It was game day and, like
all other game days, Julian and I were at the pub. We always went
to the same place; the perpetually dark atmosphere became our home
away from home when tournament season kicked in. It was there that
we knew we'd be surrounded by fellow fans and would risk no
serious physical injury. Besides, the beer was cheap.
Both employees and fellow
patrons knew us there. "Jules and Adie" they lovingly
called us - or even, when more inebriated, Julian and his Yank.
When it came to those soccer games (and indeed it was highly
scoffed at when I even referred to it as soccer), it was never
forgotten or forgiven that I was an American. I was often the butt
of many a joke or hopefully good-natured ribbing, and Julian
couldn't always defend me. After all, sometimes you just can't
argue with the English.
The pub was packed and, with
some effort, we were able to weave our way up to the bar. It
seemed it would have taken an act of God to get us a pair of
stools in the crowded pub but somehow there they were, dead center
of the bar, exactly where we always sat. The other regulars
clearly hadn't forgotten us, even in their soccer frenzy.
called over the din, waving a five-pound note toward the nearest
bartender. "Two pints of Carling when it pleases you."
"Half a second!"
Pete hollered in return as he hurried to pour several other pints
for several other costumers. "Gimme half a second,
Pete was an old friend of
Julian's, a recent friend of mine. They met in school, I believe
the story goes, but Pete would give you a different, largely
fictional story if you asked him. That wouldn't even be unusual
for someone like Pete, who was as eccentric as they come. However,
he undoubtedly grew on you. The longer you knew him, the more
normal, and at times almost logical, he seemed. It's no longer
shocking, or even atypical, for him to show up to a party in a
sailor's cap, colorful suspenders and eye makeup - or for him to
burst out into spontaneous renditions of Elton John's "Tiny
Dancer" after someone offered to buy him a drink at the pub.
In fact, for Pete, and by association for the rest of us as well,
these occurrences were at the height of normality.
"So how are you feeling
about this game, Pete?" I asked, leaning forward to take a
sip off the top of the pint he had rested before me.
"Match, love," he
corrected me as he bent over, resting his elbows on the bar.
"How are you feeling about this match?"
"All right... all
right... how are you feeling about this match?"
"Well, I'm feeling
pretty bloody good about it."
interjected, attempting to pay Pete several times only to have
Pete repeatedly wave the payment away. "But Pete, their
"In all honesty their
striker's just all mouth and no trousers, really. You hear him
yappin' on about how he's gonna score all these goals and
everything, but the bloke hasn't done a bloody thing!"
"He's ace though when
he needs to be," Julian said, taking a long swig of his beer.
Pete scoffed, shaking his
head as he wiped down the bar and had several orders for beers
yelled at him.
"All mouth and no
trousers, mate. All mouth and no trousers."
It was hardly uncommon for
Julian and Pete to have such conversations; in fact, it was
stranger for them not to occur. Both of them knew more than any
human being should regarding soccer, but together the two formed a
sort of walking encyclopedia. At times it was dizzying to hear
them throwing out names and statistics as if they personally knew
the players they were discussing. But Julian loved it. I knew it
was one of the few connections he felt he still had to the game he
so fervently adored.
Seeing Julian so happy had
become something of a novelty. It had been almost a year since the
accident, and only recently had Julian returned to a state that
might be considered normal. He smiled again, laughed and made
jokes. He'd go out for drinks, and he generally seems to have a
good time. But he still talked about it almost every day. How much
he missed the game, how much he loved it. How if he had gone
through that intersection just a second later everything would
have been all right. How if he had taken an extra two minutes in
the shower that morning, he'd still be considered one of the most
promising candidates for a professional contract. Instead, I had
spent that morning beside his hospital bed, listening in terror to
a doctor reporting the grim details of the car accident: two badly
broken legs, torn ligaments in his ankles and a broken right
kneecap. Julian was lucky to have even survived.
When Julian was finally
released from the hospital, complete with crutches, casts and a
reconstructed kneecap, he took to moping about the apartment. Even
when the casts came off and he got a job in a department store
while he sought out other options and life seemed to be going back
to normal, things weren't the same. He was moody and taciturn, and
he refused to go out. Watching soccer matches on television was
impossible with him at home, as I knew the mere sight of such a
thing would only depress him more. One could not deny that things
had gotten better, but there were still times when he seemed
broken, as though he had spent his life since the accident doing
nothing but seeking out a cure for his discontent.
It's no wonder then that he
still cares so much.