If the boot fits
A short story about the beautiful game of ball foot.
We’re watching Match of the Day. Steve’s a Spurs fan, I’m Arsenal, but we don’t let that come between us. We’ve been mates since school – we’ve always lived just a few streets apart – and this is our Saturday evening ritual. Our wives go to my house and do whatever they do – drink wine, watch a movie, whatever – and I go round to Steve’s with a few tinnies. We order in a curry and watch Match of the Day. It’s one of the highlights of the week
The only problem was, this particular Saturday, Steve’s huffing and puffing. Something’s up.
‘Cheer up, mate,’ I said. ‘So what if Spurs drew today – at least you didn’t lose like us, eh?’
Steve shrugged his shoulders and I tried to think nothing of it. Couldn’t work out why he was in a mood. Thing is, we don’t talk about personal stuff. To be honest, if he’s having problems with Jackie or the kids, I’d rather not know – his wife’s not my wife, his kids are not my kids, so what can I say that’s helpful? Probably the best thing is not to talk about it, just make sure I get the beers in. That’s what friends are for, innit, just to be there.
West Ham-Swansea had just finished and Lineker’s trying to talk up some controversy, get a debate going, like they do, but Steve’s somewhere else, muttering to himself.
‘Scraping the barrel, aren’t they?’ I say. ‘Trouble is, they have to give some air time to all the rubbish teams cos their fans pay the licence fee too.’
I thought Steve’d like that cos one of the things we’ve got in common is we both hate West Ham. So I was, sort of, trying to find some common ground between us. But he’s not having it. He’s still miffed about something.
I have a sip of beer and try to focus on the football, not let it bother me. Next is West Brom-Everton. We usually have a good laugh when one of the Brummie teams are playing – or Everton, for that matter – cos we do the accents. But I decide not to, and I wonder whether Steve will set the ball rolling, but he’s still quiet.
Next it’s Man City-Arsenal. We already know the score, and I’m just waiting for him to start taking the piss because the Gunners lost, scored an own goal too, but he’s as quiet as a monk. Finally, I have to say something.
‘Look, mate. Have you got the hump? You should be jumping for joy because the Arsenal lost.’
Steve looks at me, surprised. ‘What do you mean, got the hump? What makes you think that?’
‘Because you’ve barely said anything all night, and now you’re not even taking the piss at Arsenal losing.’
‘Yeah. No,’ he said, confused, not even looking at me. ‘The results, yeah, I suppose so. Well done.’
He’s not making any sense. I don’t even think he’s heard what I’ve said. So I just finished off my tinny and carry on watching the telly. I thought, I’ll go as soon as it finishes and he’ll be back to normal next time I see him.
When the Arsenal game finished, Shearer, in one of his weird shirts, starts making some lame jokes that I find quite funny, when Steve suddenly goes: ‘Sorry, mate, it’s bothering me, that’s all.’
He’s got this angry look in his eyes, and he’s all agitated. I’m wishing I hadn’t said anything about him having the hump, and I’m hoping he’ll leave it alone, but there’s more.
‘I’ve just figured it out and I think I’m going to do something about it.’
Oh no, I’m thinking, if he’s getting a divorce – apart from being crap for him, Jackie and the kids and all – that’ll change our Saturday nights and everything. Why can’t things stay like they are?
‘Don’t do anything rash, mate,’ I say. ‘Things might get better.’
‘I can’t stand it,’ he says, and I can see he’s in pain, fidgeting now, picking at the arm rests on the sofa.
‘Everyone goes through ups and downs, mate,’ I say. ‘Me and Sarah have our moments, but you just have to put it behind you. That’s life. For better or worse, and all that.’
‘What?’ he says.
He’s looking at me now. I feel put on the spot. I’m rubbish at this sort of thing. I’m amazed my marriage keeps going. Pure luck, in my opinion. I just got a good one. Isn’t anything I’ve done. ‘Well, I’m not one for giving advice. But if you and Jackie…’
‘Jackie? What about Jackie?’ He’s really confused. ‘What are you talking about, mate?’
‘Me?’ I say. ‘You’re the one muttering to yourself in a mood. I’m just watching the telly. If you’ve got problems, mate, good luck to you, but I’ve got no advice.’ I realise I’m scared in case he gets weepy and I have to, I dunno, be comforting or something.
‘I’m not worried about Jackie,’ he says finally. ‘It’s the boots.’
‘The fucking boots. I can’t stand them.’ He says this with real venom, almost spitting. His face is all twisted.
‘The boots?’ I suddenly feel like I’ve entered the Twilight Zone.
‘Yes, the bloody boots!’ He’s speaking as if I’m an idiot. ‘Just look at them.’
I look at the telly. It’s Southampton and Man United and I’ve absolutely no idea what the hell he’s talking about, but I’m scared to say so because he’s clearly gone mental.
‘Well?’ he asks.
‘I can see boots,’ I say. ‘They’re all wearing them. Nice pretty boots.’
‘Yes, exactly! Thank you!’ He stands up, starts pacing around. ‘Nice pretty pink and yellow and fluorescent orange boots. What’s wrong with black? But the worst thing is they don’t match. Imagine if they all wore different coloured socks – they wouldn’t allow it – they’d probably get forced to change or sent off. Or shorts. You have to wear the same coloured shorts. But boots? Not a problem! Wear whatever you like. Paint flowers on them, if you want. Or decorate them with tattoos – that’s the fashion, isn’t it? It’s absolutely pathetic. The boots are part of the strip – so they have to be the same colour.’
‘Ok,’ I say. I don’t know whether to laugh or call an ambulance.
He settles back into his chair and things seem to calm down. It’s clearly done him some good to get it off his chest. I haven’t a clue what to say. To be honest, I’m just thinking that me and Sarah are going to have a good laugh about this later.
I focus on the match, wishing the programme would end soon. But I look at the players, and I look at the boots, and then I look at Steve, and then I look at the boots again. And, you know what, he’s got a point!
‘What if each player wore different coloured boots,’ I said. ‘A yellow one on the left foot and, I dunno, a blue one on the other foot? Seems like you could wear anything. Bloody stupid. I don’t know why I haven’t seen this before. Good call, Stevie.’
‘Bloody ridiculous,’ he says.
‘Next it’ll be all tartan, or something,’ I say.
Steve looks at me. ‘Yeah, but, in Scotland that would look good.’
I look at him and I genuinely can’t work out if he’s being serious or taking the piss.