I have a fondness for the occasional footy game. Now and again, a major Final can be a grand thing to watch. It reminds me of being a child round at my Nan and Grandad’s in East London, commentary blasting out from their huge colour TV, (a fiftieth wedding anniversary present from their sons), a rumbling accompaniment to Nan’s overcooked yellow vegetables and crusty rice pudding. Dad also enjoyed his Sunday soccer, as did my formidable lesbian great aunts. We’d all watch the game while the adults smoked roll-ups and quaffed a pint, after which I would be taken for a walk round the cemetery. In later years at drama school, I used to support our luvvie team who courted controversy (and potential assault) by playing matches in netball skirts and lipstick, so there’s a definite whiff of home comfort, roast dinner and insanity that attaches me to football.
I realised I hadn’t watched a game since the 2002 World Cup, when I worked in an enlightened office environment where the powers-that-be had fitted live TV screens to every computer rather than see their entire workforce bunk off. I’ve been out of the loop since then. In fact, I only realised that England were out of the tournament when I clicked onto a news site at work a day after the event. “Oh”, I exclaimed. “Are England out?” The rest of the office looked at me as though I were a paedophile.
Consequently, I rather fancied watching the World Cup Final this year. Besides, I have a lot of Dutch friends, or friends living in Flatland, so felt obliged to lend psychic support. The trouble is, I don’t have a TV. I asked around, and friends who do have a TV refused to entertain the thought of broadcasting football on it. So I popped down to the City Arts Project, thinking that a bit of creative camaraderie in Shoreditch would make for a fun and civilised evening.
To be honest, friends aside, I was totally non-partisan. I just wanted to watch the game, happy to cheer the good moves and boo the fouls, howsoever executed. Just to be safe, though, I wore green to throw the buggers off the scent, knowing that I could secretly pick sides based on the usual female criteria of legs and sex appeal.
Dutch fans had nabbed the front-row seats (thank God they didn’t stand) and created an altar on the TV unit out of a carefully draped national flag, orange balloons and strategically placed bottles of overpriced beer.
I stood further back among the predominantly Spanish spectators and realised very quickly that I had oh so picked the wrong place. On my right, in the Red corner, was Little Miss Overbite and on my left, the Orange Intense Mr Overheight. I ended up being the unwitting sausage in a hate sandwich.
We watched a lacklustre first half, the Spanish a bunch of terriers running rings round a pack of greyhounds. Sometimes the players even kicked the ball instead of each other. Nearly every single member of the Dutch team ended up with a yellow card and there were some terrific amateur dramatics from the Spanish. It was at this point that both Intense Mr Overheight and Little Miss Overbite started spewing forth their own brand of vitriolic soliloquy. Mr Orange kept eyeing Miss Red and gesticulating, and she retaliated by having a go at the ref.
“I fucking hate the English. I really fucking hate them. I’ll burn their fucking flag. Ce-ce-ce, ce-ce-ce, shayen cossock hillock tassock bollock ce-ce-ce-ce-ce.” She degenerated into the newsreader from Chanel 9, sounding exactly like 1:43 here.
I felt rather sorry for the ref. It’s a thankless task, to be officially hated for not having 360º vision or for suspending disbelief during Oscar-winning injury acting. I suddenly recalled one of my drama school buddies who used to be a referee. He even wrote about the experience. I wonder what he’s doing these days?
Mr Orange had now initiated his own ramblings, which amounted to a convoluted version of “it’s not fair”, the dark, furry voice on my left fighting the piercing soprano on my right. More fury from the Red corner, now focused on the Dutch team, or the entire human race, I couldn’t work out which. “Ce-ce-ce hate ce-ce-ce fuck, hate ce-ce-ce … they should fucking die. They should be killed, murdered, ce-ce-ce, hate fuck ce-ce-ce-ce-ce.” The corners started folding over into an envelope. Fingers skimmed my eyelashes as arms waved at each other, pointing, shouting. Mr Orange suddenly charged over for a facedown, blocking my view.
“Oi”, says I, “I’m trying to watch this. Just calm down and please get out of my way.”
Various other permutations of polite endeavour failed to instil any sense into these overwrought, over-tall or overbitten tossers. They didn’t even glance at me. I think wearing green rendered me invisible. I finally succumbed to the pathetic cliché, “look, there’s no reason to get angry. It’s only a game.”
There are moments when football is beautiful; a supreme stretch of line and form, a shape in the air, the connected curve of a pass. Some years ago the English National Ballet produced a piece based on such moves – they saw the correlation with dance. I love the ballet, but wouldn’t dream of having a screaming match with someone who dissed Alina Cojocaru.
I could feel my own xenophobia rapidly rising to the surface as I considered what each side would do if it either won or lost. The Dutch would buy cheese and sex and the Spanish would kill an animal with something long and sharp. In fact, since I was beginning to feel like punching someone, I did the sensible thing at half time and moved.
In the second half, someone blew a vuvuzela – twice – after which there ominous silence from that spot in the room. I think, and hope, it got shoved up the perpetrator’s arse.
During extra time, I had decided to leave if it came to penalties. I don’t like them and I don’t find them exciting. A game running to penalties is akin to long, painful foreplay with no orgasm. Penalties are the equivalent of “oh never mind, I’ll just do it myself”. Luckily the Spanish finished me off and I’m grateful just for the sake of Little Miss Overbite’s hapless boyfriend who was most likely saved from the curse of perforated eardrums.
I got out of there as quickly as I could. The best side won but maybe I’ve been away from it for too long, I just felt deflated. The vicious behaviour both on and off the pitch really got me down and I suspect that’s the last match I’ll be watching for quite a while. It may be a beautiful game, but it sure has some ugly participants.
You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.