I've decided, with no small amount of fear and trembling, to stop watching football. I'll see this season out, but once the Champions League final ends, once Eamon Dunphy has prophesied the impending demise of the beautiful game on account of there being no more street football, once the football websites are filled with talk of £150m war chests, and talk of the good-player-but-not-a-great-player Dele Alli moving to Manchester United for a world record fee of three billion pounds, I will make my quiet exit from the stadium. Footage may emerge of me in my car, head buried in my hands, wondering what's just happened. But the die has been cast. There will be no going back.
Except there will be going back. I'm sure I'll watch games with friends (Alva counts as a friend, right?). Furthermore, I intend this as a sabbatical of sorts. A break away from the game to clear my head, perhaps learn a foreign language or two to expand my options for the years ahead. I will continue to play football. But the hours I spend watching it, reading about it, hearing about it, thinking about it (both in its "real" and "fantasy" form, though it's getting harder to tell the difference) will be reduced to virtually zero. And we really are talking hours and hours here. More than I'd care to tot up and admit.
Why the drastic measure?
You could understand it pietistically, as my attempt to wean my soul from those things that distract me from God and neighbour.
You could understand it politically, as my attempt to embody Terry Eagleton's insistence that the first thing a socialist government would have to do would be to get rid of sport (whether he means the consumption of it or the playing of it I'm not sure.)
You could understand it iconoclastically, as my attempt to topple an idol not only in my own life, but an idol that has transfixed the world, turned human beings into gods worthy of worship - an idol which itself has sold out to the gods of money and glory and war (in a post-apocalyptic world, footballers and other pristine athletes will rule the world).
You could understand it pragmatically, as my attempt to sharpen my focus on the PhD as I approach its final year.
You could understand it psychologically, as my attempt to avoid seeing my beloved Andres Iniesta rage against the dying of the light.
But if you really want to understand it, simply watch this David Mitchell sketch. It gets me every time.
There was a time when, relatively speaking, I didn't watch much football (it is surely no coincidence that I supported Aston Villa during that time). I watched the Champions League, and got excited by these cultured Europeans with their novel ideas of passing and moving. I watched the major international tournaments, and got excited by whoever was deemed the "next Maradona" or the "next Pele" or the "next Kilbane". That was the age before digital streaming and digital media. There's no going back to that age. Football will plough on, seemingly impervious to the economic conditions of the time - or perhaps their most faithful and horrifying representative. I will no doubt resume my journey with it into the depths of hell. A sneaky El Clasico here, a covert catch-up on Second Captains or Football Weekly there. I may even fall in love with it all over again, as it dangles in front of me a New Ronaldo (the 'real' one, as Mourinho once called him - purely out of spite for the current one, of course), a New Valeron, a New Riquelme, a New Iniesta as its death-rattle. How could I resist? In about two months time, I will try to do just that, so help me God.
Until then, however, I will be soaking up every meaningless kick of a football, and doing my damndest to ensure that my 10 year old nephew doesn't beat me in Fantasy Premier League. Fantasy Football Scoutcast here I come. You were the canary in the coalmine, but let's just stay a little while longer and go out with a bang.