When a good friend who’s mad about the gee-gees would ask why I was prepared to miss ‘the big race’ in favour of – oh, I dunno, de-fluffing the back of my rads – I’d pause to mount a sincere defence: ‘because I find horse-racing soporific but the insect-like droning of the race commentator stops me actually getting shut-eye.’

Now I realise that my friend doesn’t need to hear the answer to that because the question combines baffled incomprehension with tolerance for my narrow-mindedness. We are not open to being persuaded on each other’s position.

This is absolutely fine, because that’s the nature of sporting enthusiasm. As a football fan, I enjoy heated debates on 25-year-old reffing decisions, but as a dinner table topic, ‘why didn’t the linesman flag? WHY?’ can soon have non-enthusiast guests falling face down into their delicious tofu ragout or declaring less subtly, ‘I’ll get me coat.’

For the record, I feel the same way about every sport except football and have a theory that the more equipment, jargon and rules a sport accrues, the less sport is actually involved – take golf, with its niblicks, birdies, five irons, putterszzzzz – ditto F1, cricket, American football, most winter sports.

That’s before you get started on the clothing, which usually falls under the ‘equipment’ category. Is it a sport when a player contrives to hang a glove nonchalantly from the back pocket of stay-pressed trousers while strolling around a lush lawn in a Pringle jumper? Discuss. Football, in comparison, is a model of non-Pringle-jumpers-for-goalposts simplicity.

Each to their own, I suppose. Live and let live. Clichés might be rhetorically suspect but they endure for a reason.

Anyway, according to another friend, there is a key difference between ‘fan’ and ‘enthusiast’, the former describing an all-weather touchline hugger with encyclopaedic knowledge of a sport and its luminaries, plus up-to-date lexicon of abuse and encouragement, the latter reserved for stamp collectors, plane spotters, swingers (aka indoor sports enthusiasts) – and finally and most damningly, fair-weather fanciers skulking in armchairs who trot out the odd stat at the dinner table to show they’ve still got it.

Me, basically.



Here’s something I do like: