Across Continents

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Out of character

Tuesday evening. The sign outside said Wine Vaults but inside it much more resembled a pub. And a very quiet one at that, small groups, three or four at the most, sitting quietly in the darkened alcoves. The dearth of custom had surprised me, not least because it was a rather pleasant evening, of the sort we’d not had for a while. True, England was shortly to kick off against I wasn’t quite sure who, but I’d imagined this would have bolstered the numbers a bit in the bar. But it hadn’t. At least it meant I was able to get a table by the window, watching people, couples mostly, drifting past in the brief offering that was this year’s summer, and for that I was grateful.

Joined a little later by an old Harrovian chum, I’d enquired as to whether football was his sort of thing. I’d imagined it wasn’t, nor, as a rule, was it mine for that matter, but it seemed polite to ask, even if I wasn’t sure quite why. It just was. His reply surprised me a little, for whilst he’d no especial interest in tonight’s match, at school he’d played football. Of sorts. A sport unique to Harrow school, a cube shaped ball on a clay pitch, shoving one’s opponent replacing tackling. I’d immediately thought rugby, my expression of surprise saying as much. He must have spotted this immediately, for he was quick to add that it was quite unique, even if it had its genesis around the same time as the far more familiar sport of the rival public school.

I explained I’d been schooled in Wales, and whilst male voice choirs weren’t as common place as some seemed to imagine, football definitely didn’t feature. Rugby in the winter, cricket in the summer. There must have been talk of it at home, for my Dad had always been a loyal Man City supporter, and I’d vague memories of school friends collecting stickers, and of Kenny Dalglish who I thought had probably been a goalkeeper. And I was sure there was something called the pools panel, some chap on TV pulling balls out of a bag. White gloves. But that might have been snooker, like golf, a pastime masquerading as a sport. All pretty hazy.

On the road I’d found myself taking a quite unexpected interest in the game. Actually, interest might have been a bit strong, but I’d gleaned a few facts from my Dad and I was content I could cuff the rest. Born in Manchester, a detail shown in my passport, there’d been a presumption at Eastern European and Central Asian border crossings that I must surely be an avid supporter. Manchester United. Manchester City. Expressions frequently used. I’d smile a lot, throw out a few players names as you might discard old, crumpled receipts, sometimes shaking my head in disapproval. Harmless theatre, but it did mean no rummaging in the panniers, fishing for bribes, that sort of thing. Needs must.

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