellectuals talking throughout a game, as they tend to, it is quite acceptable to proffer the traditional greeting, "Shut the f- up, you toffee-nosed tosser".

Celebrating a goal

Just as players fall on each other after a goal is scored in an ecstatic mime of the other form of "scoring", so you are expected to "mate" with opposing fans, jumping about on them in a humorous imitation of the sexual act.

Enjoy the game. You could be in for the most unforgettable 90 minutes of your life.

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