Ken Jones: Count me out as soon as the fanatics of football debate their unhealthy obsession

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The Independent Football

It must be 60 years since I last supported a football team. Correction, it is 60 years. You're right, that was back in the war, the second big one. Growing up in Birmingham, a boy emigrant from the depressed mining valleys of South Wales, my team was Aston Villa. I don't remember why, but I followed them with a passion. If it is going further back than some of us like to remember, the names are easily recalled: Alex Massie, George Cummings, Frank Broome, Eric Houghton, Bob Iverson and others. They filled my waking hours, sometimes invaded my dreams.

I grew up, moved on and kept moving. Soon, Villa's results, their ups and downs, came to mean very little, in time nothing at all. The bond had been broken, not to be replaced by another. People form emotional attachments that last a lifetime but it does not matter very much to me who wins or loses. I'm not a red or a white, a blue whatever. I can usually find something to excite me but most of the time I watch football with cold detachment. Last week I saw England defeat Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. There was a time when this would have stirred my patriotism but since Wales had no genuine chance against one of the favourites for next year's World Cup my one concern was that they would avoid humiliation. That was it. End of story.

Friends tell me that I am missing something. They can't work out the difference between a follower and a fan. Truth is that I don't need to share in their obsessional subjectivity, their pseudo-intellectual discussions.

I am not cold about the game, just realistic. If they want to speak about pace, touch, imagination and, yes, a bit of spite too, I'm up for it; otherwise I'm heading for the door.

After all these years I no longer look for the results of clubs who have understandably forgotten that I played for them. Back in the 1960s I had a soft spot for Tottenham Hotspur. My cousin Cliff Jones was in the team and I'd formed friendships with a number of the players, Danny Blanchflower, Dave Mackay, Bill Brown and John White.

Above all though, it was down to the marvellous football played under their great manager, Bill Nicholson. I was instinctively drawn to them, much as it was impossible not to be drawn to Muhammad Ali. In that sense I became a fan again. Now it is only a memory.

There are fans and fans. It is no revelation that the majority of people who follow Manchester United are from somewhere else. Probably they have got another team tucked away but in the workplace there is no currency like success.

Once on a train I met a fellow I had not seen for many years. An Arsenal supporter, he wore a club badge in his lapel. A year or so later - this was during one of the bleaker periods in Arsenal's history - I saw him cheering for Tottenham. Realising my astonishment, he launched a pre-emptive strike. "Know what you're thinking," he said, "but it's not true. I never was an Arsenal fan." He was, and it possibly made him unique.

Shortly before the present epic Test series began I took the quite generous odds on offer against England regaining the Ashes. So far, things have gone pretty well but I was betting with my head rather than my heart. The wager was struck after a conversation with some cricketing types, including a former player of distinction, at a testimonial dinner. All were not in agreement but the view that an ageing Australian team might be there for the taking was so persuasively put by one member of our company that a small risk, small in that I was betting in twenties rather than hundreds, seemed worth taking.

Thus, reluctantly it must be said, I put the prospect of profit above allegiance to Australian cricket. That allegiance began back in 1945 when, following the cessation of hostilities in Europe a series of festival matches was put on by Warwickshire County Cricket Club. A number of notable players took part - I got my one and only glimpse of the great West Indian all-rounder Leary Constantine - but a team from the Royal Australian Air Force captured my imagination, especially since it included the marvellous Keith Miller, who became quickly one of my sporting heroes.

I have some friends who support Chelsea. They are fanatics. Season ticket-holders at Stamford Bridge, they never miss a home game and travel frequently for away fixtures here and abroad. Two weeks ago I met up with them at White Hart Lane shortly after Chelsea defeated Tottenham Hotspur. The game had its moments but it never set the pulse racing. Even when up against 10 men following the dismissal of Mido in the 25th minute, Chelsea played a conservative game. For my friends, victory was enough.

My thoughts went back to the all-too-short years of Bill Shankly's retirement. Asked whether he was seeing the game differently, Shankly said, "Aye, I now see two teams where I only saw one." It is recommended.

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