The Beautiful Game

It has been a day of niggles and frustration, compounded by a persistent heavy drizzle. It is too wet for the allotment and I’m feeling grumpy. I need to get outside but, frankly, I can’t even be bothered with going for a walk, so decide instead to go and watch some sport.

I toy with the idea of watching the rugby (which is free, for one thing) but the sight of ruddy faced gentlemen climbing down from their Range Rovers, flat capped with golf umbrellas in hand, puts me off. These aren’t my people and I suddenly feel shy about going in. This feebleness on my part makes me even grumpier, but I carry on walking and head down the track to the neighbouring football club. I am greeted by a cheery old boy manning the turnstiles, who charges me seven quid whilst telling me I must be mad paying that much to watch this lot – instantly, I feel at home and indulge him by buying a raffle ticket.

My local outfit, The Robins, have a tidy ground which is in decent nick, given the level (level nine – meaning eight promotions would be necessary to join the giants of Manchester, Liverpool and London) and have a regular support of about 100. Big games might attract 300, and a cup run a few years ago led to a huge crowd of 1500, but it’s nothing like that today. This afternoon’s attendance is 67. Might have a better chance in the raffle though – £10 for the winner!

Normally, I would lean up against the fence but the rain forces me into a vaguely agricultural corrugated shelter, which houses the bins and a couple of benches.


I decide against misusing the benches, and huddle up against a wooden pillar. Scattered around the ground are similarly grumpy men, on their own and carving out private spaces for themselves, body language making it clear that amiable chit chat is not on the cards. Meanwhile, from behind the trees, comes the sound of raucous cheery bonhomie, as the convivial rugby fans set about enjoying their afternoon. I grit my teeth and watch the game.

The Robins are hopeless. In some respects they are playing the better, more intelligent, football. A patient build up, passing the ball looking for the space and trying to work their way past their opponents. But they lack the vital spark. The visitors, who go by the wonderful nickname of The Boyos, are having none of it. Quick and direct, they attack with precision, cutting through and scoring at will. Before the half hour it is already three nil, the third a real beauty. The silence would be deafening, if it wasn’t for the excited roars and cheers of the rugby fans over the fence, their sheer joy rubbing salt into the deep and grievous wounds of the collective dismay of the misanthropic curmudgeons I have chosen to spend my afternoon not talking to.

The rain falls, the solitary disgruntled men (and they are all men) hunch deeper into their thoughts whilst, in the near distance, the grating sound of other people having more fun can be heard. The half-time whistle comes as a relief, and I decide to treat myself. Instead of the usual Twix washed down by hot tea in a polystyrene cup I am going to have a pint. But the beer is awful, as is the clubroom. Even the peanuts are bad – greasy! And we all know that just up the road, the rugby club bar is full of laughter and stories, probably next to a log fire.

The second half is better fare – the home side pull a couple back, one of which was worth the entrance fee alone. The sub, a portly fellow with a big backside and a low centre of gravity, glides past at least three of the Boyos, cuts inside and lashes home. It is a wonder goal and one can only assume that our new hero is too big and heavy to play a whole game, for surely he should have started! But before long the visitors have restored their lead, also thanks to a marvellous strike, and sit back, happy with what will turn out to be a 5-2 win.

Fifteen minutes from the end, the rugby finishes – the sound of hip hip hooraying wafting over, before they all retire into the clubhouse of our dreams. Foamy beer, nips of warming whisky, roaring red faced laughter and a good time had by all. The rain falls harder on this side, and the final whistle is greeted in silence. I trudge off, past the rugby club, past the “leisure village” and into the medieval centre of the city.

I didn’t win the raffle.


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