A short story about the beautiful game of ball foot.
I would say we spend maybe 40, 50 or even 60 per cent of our time talking about football. We'd sit there in the pub, wives at home, beers in front of us, and that was what we talked about. Well, they say God invented football so that men would have something to talk about.
I found it difficult because I don't know half as much as they do about football. I didn't want to get found out, but thankfully I had a few tricks up my sleeve. I realised that most people aren't really interested in what you say - they just like the sound of their own voices. So, this is what I'd do: supposing Gary said something like ‘Gerard was crap on Saturday,' I'd respond with a question: ‘So you reckon Gerard was crap?' He loved that - it meant he could go on and on about why Gerard was rubbish. I hadn't got a clue, but it looked like I was joining in just because I said something. No-one noticed I hadn't got the foggiest.
If it got really in depth - to the extent that it looked like I'd have to offer an opinion - I'd just ask if anyone wanted a beer. Of course, they always did! So that meant I could go to the bar and escape. And then, by the time I got back, they'd be onto some other topic.
I also did this: when the football talk got intense, I'd just go to the bog. "I'm bursting!" I'd say and I'd disappear. You can't argue with that.
Of course, I'd try changing the subject sometimes - and sometimes it worked. If the topic was, say, the number of foreign players in the Premier League, I'd go: "It's all bloody Labour's fault..." and, if I was lucky, it would set them off on politics: ‘Cameron's rubbish, doesn't know his arse from his elbow..., etc."
It was painful, though. They're my mates - have been for years. We're down the pub three or four nights a week - always the same. It was starting to get exhausting. I had to do homework! I found myself watching games on telly and going on line, boning up on the latest controversies.
So, I was sat there with the missus, one night, watching some crap game - I think it was Arsenal. She just put up with it; she's lovely - too good for me! Anyway, I suddenly noticed that whenever she went out of the room I was changing channels to see if there was anything more interesting on the other side. But it was like, why don't I want her to notice? Then it suddenly occurred to me - who am I trying to kid? I bloody hate football!
It was a revelation! It scared me at first. When the wife came back in the room she could see I was shaken. She asked me what was wrong - she notices stuff like that - and I tried to say it was nothing. But she wasn't having it, so I finally plucked up the courage to tell her. "Sue," I said. "I don't like football." Simple as that. Well, I'll never forget the next bit. She just looked at me and said - ever so kindly - "I was wondering when you were going to admit that." Then we cuddled up and watched The Bill together. It was brilliant!
I just felt so stupid. I'd been watching all this crap just because of my mates. I started explaining about it to my wife and we just started laughing. When you think about it, it is pretty funny.
It took me a while to get used to the idea, then we came up with something, a sort of joke. I was going to have fun with it. Rather than run away from the topic, I decided I'd become an expert - or, at least, seem like an expert. They all read The Sun or The Mirror, so I bought The Times instead. We thought that would be a good place to find something the other guys might not know about.
The next time I was in the pub I was just waiting for my opportunity - and it wasn't long coming.
I knew the topic of Terry Venables would come up because there had been a lot about him in the news. So, when it did, I decided to chip in. Quoting from The Times, which I had memorised word for word, I said: ‘Venables has made some spectacular public errors in his life, but these don't matter a jot to his true believers. Venables is not only a genius, he is also a victim. He is a victim of people who envy his talent, his charm, his charisma, his genius: faceless men in suits who are not worthy to lace his boots.' (Simon Barnes, The Times, 12.8.02.)
I couldn't believe what happened next. Gary looked a bit flustered and said he needed to go to the bog and Dave said he was getting a round in. That left just me and Tony. I swear he looked terrified. There was a brief pause, then Tony chipped in with: "Have you seen what Labour are up to now? It's bloody ridiculous..." And off he went on a rant about student top-up fees.
I was onto something. A little bit of knowledge was all it took! In the meantime, I started exploring other hobbies. I was drinking beer down the pub, but I actually prefer wine - always have, but it just looks a bit wet. But after talking to my wife, I decided to enrol on a wine tasting course.
It was on Monday evenings. First time, I arrived late - I'm always late! There was a seat empty at the front, so I hurriedly nipped in and sat down. So this bloke is going on about this particular wine and what it's like, then he pours a little bit out for each of us to try. So I'm taking a sip, swirling it around my mouth, all that kind of thing, then I take a little look around the class and there, on the back row, looking right at me with a smile on his face, was Gary! He just raised his glass and winked.