Picture the scene: it’s Saturday afternoon and you’ve hit the local high street with your boyfriend in search of some new clothes. As you gaze at the shoes, scarves and other paraphernalia you notice a man walking past in a football shirt and instinctively shudder as the haze of man-made fibres catch the light and damned near blind you. Thankfully, it’s not your bloke. No. He’s far too sophisticated and man-about-town to ever don such garb. Phew!
Now let’s step into his mind for a moment. Say, for the sake of argument, that the stranger was wearing a Manchester United shirt and that your bloke supports one of the Premier League’s lesser lights, such as Norwich City. Now let’s take it one step further and imagine that on this particular Saturday afternoon the Canaries (Norwich) are playing Man Utd at the fortress of Old Trafford.
Now, being as he’s with you in the shops, your man has no way of watching or listening to the game live. So for every waking moment he knows he’ll have to avoid the result until Match of the Day comes on at around 10.30pm (or, worse still, the Sunday morning repeat). So at the back of his mind there will be the constant, ever-present thought that he has to, at all costs, avoid anyone even remotely connected to the events at Old Trafford.
Yet it is not so easy. Thanks to a weird state of schizophrenia he will want to avoid the result, yet desperately desire to live every kick at the same time. So every pub you pass will be subtly scanned for evidence of red or yellow shirted celebrations, bawling and despair.
Any mobile phone calls he receives will also be thoroughly vetted on the likelihood that whoever’s on the other line will reveal the score. Only those with a passing interest in footy will be spoken to. In fact, most men will simply avoid glancing at their phone at all, just in case there’s a text message from a Man Utd – or, worse still, fellow Norwich City – supporter resting in the inbox.
So, unlike you he will have spotted the Man Utd shirt at 1000 paces and instinctively have scanned the stranger’s demeanor for any signs of celebration, despair or smugness as he approached.
Similar events will quite literally torment him throughout the day, as he seeks to avoid the TV news, the Internet or any form of radio. Should he hear a cheer from a pub, he will naturally assume the worst. Should the pub be silent, he will naturally assume the worst. A couple of weeks ago I personally spent an entire afternoon and evening wrestling with the permutations of a half-heard shout I’d caught from a pair of Arsenal fans following their game with Chelsea. As a blues fan I was certain they had said the result was 5-1. But I didn’t catch the team who had scored the five. Like any football fan I naturally assumed Chelsea had scored the one. But I couldn’t be sure and there was no way on earth I could ever bring myself to find out at that moment (sadly, I was right!)
Yet the key to understanding this process is to not think of it as an overriding thought in any way. It is like the bass player in a rock band – you know he’s there and that his twanging is influencing your movements and emotions. From time-to-time his strings may briefly take over the entire song. For the most part, however, he is just a constant, rhythmic, highly subtly presence lurking largely in your subconscious.
It doesn’t matter if your man hates football and is only interested in rugby, cricket, darts, hockey or basketball either: the process is entirely the same and repeated around the globe. You will be looking at the clothes and so will he. Who knows he may even buy something that fits and looks vaguely presentable if you squint in the optimum lighting conditions. But deep down in his subconscious the whole rigmarole will be accompanied by the relentless thud of Flea from the Red Hot Chilli peppers pounding away.
And that – along with pies and the shape of the female store assistant’s bottom – is what your man is thinking about when you turn to him in French Connection and discover he’s staring wild-eyed into the distance and, very possibly, drooling.