There is a kind of energy in the air when the World Cup is on, regardless of the weather, for six weeks, the nation grinds to a halt. Every twist and turn, from the serious to the most trivial, is reported on with equal seriousness, allowing football to hog the headlines whilst more serious issues: War, occupation, earthquakes, etc, are shoved further and further down the agenda. I often think World War 3 could break out whilst the World Cup is on, and no one would notice.
At work, those of us who either don’t like football, or don’t like the World Cup (not necessarily the same thing) are forced further and further into one small corner of the staffroom, whilst everyone else sprawls over the seats, intent of watching every crucial minute of every match, regardles of which teams are playing. Beer is produced, and crisps, whilst those of us working late sigh and return to work.
Tonight I finished work at 7pm. I had known in advance that England were playing tonight, (How could I not?) and had calculated that the match would finish at 6:30pm if it was the usual 90 minutes, and by ten to seven if it went into extra time. This being the first round, I knew that a penalty shootout wasn’t in the offing.
Anyway, I had to wait a little longer than I’d like to get my first bus. I just missed the one before I think, but got a seat O.K, and settled down to staring out of the window. Every pub beer garden was a sea of red and white as I passed, and I figured I’d probably get home without much hassle, as the atmosphere on the street didn’t feel too bad at that point.
Upon changing buses, I had a ten minute wait, during which time I toyed with the idea of investigating a less frequent bus route, or getting a taxi. Towards the end of the ten minutes, people had started coming out of the pubs, and a small but vocal group of England supporters were chanting ‘ENG-ER-LAND! ENG-ER-LAND! ENG-ER-LAND!!’ from somewhere behind me. The workers and bus waiters gazed at them, wearily, then went back to waiting for a bus that felt as though it would never come.
When it did finally arrive, a guy in a baseball cap, Lacoste, trainers, polo shirt etc half climbed, half staggered onto the bus, chanting ‘ENG-ER-LAND! ENG-ER-LAND! ENG-ER-LAND!!’ in his wake came a tall, thin girl dressed in pink, with a very short denim skirt, bleach blonde hair, and high heeled sandels. I thought at first they were together, but there was some eye contact after they’d paid their fares, and he staggered on upstairs alone, whilst she sat at the back, across from me.
The chants of ‘ENG-ER-LAND! ENG-ER-LAND! ENG-ER-LAND!’ continued, sporadically, from upstairs as we continued on our way. Evidently he had found friends on the top deck. The passengers downstairs shuffled and sighed a bit, having heard it all before. Soon, stamping could be heard as well, and the voices seemed to grow louder. ‘ENG-ER-LAND! ENG-ER-LAND! ENG-ER-LAND!’ THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, ‘ENG-ER-LAND! ENG-ER-LAND! ENG-ER-LAND!’ THUD, THUD, THUD, ‘ENG-ER-LAND! ENG-ER-LAND! ENG-ER-LAND!’ THUD, THUD, THUD, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, CRASH…
It doesn’t really convey the experience simply to say that there was the sound of glass smashing. If I write that, you will only be able to imagine the sound made when you’re holding a glass and it slips through your fingers to the floor. This wasn’t like that: it was the kind of sound you hear on road safety advertisements when a car crashes off screen. A thud, and the sound of fifty, heavy, reinforced glasses smashing all at once. It sounded like a minor explosion.
There was space between the sounds and the reactions for someone to say, “What was that?”
and for someone else to reply, “Drunks”
The pink and white girl across from me said, in frightened tones, “Oh my God, what has he done?” as she clasped a hand to her mouth.
The boy in the baseball cap appeared at the bottom of the stairs, muttered something about a smashed window, and asked if he could get off, as he was ‘only going to the Co-Op’ The driver let him off. (Note to inexperienced bus users: If a bus window is smashed, the bus gets trashed, or set fire to, this always happens. If a bus crashes into a building because a passenger is engaged in a heated and physical discussion with the driver, the passenger escapes via the fire exit instead.) Not only did he let him off, but he let everyone else off the bus too, not that we had much choice…
So, already later than I should like, I wearily traipse along the road to the next bus stop, and wait whilst I decide if I should A.) Walk the rest of the way (35 minutes as opposed to the usual fifteen) B.) Call a taxi C.) Wait for another bus.
I waited. Soon I was joined by other refugees from the bus. A girl with long black hair in an England shirt talked to some of the other passengers. Word was the girl in pink had freaked upon exiting the bus, and had confided in some of the other passengers that the guy in the baseball cap had been bragging to her about his curfew/ASBO, and how hard he was, how he had a list of previous as long as his arm, and so on. He’d been trying to impress her by the sound of it: How romantic.
It was about another ten minutes before another bus finally arrived, by which point I was wondering if I was ever going to get home, and those around me where wondering aloud why they hadn’t got a taxi instead.
Kind of makes me think though, if its like this when England win, what will it be like when they inevitably lose? Actually, I know the answer to that already: It will be horrible. I have vivid memories of the 2002 World Cup, at least, I think it was the World Cup, it was the time when it was hosted by Japan and South Korea, which meant, because of the time difference, that a lot of matches started at about 8am and the pubs had special licences to serve people earlier as a result. I remember going into town the morning that England got knocked out, not realising beforehand how horrible an atmosphere it would be. There was the surreal sight of grown men staggering around the market square, bawling and howling like overgrown toddlers whilst people looked nervously on, and the general atmosphere was tense and taut, like any moment something would snap. You knew that you were on the edge of violence, and that almost anything would kick it off – it barely mattered what. I imagine the average town centre on a Friday/Saturday night feels like that after the pubs shut, but this was worse: it was 11am, people were trying to do their shopping, go to and from work, buy stuff… but reality wasn’t letting them. Because everything must stop for the World Cup.