My last post was something of a downer (and a sincere thanks by the way to everyone for their well-wishes), so I thought I might try and lighten things up a little with this one. Strangely, for me, it’s a football story. Strangely, for a non-fan, I’ve quite a few of them.
1. I once sat in a pub while the World Cup (or something) was on TV and a bloke came back from the toilets and asked me, “What’s the score, mate?”, little realising that he’d asked the ONE man in the ENTIRE place who had absolutely no idea.
2. One time, I found myself in a sports bar in Manchester, with a beer and everything, only knowing when to cheer because my friend did.
3. I once amused the same friend with an awful (and very rude) Alan Hansen impression as we watched Match of the Day with the sound turned down.
4. Another time, I waited in a line with her to get items signed by a footballer called Landon Donovan, and because it was one item per person and I didn’t have anything, I volunteered to get an extra item signed for child in the queue. I well remember shaking Mr Donovan’s hand, and awkwardly mumbling something about asking him to autograph it, “To … erm … to Sally”.
But this story is probably my favourite. One time, my friend and her sister were kind enough to take me to an actual football match (Everton vs. Stoke). As I say, I’ve never really followed the game (for fun, I once wore an Everton shirt for an evening with my friend, to which her sister commented wryly, “Bloody Hell, he looks like a real boy!”), but both girls are huge fans, and so I was up for the experience.
Incidentally, the shirt I wore then isn’t the one in the photos. I got that especially for this post and I’m grateful to the staff in the Everton-themed shop where I bought it for all their patience with me. I’m told that Evertonians, like writers, are born not manufactured, and I was all:
“And you’re SURE this is the latest shirt? Can I have three numbers on the back, please? Do you sell beanies? WHERE AM I?”
Anyway, the match I went to was later in the year, the weather cold and bleak, and I was advised to bundle up in a heavy coat and hat. I was even allowed to wear a team scarf owned by my friend’s granddad, a genuine antique – the scarf, of course, not her grandfather – and when I look at the pictures of the event, I do look VERY out of my depth. My friend and her sister look like custodians, like carers taking me out for the day.
To be fair, they DID look after me. They guided me through crowds and turnstiles and told me where to stand, and finally I got to see the view that my friend was so passionate about. The players seemed to be miles away, but there was a big screen and I knew I was meant to be supporting “The Blues”, and I knew some of the players’ names, so I felt pretty confident that I’d be able to follow what was happening.
At half-time, my friend and her sister treated me to the traditional pint of lager and I did my best to join in with the conversation about Bilyaletdinov’s miss (and yes, I did have to Google that), and this clearance and that block, and the referees’ questionable judgement calls, and the goal, and the –
Wait … what?
What bloody goal?
Apparently, one of the opposing team’s players had done the thing he’s paid to do and volleyed the ball into the back of the net. Apparently, there’d been a great deal of shouting about it from both halves of the football ground. And apparently … I hadn’t even noticed.
My friends laughed good-naturedly at my idiocy, finding genuine amusement that somehow, insanely, I’d missed the critical moment. Mistakenly, they put it down to indifference (although I did point out that, if they wanted an example of indifference, one time my friend and I had watched a GREAT Doctor Who episode that she engaged with enough to fall asleep on the couch next to me, which to be honest I found rather charming).
But no, it wasn’t indifference, not really. Football isn’t my thing but it was more … I don’t know. I just remember being happy to be there, with them, feeling strangely honoured and touched that their granddad had vouchsafed his scarf to me for the day. I was cold, and more than a little lost, and my word, the bad language! I’m no expert on lager, but I remember enjoying it even though my friend’s sister told me it was rubbish.
I felt that I understood my friends a bit more, and got a weird kick out of watching the game again on Match of The Day that evening (and seeing the goal, at last – I mean, yeah, they did have to point it out with on-screen arrows and graphics and things but I still saw it). I always remembered the day with fondness, and perhaps more so as I write about it now.
I know I’ll never stand on those terraces again, even though I’ve got the hat and everything now! That’s okay. It was a good day, and looking back on it now I can say that I learned three things:
1. If you’re a short bloke who’s not into football but ends up at a game, take a box to stand on and a pair of binoculars so you don’t miss the whole point of being there.
2. Extra time, whether it be at a football match or with people you love, is the most precious thing in the world. It absolutely, genuinely is.
3. If you go, enjoy the half-time pint of lager, no matter how rubbish it is.
Thanks for reading!