The table is full of used crisp packets which have been folded into triangles and wedged inside empty pint glasses. The half a dozen men leaning on the table have had nearly three hours ahead of kick off to get to know this carefully selected spot; coats have crept down the backs of the chairs, six different mobile phones are splayed about the table among dirty napkins and salty bowls have long since parted from their fries.
I’ve walked right into their territory.
They’re wearing the colours of the tribe; red and white. They glance briefly at my bottle green jeans and faded black T-shirt and rather begrudgingly offer up a spare seat, their eyes hardly leaving the large plasma screen fixed to one wall.
One of them stands up and grunts.
They all grunt back.
I raise an eyebrow and as I do, he turns to me and mutters; "drink?"
“Ooh… rum and lemonade, please.” I reply politely.
He slides backwards to the bar.
I sit and stare at the screen, just like the others. My concentration begins to wander and I lose all focus of the picture, transforming it into little blobs of colour. I think it looks almost pretty this way; just blue and white specks bobbing about in a sea of lime green. I’d like to ask a question, but I hold it in. I fiddle with the straw on my drink which has just been placed in front of me, swirling the bubbles and letting the ice clink around the glass. I get a look, so I stop.
A white speck suddenly darts away from a mass of blue. The whole room lifts half an inch off their seats and a collective gasp rises from the table. All arms are raised in elated anticipation- but then they pause.
Eyebrows knitted tightly together, their bums fall down with a thud to their seats and six arms reach instinctively for the consolation of a pint.
There’s a commotion involving a leg, a face and a yellow card; and it doesn’t look good for the small white specks.
“Outrageous!” I say, as a blue blob wriggles in pain.
Six mean, squinty looks are thrown my way. There’s a clack, clack, clack from the one behind me chewing his gum. The one opposite me bangs his fist hard on the table and shakes his head.
A whistle blows, and all heads are in hands. I know it’s got a lot more serious, because someone’s gone to stand in the corner of the pub, his eyes closed, his head propped up on a picture frame. He can’t look.
It’s these bloody penalties, apparently.
I bite my bottom lip. I try very hard not to make a sound. After all, (I tell myself), I’m wearing bottle green, this is their territory, and I just don’t get it.