What sports fans can teach journalists
It is very easy, as a journalist, to avoid the public. Whether you're covering politics or sport, you stick to the players. They're who matter, aren't they?
Wrong. The fans - they who number among that group journalists condescendingly refer to as "real people" - can also teach us.
A fair amount was made, not least by me, on air, when given the opportunity, about French rugby coach Marc Lièvremont's comments on the moral worth of his opponents, England, ahead of their Six Nations clash at Twickenham.
"We all don't like the English", he said. He went on to explain, at some length why this was so, and provide extensive anecdotal evidence of other nations' antipathy. He then, hilariously, said that his comments - which amounted to a quite extensive anthropological thesis - "had been taken out of context".
There's a fat telephone directory of theories already out there as to why the English inspire such strong feelings. A perfect reason, then, to offer another.
Writing about anti-Semitism, the historian Salo Baron came up with the phrase "dislike of the unlike". Dare I say that dislike of the English may be more to do with "dislike of the like"?
The estimable Paul Hayward, in the Observer, said that he's witnessed "xenophobic hostility towards the English" at Murrayfield and Cardiff. But he also pointed out that "a lot of English don't like the English either".
Is it reasonable to take that futher and to ask whether hatred of the English, as with much sporting rivalry, is because of how much we have in common, rather than how much divides us? Isn't that why family splits can be so bitter, and why civil wars can be so vicious?
Maybe it was because England had won at home, but I only saw, er, bonhomie between the two sets of fans on Saturday evening. As we inched our way on to the trains at Twickenham station, beret rubbed up against Barbour.
The winning line belonged to the elderly England fan who wanted to alight two stops before the final destination . "Excusez-moi!" he sang out, as he moved through the packed carriage, towards the doors.
He was interrupted by the automated voice announcing where the train would terminate. "Ah, Waterloo," sighed the fan, at top volume. "How apt."
One of the most striking sounds at Twickenham, on Saturday afternoon, was of 82,000 people being quiet.
A minute's silence had been called for, to commemorate those who'd died in the Christchurch earthquake.
The odd mobile phone beep aside, it was impressively observed.
It's not always so. I remember reporting from the Waterfront Hall in Belfast in 1998, as Northern Ireland was preparing for its referendum on the Good Friday agreement.
U2 were playing. Bono introduced both David Trimble and John Hume on stage. He then called upon the audience to observe a minute's silence, out of respect for the victims of the Troubles.
The audience, though, was composed of 2000 sixth-formers, many of whom were out for a drink and a party. Not surprisingly, a few yelled and cat-called.
It was a shame for us. It would have been a good sequence in our TV piece, but a minority had spoiled our moment.
Intriguingly, though, I saw an entirely different version of events when I watched another channel's account of the concert later that night.
They ran Bono's call for silence, and then - hey presto - there was, indeed, silence. The TV team had simply shut the faders, during the edit. Why let reality spoil the story?
I watched the Carling Cup Final on TV, in the presence of a group of lifelong Birmingham City fans, who'd failed to get tickets for Wembley.
Their commentary was all that you might expect: pleading with Alex McLeish to substitute Nikola Zigic all the way up to the first goal; unfettered roars of joy, first at 1-0, then at 2-1; an assumption that they'd ship a goal each time Arsenal strung two passes together.
But the fondest moment was when the oldest bluenose in the room turned to his 42-year old cousin who had followed him into supporting Birmingham City for all these trophy-less years.
They embraced, and then pulled apart. Said the older to the younger: "Do you forgive me now?"