I didn’t watch the first hour of the England v Hungary game last night on the grounds that I was enjoying a few pints with an old friend on Bristol’s famous King Street. I’ve long learned to prioritise real life and actual people above mere trivia like football matches, although perhaps if it had been a final or some such Big Occasion my decision may have been different. As it was several hours of entertaining conversation, most of the coherent stuff came from old friend to be fair, we went to a pub with a Big Screen which was showing the game and we were the only people in said pub watching it. And what we saw, it must be said, wasn’t terribly good. We left the pub to get the bus home and conversation strayed quickly away from football and onto just about anything else. I switched on my steam-powered computer today to find I’d dodged a bullet in not seeing the game and some of the awful stuff going on in the stands.
Visitors from Hungary included actual fascists, the same people presumably who abused England’s black players at the corresponding game in Budapest. The ‘knee’ was heartily booed and soon Hungarian ultras were attacking the thinner-than-it-should-have-been blue line. Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban has weaponised the sort of men who follow the national football team into a travelling nazi army and doubtless he would have been proud at the sight of his fellow countrymen brawling with agents of the law in the stands of The Home Of Football.
Part of me wonders if our own hard right home secretary Priti ‘Vacant’ Patel would have been feeling a modicum of empathy with a kindred spirit such as Orban. After all, the daughter of immigrants from Uganda was quite content for English fans to boo the team’s opposition to racism. Why would she feel different about violent thugs taking protest a step further?
The football I can’t really talk about because I didn’t see enough of it. But predictably social media is full of ‘taxi for Southgate’ and all manner of faux anger from people who think England have a divine right to turn up and beat Johnny Foreigner. So the team stuttered and stumbled against a large double-decker bus parked on the edge of the Hungarian penalty area and it wasn’t good enough. Forget our run to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018, the semi-final appearance in the Nations League and then the final – only the fucking final, mind – of the European Championships of 2020, played in 2021. But hey, Gareth Southgate has to go now. What’s Sam Allardyce doing?
At least I am beginning to rediscover some of the things that really matter in life as opposed to the things that don’t. An evening with an old friend was infinitely more enjoyable than England’s draw against Hungary. In fact, I watch less football in person and on television since I was a very young teenager because – and here’s the rub – it isn’t really important, not in the real world where time seems to pass faster than ever and everywhere around me people are moving on and sadly passing on. After all, football is only a game, no matter what Bill Shankly said.