In the midst of World Cup fever, Gef heads to Jak’s to take in the England game. Brace yourselves…
It’s a Tuesday night; the screaming sun continues to baffle with its stubborn omnipresence and we’re both staying sober. What possessed us to enter Jak’s on the night of the big England match?
Curiosity, mostly. We’re both football fans too which does help survival during what can be a month of bewilderment for some. My mate is English by birth and therefore, when it comes to supporting his countrymen, his weary face betrays the usual story of the sorry England fan:
Rueful ire at his parents married to a bristling fury for condemning him to a life of crushed hopes and dreams. “Why couldn’t you have pulled out, Dad? Saved the little guys for that anniversary trip to Barcelona!”
A dispirited and hopeless resignation to such a fate. “Well, we’re going to bloody lose on penalties aren’t we? Just blow the whistle, ref” (5 minutes in)
Then there’s, obviously, the crazed, irrational but always flickering hope. “Maybe. Just maybe this is our year”
It is the hope, of course, that has brought him here.
But why am I here? Ten minutes in, I’m certainly asking myself that very question. I am trapped like a sardine in a tin-box, drowning in an acrid cocktail of Carling and man-sweat and I’m not even an England fan. Why did I not just watch this at home? I’m not even drinking! As a Scotland fan, it’s safe to say I’m even more well-versed in the art of devastating disenchantment. At least the English have the distant memories of success, the moments of nearly but so far. My family’s nation last featured at a World Cup when selfie meant w*nk and Trump meant fart.
Still, it doesn’t take long for us both to become immersed in the occasion. There’s a palpable tension in the air, a mostly shared nervousness borne from years of underachievement. The camera pans to the respective crowds. The Colombians: beautiful and joyous; a yellow carnival of dancing bees. The English: a plastic glass clutching collective; a static white of nail-biting bald men.
The chanting was surprisingly tame early on. The tension and focus of the fans had yet to be counteracted by the booze. A small cluster start up, inexplicably, with a half-hearted rendition of “Happy Birthday” but thankfully the room is swarming with Green Street-style nutters who stare them down into silence.
As the ale flows the tongues of the febrile masses are loosened. A resounding bark from the back of the room arrives like a thunderbolt – “HE’S A F*CKING SH1THOUSE!” and leaves the masses in no doubt which panto villain to hate. It appears it’s the friendly looking Colombian chap taking a throw-in.
And England are playing alright, actually. The manager is a calm and increasingly dapper presence – Gareth SouthWaistCoat anyone? – and Harry Kane dispatches his 46th penalty of the tournament so far. The collective roar of the ensuing “It’s coming home” has the resonant force of a Brian Blessed belch as delivered by a criminally-minded cockney giant.
Then, of course, with moments to spare, England do an England and shit it all to hell.
Extra time and, inevitably, the dreaded penalties loom like fiendish spectres of crap-tournament past. This sports-bar / steakhouse has now been swallowed whole by the now inebriated hordes. This is no longer Jak’s, this is a bristling hotbed housing the Tourette’s-ridden, the wildly inebriated and, on occasion, the geographically challenged.
“Is Colombia near Spain?” was overheard at one stage, tragically.
These pampered, preening, multi-millionaires are now ours. And we have adorned them with armour, weaponry and gallant valour as they prepare to fight for our mere entertainment, in this modern Roman Colosseum of our own creation. I am swept up in it all. The collective boos ring out but the Colombian man on our television screen doesn’t appear to hear them, and he dispatches his penalty with consummate ease.
As Eric Dier – played here by a young Dolph Lundgren – steps up to take the deciding kick, there is a hush. And then…release. A collective valve is released letting off an intoxicating but potentially deadly combination of orgasmic bliss, head-shaking relief and potent ass-gas. My friend is lost in it all, transported out of himself and residing in the present immediate high that carries him forth, swept up on a feverish drug-cloud where strangers embrace, where the drunkards jump, they bounce and they spill brain-cell-quashing liquids over one another, as is the way.
And, somehow, this silly little game matters, if just for a short while. It is illogical and founded on a partisanship based on little more than birthplace. Still, the sheer over-riding drama of sport can turn observation of the athletic prowess of others into a religious event.
The congregation swig their pints of holy water as the hymn draws to a close. It’s coming home, sing the believers. It probably isn’t but still, it’ll be a hell of a ride.