12 December 2005

Oi War Roit Mardy

Well, now, Oi've got a foice as lawng as Livery Street after this wikend's trip to Birninem. Oi'd been heffing a bronical, it war a bit parky, thar warnt enny poise, Oi spenn all moi ackers, the troin injin crept out, en we lawst the bloiding goim!!!

Supposedly, at least according to this Brummie and Black Country dictionary, this means that I wasn't too happy about this weekend's trip to Birmingham: I was nursing a cold, it was a bit chilly, the refreshment stand had run out of pies, I spent all my money, the train engine broke down, and we lost the bleeding game! I won't vouch for the accuracy of any of it, other than to say it sounds as plausibly incomprehensible as the anything I've ever overheard on the streets of Brum.

I'd have happily overlooked all the inconveniences and discomforts if Fulham had managed to pull off a victory or at least a draw, and despite having two of our best players suspended, for about the first 70 minutes of the game that seemed the most likely result. It was an ugly game, with the teams seeming to place more emphasis on crashing into each other than on controlling the ball and actually doing something with it, but it had a certain visceral quality to it that was well suited to a dismal December day. But then Birmingham put on three substitutes and started relentlessly attacking the Fulham end, banging shot after shot in on goal, and finally, with only six minutes left, the inevitable happened and one went in. Fulham fans were furious: we'd seen it coming for a good ten minutes, and yet nothing had been done, no substitutions, no change of tactics. One fan harangued us all the way from the stadium to the train station, and looked set to continue in that vein for the 2+ hours back to London (longer as it turned out; we got stuck behind a slow-moving milk train or ox cart, not sure which), but he was soon drowned out by a considerably greater annoyance.

The guys sitting across from us looked perfectly harmless. If anything, they almost seemed out of place in a carriage full of football supporters: sort of studenty, albeit a bit flabby and gone to seed. They set up about 20 cans of beer on their table and set out drinking themselves into a stupor. After a while they woke up enough to start singing along (badly) to pop hits on one of their iPods, which was good for a few laughs. But then they got a new burst of energy and jumped up to start singing football chants, the standard ones at first, but then they shifted into racist and anti-gay ones, and songs celebrating the plane crash that wiped out the Manchester United team in 1958. I seriously considered asking them to knock it off, as it was seriously bumming out just about everybody else in the carriage, and wondered out loud why the other guys at my table wouldn't want to join me (they were considerably bigger, stronger, and at least a few years younger than me).

But they just went on chatting (not that you could hear anything over the singing) as if nothing at all was happening. Just before we pulled into London, I realised why: one of the fatter and most sozzled of the singing drunks fixed his gaze on an innocuous older gentleman a few seats away and loudly announced, "That pile of crap over there is giving me eyebrow. He wants a good kicking and he's going to get it."

Fatso McDrunk wasn't, of course, about to fight the man himself; what he was in effect saying to his mates was, "Let's you and him fight." And the thing was, if the intended victim had so much as said a word or made the wrong facial gesture, they would have. It was clear that the whole racist/sexist/moron act was mainly meant to provoke someone into giving them an excuse to start a fight. Somehow I'd been thinking that they were basically nice guys who would immediately quiet down if someone politely asked them.

The most shocking thing (to me) was that the yobbos were apparently Fulham fans. I've been going to Fulham games, both home and away, for many years now, and had never seen anything like it. "We have a very middle class following," I'd always told friends when they expressed fears about me falling foul of those legendary football hooligans. "I don't think things like that go on much anymore."

Well, on at least one carriage of the 17:55 from Birmingham Moor Street to London Marylebone, they still do. How exciting that I happened to be sitting in it.

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