Tuesday 24 April 2012

Id of Europe extract - Chapter 4

Back to Birmingham and the footie 

Chapter Four

His fingers wriggled around and scratched the carpet. Colonizing the settee with the full-length of his body, he paused a moment to contemplate a hole in his sock before embarking upon a more sustained attempt to find the remote control. There was a moment of genuine panic.

 Eventually the precious little box came firmly within his grasp. He hadn’t wanted to watch the adverts but all that fumbling around had caused Steve to miss most of them anyway. The football was back on again, so Steve let the contraption drop.

It was still 0-0 and Steve threw out a lazy “fuck’ to the TV as Villa lost the ball again shortly after the whistle for the second half. It was the Fourth Round of the FA Cup, Villa were playing at home and Steve was lying on his couch instead of being in the Holte End.

Villa Park was only a ten minute taxi drive away and was where Steve had spent many a Saturday afternoon and occasional rip-roaring Wednesday evening – when Villa beat Inter Milan 2-0, during the Klinsmann, Brehme, Matteus period, in 1992, for example – and the snugness he currently felt embedded on his sofa couldn’t divert him from the shame gripping him now at not being there in among the crowd. Years before he would have been there with his mates, a cluster of four or five of them, standing toward the front of the terrace, on occasion letting rain drip from the roof down their necks, just so they could stake a regular claim to the same spot among the throng every match day.

Their position on the Holte End had been telling, at a time when women and children at football in Britain were the exception, not the rule. The rear of any main end was where the chanting began, to be occasionally followed by the rest of the crowd whose contribution made it a noise to inspire all, especially those on the pitch. But Steve and friends were some way removed from the lot at the top of the ‘Holte’ and viewed them as a mysterious bunch, whose faces they’d never seen. The consensus was that the hard core hooligans were based up there, though football-inspired thuggery in some ways didn’t seem compatible with that all-male voice choir in the heights of the terrace, raising so many uplifting, and often damning, decibels at a First Division match.

Steve and his mates didn’t sing at Villa games (or not much) because they were too  involved in the football, which was why they stood near the pitch, where you could just about make out the players’ urgings and expletive-littered remonstrations to one another and the officials. One of the lads had been given trials by the club and had a little brother down below who was doing a sterling job as a ball-boy. It was all far too serious for any of them to go on chanting passionate hate or love with the kind of impunity that was the preserve of the guys up above. Of course they pilloried mistakes with rat-like snarls and opponents’ fouls were met with as much spitting invective lower down below as they were higher up, but in general Steve and his mates looked upon goings on the pitch with more of a furrowed brow than shaken fist.
But now Steve found himself biting his fingernails as he watched ‘the Villa’. He had a half-full can of beer to his side on a nearby table and a carton of pizza toward which he reached for a slice when the hunger gurgles took him, usually when Villa squandered a chance. For Steve, football had now become fully-self indulgent pursuit in front of the telly rather than the exercise in serious escapism of yesteryear. Now, he looked a slavering wreck of a man, replete with beer-stains on his shirt and pizza crumbs on his chin, all prone and passive. Yet he would have balked at any suggestion of a descent, largely because Steve, belching there on the couch, was now a married man.

His wife was in the other room reading a book, and he was happy for her, though far more pleased for himself what with having the living room at his complete disposal. She despised football with a passion and hoped, and even planned, to wean Steve off it eventually but acknowledged that his ‘weakness’ could be acknowledged on a Sunday, when she preferred anyway to either read or meet her friend Meika for a coffee. But Meika was back in Germany, so Anna was reading Thomas Mann on the bed. The occasional groan from the living room made her flick her page aside with an irritation bordering on rage.

“You flucking cunt!” roared Steve at the telly, as the referee cautioned a Villa player, his face catching a crumb or two of pizza as he trotted backwards on the screen. A tear of incredulity appeared in Anna’s eyes, which she wiped away angrily, as she re-read yet another paragraph from ‘The Magic Mountain’.

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