Byline: DYLAN JONES
Ever since God was a boy - or at least for as long as anyone can remember - watching football on television has been the only national pastime that matters.
More popular than tiddlywinks, spinning plates or having sex with other people, for men at least, there is simply nothing better. And now that we've got 64in plasma screens, Sky+ and the promise of HDTV, is there really any reason to leave the house in the evening?
'Good point,' I hear you grunt into your beer and Kettle Chips. But on the other hand, it has to be said that nothing quite matches actually being there, especially during a World Cup, does it?
'Good point,' say I. But have you ever been to an England game? If you're going to be spending any time around hardcore England supporters, then you need a certain amount of forbearance. They can be testy at the best of times and downright Neanderthal at the worst.
When I decided to go to Japan for the first two weeks of the last World Cup, to watch the England and Ireland group games, it had less to do with any fanatical support for our national team and rather more to do with knowing that most of the more unpleasant supporters wouldn't be able to afford to fly to Tokyo.
And so it was. Watching England play in Japan was almost liberating, as there was little of the sort of rampant xenophobia that infiltrates most England games. Yes, there were still enough one-eyed knuckle-draggers to reinforce the national stereotype, but there was a genuine feeling of celebration rather than the kind of gladiatorial bouts you used to see at Wembley.
Predictably, some English flew the flag for wilful ignorance. At England's opening game in Saitama, I witnessed a particularly choice bunch of supporters undergoing a crash course in Japanese cuisine, which pretty much went like this, 'Oi, what the f***'s this muck? It's f****** s***. Ain't they got any f****** cheeseburgers? F****** Japanese!'
And on and on, until the rest of us stopped shouting so heartily for England, and wished we had been born Japanese.
Football will never be as popular as golf and baseball in Japan, but that didn't stop them organising the most impressive World Cup so far. However, their clinical efficiency was offset by a wonderful enthusiasm for the event, its most basic manifestation being the way that the Japanese sported the shirts and scarves of rival teams.
Even so, the Ireland games were another thing altogether, and it was unbelievably refreshing to watch entire families come through the turnstiles - mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, all coming in search of the craik rather than a fight and a Big Swear.
I spent some time in Italy during the 1990 World Cup, and there are …