A Premier League footballer once bought the house next door to me. My neighbours were worried. They didn't want to approve his planning application for an underground swimming pool, home gym and the rest. They were in a flutter of genteel fears about loud parties, Essexual behaviour and naff additions to the front.
I was all for it, not because I had the slightest interest in football – the substantive playing of it or going to it – nor because I knew anything about the player (I learnt all about him from cab drivers; he turned out to be quite famous then), but because it was at the time 'Footballers' Wives' had just launched on ITV and I thought some of that might be enacted in the back garden – extravagant cook-outs, under-dressed orange-and-blonde WAGs and the whole life the nation was obsessing about.
At the same time, I wished – I always have – that people would shut up about football itself. It occupies an extraordinary amount of space – newsprint and airtime. It's so universal, it's borderline oppressive. For the past 25 years, football references have been a way for middle-class, middle-aged people to show their demotic, youthful grasp of the culture, to find a collective ice-breaker.
The real tyranny of modern observance isn't politicians pretending to music tastes they don't have, but rather every last one of them, together with everyone else in public life, assuming a team and an enthusiasm when you know they'd be happier with a backward-sloping demand curve rap.
The fascinating thing is that all this has happened precisely over the period when the real ties that bind – of class and community and engaging British small-business hopelessness – have melted away. When 'Match of the Day' was young, football clubs were small local businesses, most players were Brits – even local – and transfer fees of more than 30 bob were a marvel. The short, young literary novelist Martin Amis interviewing the short, young footballer Kevin Keegan in a broadsheet in 70-something was a taste- pioneering gesture.
Now top clubs – and especially the two in the Moscow match – are owned by seriously rich foreigners who see them as global brand investments. The players are outsourced from everywhere and are brands too, with managers and agents, contracts and pension plans. They're miles away from all the Nobbies and Stans. So when those middle-class, born-again fans signal their loyalties, they might as well be signing up for Coca-Cola.
Nothing could be more new footballer-ish than giant tellies; they dominate the room and you can watch football in HD on them. So it's not surprising that the upwardly mobile Korean electronics brand Samsung has hired a quartet of Chelsea players to star in its new commercial for super-TVs (Samsung is Chelsea's shirt-sponsor).
The footballers are in suits, shuffling about in a pho-tographer's studio, with Donna Air behind the camera working out what to do with them. They're ranged by height, looking very average. One's a Brit, one Czech, one Ghanian and one French-Caribbean. But they come to life when she throws a football at them, doing all their clever, tricky things.
It's performance, like the new Samsung Series 6. "It's design that performs", they say. It looks nice enough, and plenty big enough.
Then Donna's stalking a room that's shiny and crystalline – exactly the kind of room that a Premiership player would get if he bought the show flat – with the contents of the most expensive development in the hinterland of Stamford Bridge on the Fulham Road.Reuse content