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On social aspects of fans

From England, Mary Riddell predicts that football followers will shed their reputation for drunken loutishness, as their heroes have done.

Even so, and contrary to almost every popular myth, football is one of the civilising forces in British society. If you go to Arsenal matches, as I do, you will see a model of what the Government would love to impose, in terms of applying glue to atomised and fearful communities. Besides the father-son bonding of which society is so short, elderly ladies make friends with tattooed blokes who, in New Labour propaganda, would normally be mugging them for their pension books.

Not all of the players are model citizens, of course. The story begins with a recent sex scandal, which Riddell suggests is an exception to the new order. Competition - the economic incentive to stay at the top level of the game - has driven the drinking culture out of the dressing room.

From this side of the pond, psychologists argue that sports fans are happier than non-fans. Even though each contest has a winner and a loser, in the big picture, sports are a positive sum game.