I was assaulted in the cinema the other day. I even know the name of my assailant but I won't be pressing charges against him - partly because I know he was incited by the offer of large amounts of money and partly because advert-related injuries aren't yet taken as seriously as they should be. The man in question was Sean Bean and he was appearing in Sky Television's promotion for its coverage of the new football season. You will probably have seen elements of this campaign, even if you haven't been to the cinema recently - it features on rather solemn posters, including one in which a small child is pictured reaching up to touch the hem of Dennis Bergkamp's garment. But as fatuous as the posters are they don't come close to the religiose pomp of the Gospel according to Bean, a sermon delivered in his trademark "don't-mess-with-me" tones. "Life," he begins sternly, "it can be difficult. You know that. We all need someone to rely on. Someone that's going to be there. Someone that's going to make you feel like you belong. Someone constant." The images suggest that he has in mind the England and Arsenal player Tony Adams for this messianic role - a man whose constancy is debatable, to say the least. I suppose Jesus also had a spell in jail, but as I recall it wasn't for drunken driving.

Bean is just getting warmed up though; suddenly the soundtrack music begins to pulse with a martial beat and he speaks more urgently. "It's ecstasy. Anguish. Joy. Despair. It's part of our history, part of our country and will be part of our future!" Calm down, mate, you think. It's only a game. But by now he's beginning to rant. "It's theatre! Art! War and love," he continues. "It's our religion. We do not apologise for it! We do not deny it! They are our team, our family, our life." Then the final legend of the Sky campaign flashes up in print - "We know how you feel about it." Care for a sporting wager on that?

I've been trying to work out why I felt so irritated by this ludicrous piece of hyperbole. It isn't that I mind its infatuation with football (recent Coca-Cola adverts about the passions of being a fan didn't have anything like the same grating quality, partly because they acknowledged the potential comedy of the obsession). Nor is it the aestheticising tendency, by which an operatic voice is added to slow-motion footage for a dependable jolt of rapture - I enjoyed the "Nessun Dorma" montages as much as anyone. It isn't even the jingoism of the thing (one of the longer cuts is of a large Union Jack), however preposterous that appears in the context of a Premier League utterly dependent on foreign players. What got to me, I think, was the defensive aggression of the script ("We do not apologise for it. We do not deny it"), a faintly paranoid strain to the credo which hinted at the existence of people who might threaten this faith. Who forms the "they" which is implied by that repeated "we"?

There's nothing specific in the screen advert to suggest that "we" are all men - though virtually all the faces shown in the advert are male. And while some women are just visible at the edge of one crowd scene they are not identified, in the way that individual male fans are, as indispensable participants in the rituals of football. One part of the poster campaign is more explicit about this gender preference, showing a man looking rather glum alongside the caption "The words every father dreads - Dad, I like rugby". In Camden a team of guerrilla flyposters have amended the last word to "men", which I take to be a sly comment on the faint undertone of sexual panic which the advert contains. Surely they protest too much, all these blokey celebrants of terrace fraternity? And isn't there something vaguely hysterical, too, in the way that football seeks to exclude all other claims to attention - those of art, religion and family. If it is all those things and more then what need do football fans have of anything else? If the team is their family and their life, then what about those also-rans waiting for them back home?

It's possible that my own anxieties may be showing here - I've had many years to come to terms with the fact that I was born without the soccer gene but there are still times that aren't easy - the start of the football season among them. I confess that I've even had vague fantasies of taking my son to an Arsenal match, as though some shred of the relevant DNA had made it through and is stirring a primal bonding urge. But I know I wouldn't be able to perform and I see no signs that the instinct has somehow leapt a generation. He only knows one footballer and he thinks his Christian name is Ooh-Aah. In the simplistic world summoned up by Sky's advert this relegates both of us to a kind of gender limbo, honorary collaborators with the killjoy females, who just don't seem to understand how important it is for men to do their manly thing every Saturday afternoon and as many evenings of the week as they can get away with ("It's a feeling that can't be explained but we spend our lives explaining it" reads one of the lines of the script).

I'm not religious so it makes no real sense for me to describe this advert as blasphemous - but there really should be a secular equivalent for the elevation of false gods and the pretence that the pursuit of pleasure is some kind of spiritual discipline

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