I had a moment of disturbing self-realisation last night. One of those face-in-the-shaving mirror revelations about oneself (though I wasn't shaving), which could have startling implications for my social standing and questions of my manhood.
I don't give a toss about football.
I always said I did, simply because it was de-rigeur, the expected thing, social shorthand, a way of confirming to myself and others that I was normal when every urge or interest I've ever had has led me away from convention and into the netherworlds of imagination, creativity, sexual compulsion, book-learning and politics.
It kept the bullies at school away from me for a while when I joined in with conversations about Match of the Day. They could pick on the real freaks for a while then, the ones with too much integrity to pretend they cared about such a pointless and uninteresting game.
And it comforted me, despite it being a form of self-deception, to believe I shared a passion with the cruel simians who made my life so difficult. I didn't know what difference was back then. I thought it was a curse, not a blessing. That I had been marked out for a life of suffering. Which given the fact that somebody would abuse me or mock me or shove me or threaten me or hit me several times every day at school is not as melodramatic a conclusion to draw as it sounds.
I wanted to believe I could be like them so they would leave me the hell alone. I wanted to walk like them (arrogant swagger), talk like them (loud monosyllables and swearing), look like them (short-hair, same clothes as everyone else), think like them (not at all), share their interests (punk rock and footie). And though I cut my hair and swore at every available opportunity--although I attempted to walk as if I were wearing a wet incontinence pad (a walk Liam Gallagher perfected years later)--football was the only one of those I could pull off with any real conviction.
The trappings of conformity to that early ideal of convention have been falling away slowly for a long time now. Anyone who knows me in the flesh will attest to that. I can't even hear a conversation about "shagging birds" these days without wanting a hot shower (and sadly I hear such crude sexist claptrap from the majority of the men I know most of the time).
But a vague belief that I was "football mad" clung on longer than any other lie I told myself in my efforts to be one of the lads. I'm not, though. I can watch it if it's on, and there's nobody else in the room enjoying it. (Somehow that reminds me of what a mechanically conformist activity watching football is--like watching X Factor for people who are insecure about their sexuality--and it makes me want to go somewhere else and read.) But watching football is not the same as loving football. I can watch Stargate and Countdown too on a slow day.
If I like football as much as I've told other people (and myself from time to time), how come I've never been to an actual football match? And why can't I name anybody in the current Ipswich team? Nor do I actually give a shit who's in the current Ipswich team.
Let the past and present school bullies and street thugs and car thieves and men with little willies and big porn collections and middle class blokes who want to prove their connection to the streets and mummy's boys who just want someone to sing with and people who need a substitute for a complete lack of any personality or passion of their own worry about such things.
There is, to be fair, a small number of true football aesthetes out there turning up week after week at tiny venues for a genuine love of the game. And they will always be there, despite Sky's influence.
But I'm not one of them. Never have been, never will be. My twin passions are music and books, and that's never going to change, however lonely that leaves me in old age.
Admitting this to myself as well as to anybody else who might be listening is tremendously liberating.