Why Life Is Hard When You Hate Football

Esquire's Tom Ward on the secret shame of not liking the beautiful game

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It happened again. We were sitting around in the pub, old friends catching up on who was doing what when, without warning, everyone turned robotically towards the TV behind the bar, their eyes glazing over as three middle-aged men in bad suits appeared on screen.

A series of digitised graphs and statistics flashed up, then the man from those crisp adverts was grinning into the camera.

‘How does he get his skin that colour?’ I wondered aloud.

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The friend next to me took a sip of his warm Carling, his eyes never leaving the screen as it cut to an image of an old man in extreme close-up against a backdrop of bright sponsor logos.

‘We’ll do better next time,’ the man was promising as the bristle of microphones edged towards his face. A groan went up from the people next to us.

I looked from one friend to another, questioningly, but there was nothing left behind their eyes. I had lost them. The football was on.

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Like most young men who feel in someway inadequate I blame my father.

Picture me, aged four, kicking my bright green football against the garden fence while my dad’s trying to weed the patio.

“Do you like football, Dad?” I enquired, searching for some common ground.

“Football’s rubbish,” came the reply as my old man pulled up another dandelion.

In all honesty, I think I could have arrived at this conclusion on my own.

At primary school I didn’t need football because I had Action Men and Biker Mice From Mars figures to keep me occupied between lessons.

At secondary school the choice was clear: play football in the freezing rain for three hours a week or do trampolining inside with a few mates and the girls?

I’d love to claim football was beneath me, that it was the pass-time of show-offs, the opium of the masses etc, but the truth is, I was just no good at it.

I’m too long and my limbs don’t do what I tell them to. Put me in goal and I’d flail about like an abandoned St George’s flag wrapping itself around a lamppost in the breeze.

Put me in defence and I’d barge the smaller guys out of the way and hoof the ball over the fence and under the dinner lady’s car.

Put me up front and you’re looking at the world’s most successful attempt to launch a football into space.

Even as an adult, with PE lessons long behind me, being ostracised from the football world hasn’t been easy.

It is, after all, a global social lubricant, perfect for establishing new relationships with taxi drivers and your girlfriend’s Dad. It opens up conversations about where you’re from, the Shakespearean arch of your team’s season and the bitter feud with your local rivals.

It’s acceptable to admit you’re no good at playing football, but even today not be capable of at least feigning an interest strikes a certain type of man as downright suspicious.

***

This summer, the World Cup almost changed things. For six long weeks football was inescapable to the extent that even my Mum kept mentioning it on Facebook. 

It was brilliant. It was the most exciting World Cup in decades. 171 goals were scored, and the tedious 1-0 games of the Premier League were few and far between. Favourites Italy, Portugal and Spain crashed out before the quater finals and Germany beat Brazil and incredible 7-1 on their home soil. 

Even a football sceptic couldn't help get caught up in it. There was real drama here. A narrative strand that I'd never noticed before. The World Cup was high octane entertainment, football as directed by Michael Bay.

Then, with England’s defeat, football was the last thing anyone wanted to talk about, least of all with someone who thought Michael Owen was still the country’s great hope.

In the remaining weeks of the tournament I tried in vain to strike up conversations about how other teams were doing, but after realising Zidane no longer played for France, my footballing knowledge hit a brick wall, and with that my interest in the sport was crushed like Wayne Rooney's hopes of ever hoisting the Jules Rémy. 


***

Back in the pub Match Of The Day drew to a close.

I clapped my hands together. “Right, who wants a drink?”

My friends looked like they were waking up from a long sleep. Slowly, I saw the life returning to their eyes. They were back in the room. We’d gotten through the football together.

“Thanks mate," my oldest friend said, leaning over with one eye on the TV, "but hurry up, there’s a repeat of the Chelsea match on in a minute.”

 


 

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