WHEN it comes to football, I’ve long since accepted I don’t know my John Terry from my elbow.
My understanding of the beautiful game, it is not unfair to say, could be summed up on the back of a Panini sticker.
Put me in a room full of blokes and, unless Ron Atkinson is there, I will almost certainly understand the least.
I can just about grasp the offside rule – it’s something to do with the salt and pepper pots on my dad’s kitchen table – but there lies my limits.
Which shouldn’t really be a problem.
Certainly I never had any desire to be one of those chaps you find in pubs, parties and places of work discussing metatarsals and metaphorical onion bags.
Except, therein is exactly the problem.
Because when you’re male and of a certain age (roughly 12 to death), if you’re not one of those chaps, you’re just the lad sat in the corner with nothing to say; you’re just the lad who gets a look like you’ve just urinated on someone’s brand new carpet when you bring up theatre or literature; you’re just the lad who’s not really a lad at all.
In short: understanding something of this game is a survival technique every bit as important as understanding how to make fire was to prehistoric man or understanding how to book a motel room is to Bear Grylls.
I grasped this years ago.
I realised I needed to know my tactics from my tiki-taka; my Man U’s from my man-ons; my Doncaster Rovers from a Sunday league shambles.
I learned that when a player says there are no easy games in football, it means they expect to wallop the opposition by a cricket score. I grasped that when a striker kisses a club badge, he wants away. I worked out that barn doors must be hit, parrots are always sick and the other side rarely like it up them.
And, lo, did I start watching on TV, and then in stadia. I begun playing five-a-side. I pinned-up wallcharts during world cups.
And slowly I realised this was no longer a male reconnaissance routine, it was just dead good, like.
I realised, in short, there is a reason why they call it the beautiful game – and it’s not just because of the presenters on Sky Calcio.
I came to the conclusion that this was drama better than theatre; this was finesse as fine as fiction; and, above all else, this was a game where there was no chance of playing for five days and still getting a draw.
I even joined a Fantasy Football League to prove that perhaps I did know a little of this sport – although, as it turns out, my lowly position suggests I don’t.
But it was only this very weekend I realised how bad things had got.
For out for a stroll in Matlock, we – me and her, a one-time Huddersfield Town season ticket holder – stumbled on the town’s little ground where a match was just kicking off. Matlock Town versus FC United of Manchester in the semi-pro seventh tier of the English Football League.
“Don’t even think about it,” she said. But I’d thought about it already, and, in truth, I think so had she.
We paid our £9 and sat in the stand with a burger.
The football was awful.
It was a lovely afternoon.