The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

It’s never just a game

on July 11, 2014

Will you be cheering on Germany or Argentina this 2014 World Cup Final?

With the game being played at 3am on Monday morning, I’ll be fast asleep and waking up to check BBC Sport to find out who the World Champions are is far less thrilling.

Though I think there would be something quite rebellious to give up on sleep to go and watch the match in one of the bars just a 10 minute walk away down by Robertson Walk. But I’m not going to.

The problem is that this whole tournament has passed me by without having watched a single game or even any of the highlights. It’s partly to do with the time difference and being on holiday during the Group Stages helped to avoid the shame of England going out then.

Living this Expat Life for almost six years has dug a void in my already limited sporting knowledge. I recognised just three names from this year’s England squad and I bet I won’t know any of the current players in my chosen home team of Newcastle United. ‘Toon Army, Toon Army’.

You may argue I’m obviously not a true supporter then. The fair weather type that hangs around when things are going good and not to be seen when they’re languishing in the lower leagues. That’s not me either but to be a true supporter you have to dedicate a lot of time to the cause and at the moment I can barely keep in touch with real people I know, current affairs and everything that #1, 2 and 3 are up to.

There is none of the grabbing a free newspaper on the way to work that gives you a round up of all the current sporting news or catching it all at the end of the News at Ten. Or just hearing people talk about sport. For if you can’t talk about the weather to kickstart a conversation, then sport is the acceptable alternative. All this subliminal absorption of information that makes you still feel part of something that everyone else is involved with..

I first realised just how bonding having a ‘team’ is during the first few weeks of starting University. I don’t think it had occurred to me that other footy fans existed, which may sound a bit odd but growing up you were surrounded with family and friends supporting the same team. Then suddenly you are one amongst hundreds of new people from all different backgrounds, upbringings and regional slang.

Having spent months imagining an independent life away from home, you find yourself seeking another someone that understands the same English. How much easier can it be to find that someone than a public declaration of which football club you supported. I bet only a small percentage of the student population didn’t have a poster, a mug or scarf on proud display of some football or rugby team. Though I equally bet that some posters were only there purely for aesthetic pleasures.

If there was ever a better time for England to host a football tournament then it was whilst we were still students. Enough hours in the day to watch all the games and the Euro 96 tournament meant longer drinking hours in all the pubs in Manchester.

As I’ve said before, I have very little sporting knowledge and it’s always my least favourite piece of pie in Trivial Pursuit. Even more so now that I’m not subliminally absorbing any form of sporting information. But does it make me any less of a true fan? No, I don’t think so. It just makes me less of a contender to cover the Sports questions in a pub quiz team.

Choose your team. For life, for one tournament or just one game. When you’re there with others how can you possibly not be swept along in the tidal wave of passion, tension and belief uniting and dividing a group of people. It’s exhilarating to walk into a pub packed to the rafters with people and their pints at the ready. Roars from the crowd at every perceived injustice against their side and even louder roars of jubilation when things go right.

I miss the social aspect of sporting events. The Saturday or Sunday afternoons down the pub. The outdoor screens showing the big tournaments. It’s never just a game and I would never deign to say that to a truly bereft fan but there’s always going to be another game on the horizon.

I haven’t been to many live football matches and never to the rugby, but I’d really like to. I prefer the disciplined behaviour of rugby to the deplorable squaring up to the Ref you sometimes see in football and what kind of example is that? Where are the role models who really merit this level of commitment, time and money that supporters put in and not forgetting the often obscene levels of pay that players get.

But I don’t know enough to offer any kind of debate on these matters. I just know that whether it was my first game watching Stalybridge against Woking, my only time at St. James’ Park watching the Toon Army defeat Leeds United with my Mum, the last game between England and Scotland at the old Wembley Stadium before it was rebuilt or sat in the West Ham stand whilst secretly supporting Liverpool for the day; the atmosphere of being there is invigorating.

I only just remembered the other day about having been to Munich during the 2006 World Cup to watch Ivory Coast play Serbia and Montenegro. I’m pretty sure I have no blood affinity with either country but for that day we were definitely Cote D’Ivoire fans and I have the t shirt and everything to prove it. I completely forgot just how much fun those five days were. So well organised, as you’d probably expect in Germany, and good behaviour all round.

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Munich is a beautiful city, quite roomy too and here and there were special outdoor areas with big screens and big steins of beer to match. The weather was glorious too which always helps along a good atmosphere and some sightseeing and so it was that we found ourselves wandering through Munich’s English Garden. I think I see persons sans clothing in the distance but Husband, Mr No Beans and Ms Relight My Fire are insistent that I am mistaken. Until we loop back round and happen upon the persons sans clothing. See! Or rather don’t make it obvious that you’re seeing.

It appears that one side of the not very wide river is for people clothed and the other is for people sans clothing. Of course I was mature about it all! And I also learnt how to smoke a cigarette in a manner that prevents stray flecks of ash from burning parts of your person that may be sans clothing. You hold the cigarette as normal and arc from the elbow in a windscreen wiper sweeping motion.

We didn’t have any tickets for the games in Nuremberg but we headed over there anyway for a couple of days. It’s just a train ride away and Nuremburg is exactly the sort of place you would want to come back to for a real Bavarian winter market. Mr No Beans is not a fan of baked beans but a huge fan of sausages and took great delight in sampling as many bratwursts as possible. Bratwursts for every meal and snack he boldly declared. That’s a lot of bratwursts with each bun in Nuremburg carrying three of them.

We passed the site of the Nuremburg Rallies and the solemnity that surrounds the acknowledgement of this historical site reverberates around us.

Beyond here was another well organised spectators base with fans from all over the world in a kaleidoscope of football strips. A sea of people wearing the same team colours is uniting but a sea of people wearing a clash of team colours and having a great time together is uplifting.

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Even though you may not speak the same language, it’s funny how everyone speaks the same language of beer. Husband spent a whole game conversing with a German supporter with neither of them speaking in the same language but gesticulating wildly and nodding vigorously. Mr No Beans declared a new affinity with Ghana whilst I and Ms Relight My Fire ate more bratwursts and drank more beer with two hands holding onto our steins.

As I write this and remember just what a great time I had at the 2006 World Cup, I think maybe I might just be on the side of Germany this World Cup Final.

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