But that was a long time ago, and since then my attitude to the game has soured. Recently, it seems to me, the whole football fan thing has gone mad. Apart from the rage-inducing saturation coverage it gets on radio and television, it's now a compulsory special subject. Supporting a team with devotion bordering on mental ill health is no longer seen as sad, or strictly for men without inner lives or girlfriends. It's become fashionable.
I blame Nick Hornby. I haven't read Fever Pitch, but perhaps that's why I enjoyed the film. Fans of the book (almost everybody else) and Arsenal supporters expecting a feature-length football match will be disappointed, whereas I can't name an Arsenal player, have no attachment to the sacred text and was only there for Colin Firth in the starring role. The poster is not encouraging, showing him in unflattering Arsenal strip, arm raised in gormless, celebratory salute. But luckily the film bears no relation to this picture. It's engaging, has one or two very funny moments, excellent performances, great music and made me feel ashamed of my weariness and snobbery. And if, like me, you have no memory of the1989 League Championship season, with its legendary Arsenal vs Liverpool decider, you will also be in an agreeable state of agitated suspense.
The point is that Fever Pitch is not a football film. It's more about growing up, relationships (the difficulty of persuading one's boyfriend to play ball, as it were), obsession, excitement and the bizarre business of being a fan. I can relate to that. But when Paul (Colin Firth) says to his uncomprehending girlfriend, "At least in football there's a chance that any moment something might happen that we'll never forget for the rest of our lives", I realise I may have missed out.
I like football, I like English men and I'm a sucker for sentimental love stories, which should make me the perfect viewer of Fever Pitch, the soccer film that is supposed to explain them (men) to us. I went to my first game aged about five (Flamengo playing at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro) and I still have the accessories - tiny red-and-black striped shirt and tattered flag. I even went out with a man who supported Leyton Orient, which takes dedication, optimism and, more important, a sense of proportion: he could take pleasure in a no-score draw and he could (more often) draw philosophical breath after defeat.
So I don't buy the tag-line to Fever Pitch: "Life gets complicated when you love one woman and worship 11 men." I don't see why it should: it seems so obvious that any normal man could have football and love, assuming he had a shred of imagination.
This is what strikes me as bizarre about Paul, the hero of Fever Pitch, played by Colin Firth: you'd think the heat of his passion for Arsenal might warm the cockles of his heart. Instead, he behaves as if the emotions generated by football obliterate the possibility of any other love.
He is a teacher conducting simultaneous love affairs - the one with Arsenal, the other with Sarah, another teacher - but the first relationship is the one that counts. Paul is warm, fun, loveable; Sarah is dour, uptight, hard, just like George Graham, the Arsenal manager. It is endearing when he tells her that football allows him to be a child - but he is so childish that he is incapable of saying he loves her.
Football is only a game, however beautiful, and most men, most football fans, know that, despite the Loaded culture that encourages men to be witless emotional cripples. And most women - like Paul's lover, mother and sister - are perfectly willing to accept Arsenal or Man U or (less common) Leyton Orient as another player in their communal life, and even to enjoy them.
I hope Paul's one-dimensional character is the product of slack film- making rather than a sharp documentary eye. For if this is the finest flowering of thirty-something manhood, we are all doomed to life in a lesbian separatist collective.Reuse content