Christopher Hirst: There's more to life than football

Many will doubtless regard my viewing preferences as close to treason


YESSSSS!" screamed the telly-viewing crowd from the pub at the back of our house as an England stalwart slammed one past Sweden's hapless custodian. The mood on our sofa was more pensive as we assessed the situation. "Who do you think it will be at the end?" I asked my wife, a formidably experienced analyst of the confrontation unreeling on our TV.

"Hard to say," she responded after some moments of concentration. "But my money is on Richard Briers." In case you are thinking that Briers, R is a new midfield signing by Roy Hodgson, I should explain that my wife was referring to the genial thesp, who indeed wielded the hypodermic filled with snake venom at the end of Agatha Christie's Marple.

Actually, I think that we might have been watching Joanna Lumley in Midsomer Murders – it is hard to differentiate among the genre of grisly doings in impossibly gorgeous settings that has such potent appeal for British females – but we had Euro 2012 to thank. Not only does it provide a feast of footy but also a cornucopia of genteel mayhem on competing TV channels for those congenitally indifferent to soccer.

Many will doubtless regard my viewing preference as at best incomprehensible, at any rate for a man, or at worst close to treason. In fact, I am deeply, deeply English. I discover my visceral nationalism on the rare occasions when I watch England play. Yes, I do want them to win, but I resent the irrationality of my surging adrenalin. I'm baffled that I should care about 11 millionaires with whom I have nothing in common apart from nationality.

For those who say that sporting success is a unifying factor that can produce rewards well beyond the competitive arena, I might point out that I was in Crete when Greece won Euro 2004. The island went collectively delirious. Later that summer, I attended the Olympics in Athens. The ruinously expensive stadium rang to national cheers: "Hellas! Hellas!" No one would now say that Greece's summer of sporting glory produced any long-term benefits. Quite the reverse, if anything.

The fact is that sport on TV is no more than another indulgent entertainment. It is no better or worse than Midsomer Murders.

Yet in a roundabout sort of way, Euro 2012 gave me a transporting experience of another European state. By not watching Russia and Poland get the boot on Saturday, I was able to spend a glorious five and a half hours in the Dublin of June 1904. Radio 4's epic celebration of Bloomsday held me in thrall from "Stately, plump Buck Mulligan..." to Molly Bloom's final affirmation, passionate as any footy fan, "Yes I said yes I will yes."

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