With the country apparently teetering on the edge of chaos, and following a couple of nights of rumour and counter-rumour surrounding the imminent arrival of The Mob in the provinces, coupled with the fact that the notorious riot monkeys of Cardiff were in town, I had assumed an exhausted Thames Valley Police, drafted into the capital to get rioters to chill the fuck out, would have forced the postponement of Wednesday’s Rumbleows Cup game.
In my head it wasn’t going ahead, so I wasn’t mentally prepared. I half expected to see the Holiday Inn Express in flames and rabid hooded apes swinging from the streetlights ready to rip my face off. I fleetingly considered what I’d do if caught up in a riot, because, as a liberal minded Guardian reading softy, rioting is not really my thing. My sense of perspective spent, it’s fair to say that my energy levels were on a downward trend come 7pm.
I parked on the Grenoble Road, snuggling in between the articulated lorries; their drivers hunkered down for a night of furious wanking to German pornography. There was a familiar sense that an imminent non-event was about to occur. Something the Kassam Stadium specialises in.
There was an easy-going, summer pub garden atmosphere around the ground typical of this part of the season. People are freshly laundered and slightly tanned. Some new faces appear, young women in particular, encouraged by the weather and a sense of not having much else on. They won’t be here come November, but I’m happy they are now.
The pitches are good, the players’ fresh, and the pressure not as intense. As an aesthetic, the football is generally better, even if the lack of a competitive context doesn’t quite have you on the edge of your seat. There wasn’t much evidence of the apocalypse. Even the Cardiff fans seemed unwilling to antagonise and cause trouble now that social disorder is a mainstream pastime.
The game bounced along at an easy pace, we had an extended patch in which we could have won it, and they seemed to come into it as their fitness began to tell. There were a couple of goals. I thought of the Japanese tourists queuing in front of me for tickets before the game. They reminded me of a mid-summer trip I took to Fenway Park to watch the baseball 10 years ago. I indulged in the spectacle; eating hotdogs and clapping in appropriate places. More theatre than sport. I hope they enjoyed it, as I did then, ticking ‘see English football’ off their to-do list. Perhaps they bought some merchandise to take home with them, a yellow shirt – an icon of the overweight working man in its homeland becoming a thing of exotic chic on the streets Toyohashi or wherever.
Eventually as time drifted on the interest in getting home to bed began to exceed seeing out the result. People headed for the exits with the game in midflow and the outcome not yet certain. When Jake Wright ducked a long clearance and Cardiff made it three, he was applauded for empathising with the apathy rather than pillared for the mistake.
And so, a pleasant but underwhelming experience. Given the nonsensical nature of this week’s events around the country, perhaps that’s just what we needed.