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Alex James: Play football, but don't watch it


The older I get the more interesting I find lawyers and accountants. My accountant invited me to take my son to the football on Saturday. I am now so middle-aged that I'd rather listen to accountants than watch footballers, and I'm not sure what the greater draw was. Still along we went, taking my dad as well. It was the nicest box I've ever been in. The only criticism that could possibly be levelled at it was that it overlooked a mediocre football team.

Still, do you want an outstanding view of something not so outstanding or vice-versa? That is the central question of life, for accountants at least.

There was excellent food, it was clean and comfy, a really nice place to be. Flooded with warm sunshine, it felt like I could reach out and touch the spotless turf beyond the zinging spotless glass. We got there early, for lunch, and the perfect pitch, like a jewel made me yearn to play football and be brilliant with an aching heart. I wanted to run out there and crack one in from the edge of the box.

Things got ugly as soon as the away supporters arrived. We had an outstanding view of them.

"Can they see us?" I asked. They couldn't. Pretty soon we were all paying more attention to the away supporters than the lacklustre teams. What a horrible sight that crowd was. Nothing like the rapturous faces of big crowds at a music festival.

I vowed I'd never go to a football match again after getting hugged on a terrace by a man who had soiled himself when England scored against Germany in the qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup, and now I remembered exactly why. This sea of twisted snarling faces held all the worst things in the world and none of the nice ones.

Afterwards. The car was stuck down a road that had been closed off by riot police. The three of us – me, a six-year-old and a 78-year-old – crept around the friendly back alleys of a housing estate, avoiding the skirmishes. It was a war zone.

I still wanted to play football when I got home. It occurred to me that playing the very worst game of football is so much better than watching even the very best game of football. If the men on the terrace had spent the afternoon playing each other at football instead of watching it, maybe they wouldn't have been so angry, or so fat.

Feeling the pinch after chasing dinner

How nice it was, how pleasant to be padding up the quiet country paths at full speed once more on Monday: the thrill of urban lawlessness trumped by the thrill of nature.

Primroses and forget-me-nots edging the pathways, spontaeneous and perfect. The woods and hedgerows are suddenly teeming with life so bright and colourful it has felt like we are living underwater the last week or so, especially with the atmosphere becoming slightly tangible.

I've been chasing deer all week. I don't know what I'll do if I catch one, but there are dozens in the valley and whenever I see one now, I'm after it. I've gone after the larger ones, the reds and the fallows, but I don't really stand a chance on my own with them.

They are too big and fast. But those little muntjacs, they are the most delicious thing I've ever tasted and with just a bit of luck I'm certain I could bring one down bare-handed. I was really enjoying a new pair of spikes, the male equivalent of Laboutin heels, but I've had to throw them away. They must have been slightly small as my big toenails have gone black and the one on my left foot is peeling off.

I've been trying to look after myself, though. I've taken to having sports massages. A sports massage is ever so slightly surgical and ever so slightly really painful. There are no candles or pan pipes involved. Just a man pinching me where it hurts while asking me, "what do you think of the election?" That was his opening gambit. It's harder to think of a more succinct definition of torture. I spent an hour screaming.

How can medical staff miss a break like this?

I was in the bedroom. The kids were bouncing on the bed. One of the three-year-olds started screaming. Not unusual but he was still crying after a cuddle and he wouldn't stop.

Mrs James took him to hospital. The doctor said he would be ok. He was still crying in the evening so I took him to hospital and we were sent home again. After that we told him to stop moaning and even took him out for lunch the next day.

The morning after that he was still in a lot of pain so Mrs James took him to another hospital. She phoned me several times throughout the day, sounding more anxious each time a new specialist arrived. Eventually she was in the middle of a medical scrum and a CT scan showed that our little boy had a broken neck. Apparently it's easily overlooked, but the worry is that sometimes a broken neck can be quite serious.

What have we learned? I suppose as a parent you know your children better than anyone else. If in doubt don't take No for an answer. Or even two "No's". We knew something was wrong. It was a close shave but the boy's doing fine.