Pubs are not my favourite places. This largely stems from spending far too many wasted days within their confines, drinking the night away. When I stopped drinking alcohol in 2008, I tried desperately to enjoy them whilst wrapped in my sober bubble, but to little avail. Pubs can only be truly appreciated whilst drunk, when the alcohol fuelled code of talking rubbish only impacts those locked in the drunk tank.
Watching football in pubs is tolerable, unless England are playing. I have only ever watched England in a pub twice. The first of which was a Euro 2004 qualifying match against Turkey, and the second was the hilarious 0-0 draw with Algeria in the 2010 World Cup. For the latter match, a buffoon even through his empty pint glass at the projector during the match, and so it was with much trepidation that I entered The Horseshoes in Nuneaton at 4.30pm on a Friday afternoon.
Nuneaton is an unremarkable North Warwickshire town, famous for Ken Loach, Larry Grayson, George Eliot and a rate of teenage pregnancy only bettered by its rival town in mediocrity, Bedworth. I went to school and college in Nuneaton, and it was in this town that I met up with two good friends who I first met at the local Catholic school.
Another root of the trepidation was the reaction I had witnessed in the aftermath of the Champions League final. The pond life in the pub in Leicester where I viewed the game turned the latter stages into a pathetic, nationalistic battle. Despite Chelsea’s heroes hailing from the Czech Republic and the Ivory Coast, for the simplistic fools it was a straightforward England v Germany encounter. The subsequent Chelsea victory even resulted in a man in a West Ham shirt jumping on the table in sheer ecstasy. I also remember my first pint.
With an hour until the England game began, my fears were unfolding in front of my eyes. A group of six people, all clad in England shirts, were downing shots of vodka like water, whilst ignoring the rain fuelled spectacle that was unfolding. Maybe it’s my rampant football geekiness, but how can a supporter of a nation ignore a match that has a direct impact upon your chances of progression? It seemed as if they were only there to join in with the jingoistic fervour that accompanies national tournaments. At this stage, very few people in the bar were watching the Ukraine v France encounter.
Suddenly, it all changed. The rowdy group left, obviously to search for a more raucous environment where songs about German bombers can pollute the toxic air. In their place sat three men, and their football knowledge was impressive. On hearing my friend Liam’s Scottish accent, there was no ill-feeling, just an analysis of the decline of the Scottish game. As both Liam and I were there to ensure Greg was amongst fellow England fans, we had to bite our tongues when both teams scored.
There was no glass throwing, no xenophobic comments, and very little ignorance. There was cheering, shouting and dancing. We were lucky that The Horseshoes is a quaint wee pub that is marketed towards Real Ale drinkers. It holds folk music nights, and had customers in there happily snubbing the match that was unfolding. This surprised me, but did this highlight an underlying bigotry within? Or was it a rarity in amongst a regularity of loutish and laddish behaviour that was existing across the land? Either way, it was pleasing to be able to talk about an England game free from the prejudiced nationalism that can paint England supporters in a dark light.