So anyway, about this diet that I’ve mentioned in passing in the last couple of columns.
I’m pleased to report that so far this year, I’ve managed to shed almost a stone and a half. (I haven’t seen twenty pounds disappear so quickly since last year’s Grand National. No, hang on, I bought a round of teas at QPR…)
I’ve done it mainly by cutting out any food that I enjoy; a dour, but very effective approach that I would call the Stoke City Diet, except that my elder sister’s husband wouldn’t speak to me again.
And I’ve started running again for the first time in about seven years – since I stopped playing Sunday football, in fact.
I’ve never enjoyed running for its own sake; I’ve usually only been prepared to do it when there’s a ball or a bus at the other end. (I didn’t do much running for the latter even when I had a regular job to go to – certainly not in the mornings, anyway.)
I have to go out very late at night, so that no one can see me shambling around the streets at a snail’s pace, and to avoid running into the elite running squad from the university college up the road that whizzes around the neighbourhood during the day.
It’s an accident waiting to happen; when I read that Mo Farah had left the area and relocated to the States, my first thought was that he didn’t want to risk colliding with this large, slow-moving object that had suddenly appeared in Teddington.
But why did I decide to lose weight now, after an extended (and admittedly very enjoyable) period pursuing my twin hobbies of sloth and comfort eating?
It’s partly because my waistline was starting to look like that of a former professional footballer.
But it’s also because I turned 50 last weekend, and over the last few months the looming prospect has been casting an increasingly large shadow over me.
(Like standing near Neil Shipperley, or Neil Ruddock, or John Barnes…)
I reckoned that if I didn’t shift the weight now, I never would. And the middle age spread would just, er, spread.
I just wish it were as easy to shift the weight of anxiety that comes with reaching this milestone – or do I mean millstone? I think it’s inevitable that you look back and wonder where all those years went.
In my case, of course, I know exactly where a large chunk of that time went: football. But did I devote too much time to it?
I know what my wife would say.
She views my unbroken run of matches between 1991 and 2002 as my barren wilderness years, when I supposedly cut a sorry figure wandering the country from ground to ground like a poor lost soul, carrier bag in hand to stop my match programme from going soggy.
But then she wasn’t there for most of it. And you know what? It was bloody great at the time.
True, the quality of football wasn’t always great, especially in the late 90s. (Perversely, that made me more determined to keep the run going; if I’d broken it when the team were playing badly, I’d have felt like a fair-weather supporter.)
But watching football on Saturdays and playing football on Sundays with no-one to answer to, and thinking about football for a large proportion of the week, was a very enjoyable way to live.
Eventually, I knew the time was right to be less extreme about it. And I don’t suppose I’ll ever go back to attending every single game.
(I’ve been wondering lately whether most supporters have periods when they’re at their peak, like players do. If they do, mine is certainly past.)
But I can’t bring myself to regret it.
The only reason to feel regret would be if watching so much football had got in the way of other things I could have been doing.
It certainly kept me single for a long time. I know that’s true, because enough women told me that it was a problem.
But I look at how things have turned out with my wife and my children, and I wouldn’t want it to be any different. So, no regrets there.
Has football prevented me from fulfilling my ambition to write a novel or a sitcom?
It’s certainly taken up a lot of time which could have been devoted to those aims – but I think an inability to write plot and character was a rather bigger factor.
And if any part of my life could be charged with getting in the way of creativity, my advertising career would be the ringleader standing there in the dock; football might be accused of aiding and abetting, but would probably be let off with a caution.
Ah yes, my advertising career.
Could that have gone better if I hadn’t always been disappearing to football matches?
I once lost a work partner because I chose to go to a game (Coventry away, FA Cup 4th Round 1995) instead of working over the weekend.
Can’t say I regret it, though.
In 1989, I missed picking up the award for the best-written national press ad of the year to go to the FA Cup 6th Round replay at home to West Ham. I certainly don’t regret that choice either.
Here’s the thing. There’s a very poignant passage in Marcel Proust’s Du Côté de Chez Swann (look, it’s my party and I’ll quote Proust if I want to…) when Swann laments:
“To think that I wasted years of my life… for a woman who did not appeal to me, who was not my type!”
For me, advertising has been that woman. Football has definitely not.
Like the song says, “I know I am, I’m sure I am…”
And finally… I have to tell you about the ‘big present’ I got for my birthday. My wife bought me this fantastic linocut print.
She got in touch with the artist Hugh Ribbans, and he confirmed that the two teams depicted are indeed the ones you would guess them to be.
If the price of the print seems a bit steep, the picture is available as a greetings card.
If your local card shop doesn’t stock it, I guess you could get directly in touch with the Norwich-based publishers Art-Angels.co.uk
It would be a great card to give to a City fan. And arguably even better to give to a Town supporter…