Friday 4 January 2019

Discrimination In the Workplace - England v Croatia, July 11th

Today at work, I finally came out.

A friend and colleague who'd grown suspicious backed me into a corner while I was surrounded by other friends/and or colleagues in the office.

"So will you watch England tonight, Stu?" she asked.

Confronted with the enormity of the situation, I decided I couldn't live a lie any more. I hadn't been overtly 'different' at any time this summer, and though I'd dropped hints when my real self control had weakened (the morning after Colombia, for example), never had I showed my whole self. Now, put on the spot, it seemed the right time to unburden myself.

"Probably not".

The room was shaken by the hand grenade (a hand grenade of minimal damage but inflicting shock waves nonetheless).

"You're not going to watch it?!" my esteemed colleague next to me, asked.

"I don't support England".

My boss stood up from behind us. "Really?!"  

She normally blocks out chit-chat, but this one had penetrated.

"Even if England get in the Final?", my stunned esteemed colleague interrogated.


"So if England play in the Final on Sunday, you wouldn't support them?"

"I'd support France"

A colleague behind chuckled, while others across the desks listened in, struggling to absorb the news. What was more astonishing, the dark secret that had been undetected, or the treason?

"Can you hear this?" my esteemed colleague shouted over to one of the more authentic football fans in the office. He smiled, but was probably bemused, considering he and I had been discussing the England games past, with him intimating the "we" for both of us. He was then invited by my esteemed colleague to swap desks with me, so that I could be transferred to the abyss of empty desks where he sat.

I felt that my performance under duress was cool, but I was uncomfortable with the exposure.

My friend/colleague who'd kicked off the whole business, then linked my lapsed England supporting with my absence from the predictions and sweepstake invitations.

"That was more to do with it being held in Russia".

My esteemed colleague laughed, as a whole new side of me appeared to be splurging forward.

"You've been hurt, haven't you?!", my esteemed colleague then came to a sudden conclusion.

Hurt, but not in the way she might have thought. Not by a match, but by the people of England themselves and their hatred for my club team. I'd already been drifting from them in Euro 88 and, by 90, when the nation had their love-in with Bobby Robson's team, I was completely isolated from them. I'd never had that feeling with my club team so couldn't conceive that our relationship would recover, and by then, England has probably gone for good for me.

In previous places of work, my anti-England admissions were also greeted with incredulity and, as Burnley manager Sean Dyche would say, "these are the harsh realities of accepting who you are, of being true to yourself, and continually having to justify your identity to a new audience...and when the fuck we will ever get a penalty, by the way?"

Back home after work, I was exhausted by the unveiling of my soul in the office and couldn't keep up the truth when approached by a neighbour looking over my fence.

"Alright, mate, you watching tonight?" he asked, speaking nearly five words more than he'd spoken to me in over 11 years.

"Yeah, probably"

"It'll be great if they can do it. They haven't won it since God knows how long, have they?"

"1966" I filled in the blanks.

"Gawd...blimey". He shook his head disapprovingly.

I shook mine in secret. I thought everyone knew England won the World Cup in 66, football fan or not.

The missus went to work in the evening, and with the kids still not interested in the match, I was allowed to potter about with non-football tv up loud to block out any sounds from other living rooms I didn't want to hear. My prospective mother-in-law, as indifferent a football fan during the season as any of those I mentioned in my office, practices distraction techniques in the build up to England matches (tournament ones of course, not qualifiers, which seem to be an alien concept to those who "really get into it" in the summer), and I appeared to be following this approach myself, trying not to think about the game while it consumed every living component of my brain.

I risked putting some washing out on the line, near the end of what would have been extra time, and the calm and peace encouraged me. I couldn't hear car horns or growling roars of triumph, or any chanting from pubs in the audible distance.

I went in to my bedroom and, at a time when any eventuality of a penalty shoot out would have been over, I sat beside my daughter's iPad that was charging on my bed. Within that rectangular screen contained information that would make or break me, energise me or depress me, liberate me or chain me to one last horror (a Final!) I sat next to it for a few minutes before pressing the button to life. I was forced to confront an outcome. There was no option to never find out...

I texted the missus a few minutes afterwards. We'd been contemplating where to go for our 20 year anniversary of being together.

"I'd like to go to Croatia to give thanks!" I typed.                          

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