“No of course – you go and watch your match ”
I run my wife’s words through a ‘cross’-checker in my brain. It’s a bit like a virus checker on a computer but it scans apparently innocent sentences for signs of crossness. The error report indicates a problem with the phrase “your match” and advises caution. Coupled with the fact that she is currently mopping the floor, extreme prudence is urged.
“Are you sure?”
“No go on, you should go… ”
She seems legit but just to be on the safe side, I throw a few shapes around the housework, get her to repeat that it is “fine, no really it’s fine” into a Dictaphone for evidence should it be required later and then gallop to the pub.
Although watching a match ‘downthelocal’ is a relatively straightforward pleasure, it has been a while. It’s a big match – an actual Big Match, not just Sky Sports Big – on the television. As a supporter of Nottingham Forest, I don’t have much at stake in the clash between Man City and QPR last weekend. In fact I haven’t had much of a stake in anything in quite some time apart from periodic relegation anxiety. But it’s nice to see others having fun.
I’m settled in the pub now. It’s raining outside. The pub is not too full. There are no children mewling, just men watching The Football. I have an unobstructed view of the telly. There’s even enough room for me to my foot up on the stool. The pint and a packet of crisps – with the photograph of a farmer on the back saying how he grew the potatoes – is brought over and placed within perfect reach. If feel I have died and been resurrected on the mythical Ancient Greek island of Ergonomikos – the paradise where everything is just the right height and distance.
In this atmosphere, it’s easy to strike up a conversation with the man next to me. Commenting on the match is a perfect way for two men who don’t know each other to talk because we don’t have to look at each other. We just watch the telly bouncing our words off the screen as if it’s a satellite. The TV volume isn’t loud enough to hear the pundits so we’re the pundits. We pund quite a lot, in fact.
Having sussed out that neither of us support any of the protagonists we can be a little freer.
“Ah Nasri, what the f*%k. Couldn’t even get it over the first defender on the money you’re on – you or I could have crossed that ball!” He says, misplacing confidence in my abilities.
I agree vehemently that the worst sin of all is not being able to clear the first defender for a cross. For that moment both of us firmly believe that in the unlikely situation that we should ever find ourselves running onto a ball from David Silva, that we would, leftfooted “clip a vicious outswinger into the danger zone”. Even though I know for a fact I have never cleared so much as a buttercup with my weaker left foot.
Despite its inherent inequalities, that is still the democracy of football. That at any given moment most people watching firmly believe they could have ‘got on the end of that’ or ‘would have stuck that away in a heartbeat’.
It doesn’t happen for all sports. You don’t watch gymnastics at the Olympics and say “Arra what are you doing at all Nadia – sure my granny would have done the double twisted back pike kachev in the tucked position in her sleep!”
From the safety of our bar seat we can say whatever we want, happy that we’ll never have to put our points to the players in question. The risk for pundits like me who have, shall we say, a patchy record of playing sports is that very quickly, the match makes a fool out of you. In a brief diatribe towards the end of the game, I slated Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero. My new friend enthusiastically backed me up. Then within a minutes they scored two goals and won the League. My new friend tactfully didn’t mention it.
These platonic one afternoon-stands don’t always end amicably of course. For every agreement on the poor crossing of Samir Nasri, there is the other situation. A succession of pints leads to confidences being shared and the other guy will mention a deeply held belief that the problem starts “dontgetmewrong, with the Nigerians” or starts taunting other supporters and expecting you to join in.
This is not one of those occasions, and after the football, the conversation expands to other subjects that we agree on: State Of The Place, The Younger Generation, How Much Warmer Last May Was, and of course The IMF
“We’re going to have to pay them back at some stage” I say.
“You said it” he says. He’s right. I did say it. We part with a handshake – a proper one, not one of those silly upright hand-to-elbow ones that idiots do sometimes. We’ll never see each other again. Ships that pass in the night, or rather ships that stop, have a few pints and handcooked crisps and then pass on.
When I get home, I move tentatively around my wife. The cross-checker is on, though its operation is hampered because ‘someone’ has spilled a few pints onto it. But it looks like I’m in the clear. “How come you’re so late?” she asks goodnaturedly.
“I just got talking.”