You can't win when you're a sportaholic

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The Independent Online
NOW that the Olympics are over, and it's possible to switch on the television without listening to David Coleman bite back the tears, and Pakistan and England have finally ground to a halt in their Test series, I should be feeling momentarily happy. The summer games have ended. The winter games have scarce begun. It's the best time of year for people like me, because there's nothing there to get even mildly interested in.

When I say people like me, I mean sportaholics. Not sport addicts - I mean people who used to be sport addicts and think they aren't any more. People who think they have kicked the habit, but who only have to see a 1,500 metres going on to get glued to it and think it is the most important thing in the world to see the end of the race, even though there is no one in it they have ever heard of.

They say that there is no such thing as a cured alcoholic, only an alcoholic who isn't drinking any more, and I am sure the same is true of sportaholics.

Anyone who has gone through a phase of being glued to Match of the Day, or any Olympic Games, or any World Cup, is in danger of reversion to a state where they will watch anything between two teams.

One of the danger signs is switching on a sporting event and being able within seconds to pick a side to back, even though you have no reason to care who wins. I had no intention of watching any of the Olympics, yet I have found myself desperately wanting Cubans I have never seen before to outpoint unknown Americans, and shouting for unfamiliar Americans against unknown Cubans. I have backed Russian gymnasts and German hockey players, and a French table tennis player against a stolid Swede, and there has never been the slightest rhyme or reason about any of it.

I have even switched on a middle-distance race after it has started and decided within a lap or less which of these total unknowns I desperately wanted to win.

You will know you are a sportaholic if you have ever found yourself watching a sport on Channel 4 that you have never heard of before and stayed with it just in order to work the rules out. One of those games from Ireland, for instance, a bit like hockey and a bit like boxing, and that game from Australia played in skin- tight pyjamas which looks like water polo played on dry land, and there's another one from India a bit like tag . . . This is ridiculous, I can feel the symptoms coming on just thinking about it.

Most of the time I can lead quite a normal life. I have learnt to do without late-night television highlights. I don't have any radios tuned to Radio 5. Admittedly, when I am driving past village cricket grounds or wayside football pitches, I slow down to see a ball bowled or corner taken, and I have even found myself pausing on the high road to see if a golfer can reach the green, but on the whole I can go without now, and I do for weeks on end.

I wasn't bad during Wimbledon, even. Though I did find myself watching the final at a friend's house, me quite wanting Ivanisevic to win and she desperate for Agassi to get the title. She couldn't understand how I could back anyone as conventional as Goran.

'Why do you like Agassi so much, then?' I asked. 'He's wonderful,' she said. 'He's such a tart]'

I think the word 'tart' has less pejorative overtones down here in the West Country, but even so it suggests levels of sportaholism that I am not prey to.

The last time I got so emotionally involved was during the European Championship when, although I really couldn't care less about England's hopes, I found myself later on anxiously wanting the Danes to win. I was on holiday in Italy at the time, and had to retire to a hotel bedroom to watch the final against Germany. My four-year-old son watched the game with me, and after a while he said: 'Daddy, why do you hate the reds so much?'

I hadn't realised I had been urging the Danes on so hard. I explained to him that I didn't hate anyone, that it was only a game, that the Danes were a small, part-time side, that it was quite fun to support the underdogs, but the next time the Danes missed a goal and I groaned so hard I fell off the bed, I think he realised there was something wrong with his father.

I just pray it's not hereditary.