Tenuous title. I apologise, but - as with the content of this post - I have struggled to hit the right tone.
I thought it was a good idea to go and watch last night's game in the pub. I think we are all aware that the football part of this particular brainwave was seriously lacking, but the social element wasn't exactly a roaring success either.
Having previous experience (though admittedly it wasn't all that recently that England were represented at an international tournament and, let's face it, it looks likely to be a while before it happens again) I was aware of the pitfalls and was prepared to take the risk, so that I could trade off the hassles against the exuberance of the crowd and what I felt (almost) sure would be a comfortable victory for the Three Lions. In any case, watching 'important' matches at home is always a profoundly irritating experience for me, surrounded as I am by unsympathetic females, and I felt this to be an important game.
On arrival though, I was mildly surprised to see just how many people had made the pilgrimage to this particular corner of Albion in order to pay their respects (as well as £3.25 a pint) to the boys in white, but was still holding a 'fair enough' attitude as 7.30 approached. By the time Adrian Chiles had finished his inane burbling and the whistle's screech sped closer, every inch of floor space was taken up by bodies sipping on their plastic Foster bags and I edged my way to a vantage point while I waited for the short-straw man to bring the beers.
At first it was just a ripple. An Amazonian butterfly contemplated taking wing and the synaptic activity began to give momentum to the wave as a pissed-up Aussie stood before me and said:
"Mate. Don't think you're gonna stand there when the game starts."
As an Englishman, I could only ignore him, gazing across the room to see if the beers had yet been secured, and he edged past me, tripping over my heels as he did so. Then, a moment later, another Aussie tapped me on the shoulder.
"Mate," he said "You're blocking the view."
I gestured around me with an affected wtf? shrug, and said:
"Sorry, you'll have to stand up like everyone else." My voice was barely audible above the vuvuzela din from the telly and the almost drunken chanting of the fans in the pub, and I turned back towards the screen, seeking on the way a modicum of approval from the blokes who were standing near me. Not one met my eye.
After that, I wasn't sure if remarks were being directed at me, or just about me, but there was a very obvious dark current emerging. My mate at the bar was still battling to get the beers so I was unable to seek solace in my lager, but I kept hearing various comments, all in outback tones.
"It's a joke, mate!"
"We've been in here since 4.30..."
I glanced around, only to see hordes of extremely tall men (and I stand 6' 3" in my socks) cradling pints of lager in their crossed arms as they gazed at the screen.
I wasn't to know that everyone within a 6 feet radius of me was Antipodean when, on the final arrival of my own beer, I began to slag off Godzone loudly and vociferously to the bearer. Their provenance soon became obvious to me when I overheard some of their conversation (FYI: banal. In the extreme. Here's an example: "Oh yeah. I got Algeria in the sweepstakes, mate. Thought: fuck that! But I reckon they're in with a fucking shout.") and this began to prey on my mind as the first apprehensive touches of the ball were essayed by Fabio's boys. Then I saw the manager of the establishment approaching...