Saturday, 17 February 2007
Ask me one on sport
I am the black sheep of our family. Born and bred in Manchester, a city divided into blue and red, by rights I should be a passionate football fan (that's soccer for US readers); my brother and father each have a season ticket to Oldham Athletic FC, our local team; I was brought up a Mancunian Blue and colleagues rave or spit bile (dependant on loyalty) about the fact that Manchester United's Old Trafford home ground dominates the view from our office.
But I don't like football.
Why does that confession make me feel like a man standing up to confess his addiction for the first time at an narcotics anonymous meeting? Why do I imagine I can hear a sharp intake of breath and the incredulous exclamation "You don't like football?" as people read this. The fact is that football-fan-failure is a social handicap; Monday mornings can be hell without a modicum of knowledge; the simple task of getting a hair cut is complicated by the lack of the common social denominator of team loyalty to kick off the blokey chat; and what if your boss is a keen fan? It just won't wash to answer the question: "See the game last night?" with the response: "No, I watched a documentary that highlighted the plight of Guatemalan basket weavers faced with a depletion of reed supplies due to a rise in world water table levels."
I have developed a survival strategy over the years that might help anyone struggling to deal with the social isolation caused by football failure. It is based on my experiences of preparing short briefing papers that condense facts about key issues into understandable chunks.
Firstly we football-failures need to get over our aversion to any newspaper page bearing a number higher than forty, to scan the back pages for key facts and figures. Key points should be noted for inclusion in future conversations; once in a conversation it is the work of a moment to steer the talk to safer waters. Take this example; the only live match on proper television (not cable or satellite) on Wednesday evening was Bolton vs Arsenal, so it's almost guaranteed to crop up in conversation:
Barber: See the match last night?
Me: (skilfully avoiding a lie) Good result for Arsenal
Barber: Yes, but Bolton gave them a run for their money didn't they
Me: They did but were outclassed in the end, Arsenal could have put two or three more away - fancy missing two penalties (note the key facts)
Barber: True enough...
Me: And Ben Haim getting himself sent off so late in the match was stupid. (another deft use of a match fact)
Barber: Yes, a silly foul that
Me: (skilfully steering the conversation) Don't you think it's that sort of cynical foul that's setting a bad example to young people?
Barber: Yes it's no wonder there's so much anti-social behaviour, take the kids near where I live...(and the conversation gently glides out into the safe open waters of social decline)
As you can see, the conversation was saved by the application of only a few key football facts. This time it was only a hair cut, but next time it might be a job interview; start compiling key sporting facts now.
Incidentally, we are not in a total sporting vacuum at chez Crofty. Along with millions of others on a Friday evening we watch the TV quiz A Question of Sport. We have, however, introduced a few custom rules to our viewing. In the picture round, where competitors are expected to identify well known sporting figures, we allow ourselves a point if we can identify the sport. Similarly in the video-clip round we allow ourselves points for any pertinent fact whatsoever, this might include pointing out an interesting looking person in the crowd or the fact that the referee has a scar on his knee; I'm sure you get the idea, great fun!