Ican't believe I'm telling you this," My friend leant forwards conspiratorially over the table. He looked furtively around the bar. "The thing is... I've started to like football." I was gobsmacked. I couldn't believe it. How could he do this to me? He was always the ally who stood tall by my side as we poured scorn on the chosen game of tattooed hairdressers. When anybody asked who we supported, he would look as equally revolted as I. They never asked: "Do you like football?". There was just always that matey assumption that you had to support someone. Now, here I was, midnight in a hotel lobby bar in west London, with my friend doing the equivalent of telling me that he had started hanging around outside schools. I took a deep breath.
"How did this happen?" I tried to sound calm but my voice cracked noticeably.
"I guess it was work. I was the only one who didn't care about the game and everybody was always talking about matches in the mornings and I just got drawn in I suppose." I looked at him with ill-disguised contempt.
"Let me get this right," I said. "You've started liking football because the people you work with like it. What if they were all into Satanism, would you go for that too?"
"I'd definitely give Satanism a go," he replied. "I did a ouija board once..."
"So, what do you watch – internationals, club games, women's football?" I said.
"I've got a team I support." I looked at him without saying anything for a long time. I felt a little sick.
"You've... got a team? How... who?"
"Fulham. I support Fulham."
"Because they're my local team."
"No they're not, you live about three minutes from QPR." I was actually embarrassed to know where QPR was, but I always cut past the ground on my way to pick up the finest falafels in the known world from the Palestinian falafel bloke in Shepherd's Bush market.
"Yeah, but... they're rubbish."
"So, you just decided to support Fulham... just like that? Have you been to a game?"
"Yes, three weeks ago."
"What? Who with?"
"Somebody from work."
"And did you enjoy it?"
"Yes, we had a corporate box and you could eat and watch the game and it was great."
"I can't believe this, what do you want me to say to you? Well done? Maybe you want me to get up and start running around this bar pretending I'm an aeroplane before putting my shirt over my head and kissing you like a girl, do you?"
"No... I just like it. I was listening to a game on the radio before I came out."
"On the radio? What, in the car?"
"No, at home..."
"Why didn't you watch it on the telly?"
"Because Susan was watching something so I went into the kitchen and listened to it on the radio."
"I think you're mentally ill."
"We won... we're in the final in Hamburg."
"I honestly couldn't care less."
"I'm going to the final... in Hamburg."
"What? Three weeks ago you get into football and now you've signed up to become a roving international hooligan? What are you going to do? Get there early, get smashed, sing songs about Hitler and then throw loads of plastic chairs at the riot police while goose-stepping?"
"It's not like that... it's all very civilised... my friend works for a sports management company and we're going in their jet."
The waiter interrupted us and asked whether we'd like any more drinks. I ordered a triple vodka and lime and had a strong urge to smoke.
"You can come if you like. You'll love it," he said.
I saw red. It wasn't bad enough that he had been converted but now, like some rabid missionary, he was trying to get me to come over to the synthetic-shirt brigade.
"You must be bloody joking. There's not a hope in hell. You know that it's one of my 'things' – the fact that I've never been to a football match – it's my 'Never Seen Star Wars' thing. I hate football. I hate football players with their stupid, highlighted haircuts, ludicrous tattoos and oversized shiny watches. I hate football supporters with their pit bulls and tattoos and xenophobia..."
"What is it with you and tattoos?"
"I hate them... don't tell me you've got one."
"No, of course not," he said.
"Thank Christ for that."
Suddenly a drunk Sloane stumbled towards us..."Sccuuuse me... are you Don Jolly?"
"Please go away, we're in the middle of a conversation," I said.
"Orrreally, what about?"
"Football," said my friend.
"Ohh coooool, who do you support?"
I hate snooker as well, except when I can't sleep – it invariably puts me straight out. I'll probably find out one of my kids has decided to take it up professionally soon...