As soon as I had agreed, I knew it was something I would regret. Occasions to play out your relationship on a field, by proxy, do not come very easy. And yet, during the negotiation I thought it would be a good idea to exchange time for time. We watch the match, we meet up with my friend. Sounds easy, right?
We’d been walking north for about twenty minutes, hoping to find a place that would broadcast the match, without much luck. Then we found this dive of a bar, “broadcasting all World Cup matches”. I have never liked football. Yet here I am, about to sit down for the longest two-hour lunch of my life.
Fittingly, we walk into a bar where they are playing the match on a large screen, but in the basement only. Normal people are enjoying their drinks out in the sun and I am in a badly lit cave. The sound is cranked up and two men that seem very knowledgeable are talking about defence tactics. Apparently defence is key to winning this match. They also talk about injuries, and the teams’ strengths. A guy will be key to winning the match. It seems everything is key to winning the match. The basement is not very full, because apparently not as many people care about this match as is thought by him. All I can think about is where to focus my attention between now and the moment they take my order.
I like how, when presenting the players, there is a shot of them crossing their arms. Some go for scary, some for angry, and most don’t know what to do with their hands. I don’t know any of them, but I pretend I do while reading the names off the screen, thus impressing him, and someone else sitting next to me.
We are off!The place grows quiet as a guy kicks the ball. I am informed that’s a kick-off, and that the match has begun. I order a salad. Trivia: it is 32 degrees Celsius where the men are playing, and humidity is at 80%. All of a sudden this dingy basement doesn’t seem so bad in comparison. “Holland were said to be thinking of going to the classic 4-3-3 but looks like they are lining up in a 5-3-2,” says the knowledgeable commentator. It is apparently an important fact.
Guy in orange limps to the side of the field and has to leave. My salad arrives, which annoys him. He does not appreciate the waiter stepping in front of the screen. Lemonade makes its appearance two minutes later. The waiter steps in front of the screen again. Yellow card for him! He cannot yet be expelled because the other side is still missing an order of fries.
I should not nobody is wearing official colours around here. Neutral colours are your friend in case of national matches. Fries arrive, the most exciting thing that has happened so far. They are covered in cheese. An unexpected move.
There seems to be a bit more movement. To a slow match corresponds a slow inflow of people into the basement. Everyone yells at the screen and, though few in numbers, their screams are powerful. I still don’t get what’s going on. Apparently the guys in green are not as bad as expected. Apparently as well, they are “my team” for the purposes of this match. Long faces are in the majority, probably not cheering for green, but who knows?
Drinking pause on the field. It is too hot and humid to play for 45 minutes straight. They show a shot of the stadium, where all fans sitting in the sun area have left because it is just too hot. Why you’d want to be there is beyond me.
I ask to see the menu again. This time nobody steps in front of the screen. Chance missed.
Bathroom break! In 45 minutes nothing more exciting has happened than discovering they changed the croutons on my salad for walnuts. That was a good surprise. Asking questions about the match in the middle of the match is a no-no. So I still have no idea if what the commentators are saying about the goalie on the green side is true. They say he is very good, but very short, so he’ll never make it big. It begins to sound familiar. Then I lose the trail of the comments, that can’t rise above the complaints of the fans.
We’ve resumed play. Goal from the green side. Fists in the air. Despair. Total and absolute loss. I apparently should brush the smug smile off my face. I am not even smiling. Waiter comes around again, I order dessert.
I am devastated to see there is no Wi-Fi in the basement. I go outside to check my email out of sheer boredom. Two emails from people wondering how my relationship is doing. At this point, as well as the orange team, which is to say not good.
On my way back to the table I notice that the kitchen staff is watching the match on a cell phone. Perhaps that explains the walnuts?
I am sitting here, eating blueberries. Nobody cares. There’s a guy on the field who has been jumping to the ground at any opportunity. I am told that this is war, and all is fair. Apparently the definitions of fair play vary according to region.
Goal from the orange side! General rejoice. I know the word overtime well enough to know that, if nobody scores again, then I am stuck here for another 45 minutes, at least. Someone have mercy and score.
I am told one of the players has magical shin that everyone wants to kick. They succeed! Or maybe not! Who cares? A penalty is given to the orange side and they score! My prayers have been heard. I don’t have to sit through overtime! In spite of it “not being my team”, I am happy if they win. That means I won’t have to go around the city hearing about how awful this was and the opportunities they missed. As the match draws to a close, the commentators keep on saying that it was a close call for the oranges, and plain bad luck for the greens.
My phone is overflowing with messages. Mostly people ask about how I am doing, how my fight-by-proxy played out and whether I saw “that”. What they mean remains a mystery. “It wasn’t a penalty”, seems to be the accepted opinion. Again, what that means is not clear to me. I, for one, am just happy to be out of the basement and into the scorching city sun.
For those of you in the know: #Noerapenal