‘Oh, is there a match on darling?’ It’s sweet of Adriana to sound even vaguely excited on my behalf.
It’s the first time today that I’ve thought about football. I’ve known for a while that I would be working late so I put it to one side, and anyway sitting next to Adriana for the afternoon’s meeting is distraction enough.
‘No it’s fine, just fine’.
‘Are you sure? I don’t mind, really I don’t.’ She looks me full in the eyes and I almost believe her.
‘No honestly. We deserve a drink after that rubbish.’
Still holding my gaze, she strokes my cheek with her fingertip then makes her way to the bar. It’s packed but a group of city suits part to let her through.
Actually, that’s not strictly accurate, not thinking about the game. More self-deception, part of the practised art of being a fan. It’s just not been on my mind as much as a Spurs match usually would, but as kick-off time came near my concentration fell away as part of me was over the water. No one noticed. It was social care after all – talking all afternoon with no decisions, then someone looks at the clock and earnestly declares we had worked hard enough for today, let’s take it away and re-convene in the New Year. I wondered if we might pull a few strands together but blank looks sent me scurrying to the pub. No wonder my career is going nowhere. I just don’t fit in.
Adriana is still at the bar and surrounded. She says something I can’t catch and the group erupts into laughter, which one red-faced guy takes as a signal to squeeze her leather skirt.
I screw my eyes up at the screen in the corner. Two up, must be near the end of the first half. Not bad, give it a go anyway, something about a lovely strike from Townsend but we lost this one in a single home game against PAOK. Played it tidily until then, win that one and through, but not now.
I turn away to rescue Adriana but she’s more than a match for the lustful yuppies. She hands me a beer and rolls her eyes in mock dismay. ‘Cheers!’
I glance at the TV, in slow motion Defoe is rolling the ball into the net via the defender’s back. The commentator brays, ‘Now it’s on!!!’ and I have to steady myself against the table. I hold my palm to my forehead and continue to stare.
‘Bad news darling? I thought your lot were doing well’.
‘It’s terrible. We’re winning.’
‘I saw on the news last Saturday. Very good! But your manager looks ill, darling, he should give up, have a rest.’
‘Couple of setbacks lately’.
‘What’s this match?’
‘Europe,’ I reply.
‘That’s good, isn’t it?’ she asks. Soothed by her interest, I can’t fight against the weight of 40 years. Against my better judgement, I embark on a brief discussion of the merits of the Europa League.
It’s a mistake. I struggle on with diminishing enthusiasm in every passing moment. Rather like the Europa League itself, in fact. Her furrowed brow is a signal I cannot miss so I pause. ‘So this match doesn’t mean anything?’ she asks. I hastily gulp a mouthful of beer and nod at the same time with the inevitable consequences. ‘So why are you worked up then?’ she adds as I try to brush away the beer that has already soaked into my shirt.
‘Because it’s on again. The score is good for us in the other game, if we score two more and it stays the same, we’re through. Oh no.’
I just wanted a peaceful time until Sunderland and then Chelsea. Respite. Clear the head. But the pressure was on. I was unhappy about throwing away our decent chances in the Europa League. Ridiculous to be pleased to be out of a competition, even though I seem to be in the minority of Spurs fans in thinking that way. Win something shiny rather than come 4th, although I don’t see why we can’t do both. But I had reached an accommodation. Dealt with it, it was over, move on. Knew where I stood. But now, now we’re winning. That’s thrown everything up in the air. It could be so simple but now this. I steadied myself against the table again and prepared for the second half, tense, agitated, hopping from one foot to another. For football, I was back to normal.
Adriana’s bright blue eyes searched for something arcane and buried. ‘So you’re like this because they’re winning?’
I pause. She’s not heard the cliché before so it’s fresh for her. ‘In football it’s not the despair that gets you, it’s the hope’. She continued to stare for a few more seconds, her tooth dimpling her bottom lip. Then she patted me on the shoulder. ‘Watch the game darling, watch the game.’
She likes the stories. Of Dos Santos, a talent misunderstood by his manager who wants to party. To me, ineffective in a match where he should shine, she saw a young boy a long way from home. Or Kane, struggling against criticism unfair for one so young. She didn’t see the clever quick feet in his run or the instant turn for his goal but was delighted when he scored. She’s right, I’m sure his mum will be pleased. And no, I didn’t see the first half but they must have played a lot better, and no, I don’t know why they were so limited now. Or why they kept shooting from way out. It is easier for the goalkeeper to stop it, you’re right.
Near the end, the barman brings over a drink. Her sudden warm smile of surprise catches the young man unawares and he rushes away quickly to hide his blushing cheeks, in the process almost bumping into a man carrying a full tray of drinks. He swears unnecessarily loudly. The poor boy’s total salary will go in the dry cleaning bill for that suit, at least that’s what the man threatens.
The wine is from the suits. She holds it up to them, mouths a thank you across the crowded room and then turns her back on them.
‘Nearly over’ I say, visibly relaxing in defeat.
She smiles again. ‘Let’s stay to the end. I know you want to.’ She squeezes my arm. ‘Onwards and upwards. There’s always next week’. I squeeze her hand in return. Adriana understands more about being a fan than I give her credit for.