Last night’s football match was the furthest thing from my mind as we opened the pub for the evening. While all my customers were clammy with excitement, my mind was elsewhere.
I’m not, if I’m honest, a particular fan of football. While many people have said to me over the years that Formula One (my sporting tipple of choice) is just a bunch of cars driving round and round in circles, to me football is just a bunch of grown men kicking a ball around on a field.
I was once lucky enough to be taken to a quarter final match of the Euro 2000 tournament, between Spain and France, and I remember sitting there – as my colleagues at the time watched on like excited school children – thinking that I’d never seen more infantile performances from grownups taking place in front of me.
It’s a sport that has always frustrated me, with images of face-painted fifty year olds crying in to plastic cups when their team fails to win a match adorning our TV screens, highly paid actors falling all over the place on the pitch when a member of the opposition looks at them, and a resolute refusal to use technology and camera shots to guide the referee as it would be in almost any other top-ranking sport. (Although, for once, that actually worked in our favour last night so I’ll stay quiet about it on this occasion.)
There is no denying, however, that football is good for pubs. Of all televised events, it is the one that is more likely to bring in a crowd than any other; which is probably why Sky feel justified in raping us with their fees. My pub has a big rugby following and, because of my fetish with fast vehicles, we get a trickle of guys in to watch cars going round in circles on a Sunday afternoon (less so since most of the races moved in the direction of Sky, however) but put an England game on the telly and you’ll always get a good crowd in.
Last night, though, I was more worried about the keys to my wife’s car. They’d been missing since 1a.m. on Sunday morning when I moved her car after getting back from providing a bar at the village hall. We didn’t really notice they weren’t about on Sunday but on Monday, as I headed out for an appointment in Chesham, Ali turned the pub upside down looking for them.
Then, yesterday afternoon, when I got back from another meeting, we climbed in to the giant wheelie bins in the car park and took apart each bag of slimy rubbish (I did remember to get out of my suit and in to more appropriate clothing first), using my son’s metal detector in a vain bid to find them amongst the remains of Sunday’s lunches.
And the prospect of England coming runner’s up in their group was bothering me too. This would mean they played Saturday, when I’m running another bar in a nearby town and my wife’s jollying it up at some music event in London. It was all turning in to a logistical nightmare, while the prospect of having to pay £175 for a new Ford key filled my throat with bile.
Then England took control of the match. And Sweden scored against France. A Sunday game – much more preferable to me – looked likely. Then Ukraine appeared to score, but the ref ignored it, and much cheering took place in the pub. (Have you ever thought that listening to a group of people watching a football match in the pub is akin to listening to somebody having really bad sex?) The thought amused me as the ref blew the whistle and we heard that Sweden finished two-nil up against France, guaranteeing us the game on Sunday. The cheer was thunderous.
“Now all I need,” I said to a chap on the other side of the bar, “is for my ruddy car keys to turn up in a shoe somewhere.”
“Have you lost your car keys?” Another customer asked, overhearing my conversation. “Are they Ford keys? With a small torch on them?”
That, I replied, they are.
“I’ve got them in my office. They were handed in up at the Park.” Half a mile away, in a direction I’d not been since parking the wife’s car. Bloody magpies.
But, as we were all saying last night: what a result!