His profile picture said it all. Dressed in a Manchester United jersey and shorts, cradling the soccer ball proudly against his chest, grinning wildly, it was evident that Joseph* was into sports.
So, unsurprisingly, my innocent question about his hobbies during our initial contact via instant messaging rapidly propelled the conversation into the realm of soccer.
“We call it football, not soccer,” he corrected me sharply when I asked if he was a fan of the sport. He told me he loved the Red Devils and that he regularly loses sleep over the weekend to catch the English Premier League matches.
Foolishly, I volunteered the information that I was unfamiliar with the sport having never watched a game before, to which Joseph responded with outrage and disbelief. He proclaimed that I needed to be properly educated about the topic and that it would change my life. Dramatic, much? To appease him, I agreed unenthusiastically so we could move on from this subject.
A few days later, we met at a train station for the first time, supposedly to have a dinner date downtown. I had no trouble recognising Joseph because he showed up in that unmistakable red jersey. Let’s just say we managed to sustain five minutes of niceties about something other than football before he exclaimed, “By the way, my bros are at a bar nearby watching the England match. Do you mind if we drop by before we head for dinner?”
I obliged, trying hard to be sweet and accommodating in order to make a good first impression. World Cup season only comes every two years, right? (Or was it four? Oh, who cares.) So instead of heading to the nice restaurant I’d picked out, we found ourselves at the alfresco area of a dingy outdoor sports bar that reeked of testosterone and stale grease. There was an excited outpouring of score updates and match highlights from Joseph’s friends upon our arrival. They barely acknowledged my presence.
From the moment we sat down, Joseph was glued to the large screen. He got a beer for each of us and settled in for the second half of the game. “It will just be a couple of minutes,” he lied, without taking his eyes off the television.
The cacophony of whooping and shouting and lots of swearing around me lasted more than just a couple of minutes. And throughout that time, Joseph made little attempt to make me feel included, other than the occasional comment to explain how amazing a particular pass was or how close the attacker was to scoring a goal.
My stomach growled audibly. It was already close to 9pm. “I’m getting a bit hungry,” I voiced meekly. Joseph turned to look at me properly for the first time since we arrived at the bar. In one fluid motion, he reached across the table, grabbed a bowl of peanuts, placed it in front of me and patted my arm sympathetically.
“Me too, but this game is so intense," he said. I groaned internally, but plastered a smile onto my face and tolerated another half an hour leading up to an explosion of jubilation – England had won. God save the Queen.
We left the bar and headed to the restaurant, which as it turned out was already closed for last order. Joseph, who was in the middle of an animated post-match analysis and clearly couldn’t care less that our plans were ruined, shrugged and suggested having supper at MacDonald’s. That did it for me. I told him politely that I lost my appetite and would just head home.
“Oh alright then,” Joseph said. “Hope you enjoyed the game, at least!”
Silently, I vowed that I would never watch another soccer – no, sorry – football match again.
*Names have been changed.