With the World Cup looming, I decided not to be taken by surprise. Despite never having had any interest in football since April 2007, I've been pretending to be a football fan because I bought two season tickets at Arsenal. Here's my progress to date:
Me: "What's happening!? What's happening?"
Steve: "It's a penalty, Peter."
Me: "A penalty to who? Is that good? Is it Arsenal's?"
Steve: "No Pete, it's to the other side; it's not good."
There should be a college course titled ‘How to be a football fan’
Me: "What's he doing? Why is he putting the ball there?"
Steve: "That's the penalty spot, Peter."
There should be a college course titled 'How to be a football fan'.
One day I was invited to watch the match from the director's box. I bought a red and white top hat with bells hanging from it, two scarves and a huge rattle.
As I walked in, my friend came towards me, dressed in a suit and tie. I figured he must have left his funny hat on the seat.
"What are you doing, Peter?"
There was a look of horror on his face as he grabbed at my hat, almost strangling me as he pulled off my scarf.
But still, it's the technical aspects that give me the most problems. Like when the teams change round at half time and play in the opposite direction, it still throws me for at least 20 minutes.
And the offside rules might as well be E=mc2.
So why do I go? Well, where else can you watch 60,000 men go totally crazy? It's like a great show! And, once they've kicked off, to help the time pass, I read my newspaper as I like to know what's going on. It's the only place I can get a bit of peace and quiet.
Then, after replying to a dozen emails on my BlackBerry, I get out my paints, brushes and sketch pad, and paint the fans' fascinating faces (acrylics take two or three days to dry and apparently very few matches last that long - it just seems like they do). But for health and safety reasons (mine), I try not to let them see me doing it.
To distract them, last November I shouted out, "Come on Vieira!!" and 5000 fans turned around. How was I to know he'd left the club in 2005? Nobody had told me.
I must have painted more portly bald-headed football fans than Rembrandt and Michelangelo put together - but then they probably weren't Arsenal season ticket holders. Those are not very easy to get hold of.
Sometimes I take my friend Arnold with me. He's very shy so when we score, I always jump up and hug him, pick him up and whirl him round and round.
"Put me down, Peter," he shouts.
If there are 61,234 people in the ground (why do they always announce the exact number of people? Perhaps there is someone who says, "OK, I'll buy a ticket, but only if you tell me how many other people have as well,") then I'm proud to say I'm the 61,234th in terms of football knowledge.
When choosing who to give
my tickets to when I'm away, I realise what it must be like to be a Mafia don.
In January, a friend didn't bother to turn up, and so my precious two seats stayed empty. Naturally, I couldn't let him get away with it.
"Lionel," I said. "You have got to show some respect."
"It was too cold!" he said.
Too cold!? Too cold!!?
I replied, "And you call yourself a Gooner!?"