Some tips on how armchair fans can add to the match-day atmosphere in the relative comfort of their own homes
Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League, outlined his latest vision this week for bringing top-flight English football to a global audience: cutting-edge 3D technology.
"You could be on a Saturday afternoon at 3pm in Hong Kong," he said, "deciding whether you want to be on the Kop [at Liverpool] or the Holte End at Aston Villa."
Well, don't decide too fast, because 3pm in Hong Kong is 8am in the UK. Go to Villa Park at that time on a Saturday and all you will see is Alex McLeish waterlogging the pitch to ensure that nobody can play a passing game, which is far too entertaining for his liking.
However, I understand his point: new technology will soon allow television viewers to enjoy the full match-day experience, wherever they are. But will it?
Creating an authentic stadium experience requires far more than a snazzy television. From my experience, you will also need to follow these simple procedures:
Ÿ Parking. Spend at least 30 minutes before kick-off driving agonisingly slowly around your neighbourhood, eventually finding a space three miles from your home.
Ÿ Police presence. For derby games, arrange for some riot police to line the route back to your house. If you cannot find real police officers, round up a selection of your former partners, disgruntled employees, wife's friends, etc. Their natural loathing of you will enable them to display the correct facial expression: a combination of contempt and naked aggression.
Ÿ Hawkers. For the route home, you must also create a gauntlet of stalls selling overpriced tat: flimsy badges, misspelt nylon flags and scarves, which may or may not be flammable (see half time).
Ÿ Food and drink. Upon entering your own home, you may be hungry and thirsty. Wait outside your kitchen for 30 minutes, then ask your wife to serve you a cold burger and flat Coke. Ask her how much she paid for the ingredients, then give her 100 times that amount.
Ÿ Seating issues. Before entering your living room, ask the local psychopath to sit in your armchair, thus prompting a prolonged and terrifying discussion about which block and row you are in. The discussion ends with you sitting on the floor, in a small gap between your favourite armchair and the sofa.
Ÿ Atmosphere. During the match, ask a friend to scream a torrent of abuse at whoever is on screen. For a fully authentic experience, pick someone without a clue about the rules of football.
Ÿ Half time. You may need a toilet break. Ask a dozen people to chain-smoke in your bathroom while you use the facilities. These clusters of clandestine cigarettes provide a realistic experience of "smoke-free" stadiums, but they also offer the perfect opportunity to test the flammability of your scarf.
Ÿ Final whistle. The match is over, time to go home. Wait, you already are at home. You might as well relax - as you have been locked in for your own safety, while the neighbours tear up your patio furniture.
Ÿ Payment. Take all your cash and wrap it in that cheap, misspelt nylon flag. Apply lit match. Cry.
Good vibrations from Manchester United fans can help Balotelli
Mario Balotelli betrayed Manchester City fans this week with some disparaging remarks about his new home.
“I am not happy in Manchester,” he told an Italian newspaper. “With my teammates and my manager, everything is fine, but the city is not to my tastes.”
How arrogant, ungrateful and incredibly insensitive to the City faithful, who have supported the club through thick and thin.
Well, if Balotelli wants to discover the good parts of Manchester are really like, he should get online and chat to fans of Manchester United, City’s rivals in tomorrow’s Community Shield.
“Oh yeah, Manchester is so vibrant. The railway station is vibrant, the tram to Old Trafford is vibrant, and the tram back to the railway station is vibrant. That is why I wear earplugs and try to snooze.” Charlie, 28, London.
“Manchester is most wonderful place, full of wonderful people like Wayne Rooney, who is from the Liverpool area of the city.” Chen-Zi, 18, Wang Province.
“If Manchester is so crumby, how come Shakespeare was born there? That is who the Stretford End is named after, right?” Chuck, 55, Ohio.
“Manchester is a beautiful port city, which is why they always get the freshest prawns. I’ll never forget those tender, fleshy prawns on soft rye bread with lashings of fresh mayonnaise. We were playing, erm, that team in white, and thingy scored.” Unnamed corporate guest, Cheshire.
“Manchester is brilliant. I’ve lived here all my life, and I spend every weekend exploring the galleries, shops and museums, or just grabbing a coffee and watching the world go by. I have to, because I haven’t been able to afford tickets to United since 1993.” Rob, 48, actual Mancunian.