A small crowd of England soccer fans nursed plastic cups of local German beer while singing God Save the Queen. A couple of hours before kick-off the Munich riot police kettled the fans into a small patch of tarmac outside the Olympic stadium, and eventually the supporters became weary, falling into hopeless chants.
Behind the armoured foot police were officers on horseback, looking formidable with vacant eyes masked by visors.
“Keep singing, we’ve done nothing wrong,” Simon said to his sixteen-year-old son, Jonathan, who was smoking his fifth cigarette of the day. Both wore sweat-soaked England replica shirts, long shorts and sneakers. The sun beat down hard, singeing their exposed skin, turning it a deep shade of red.
Simon had seen it all. He’d sunk pints in stadiums all across the globe and had followed his team to San Marino — the minnows of international soccer— to the Mecca of football in Brazil; the Maracanã. Now Jonathan was old enough, he could join his father on his soccer odyssey.
“One World Cup and two world wars!” Simon yelled, but the police remained calm — a balmy breeze swirling around the captive fans, raising a flurry of dust.
Simon got to his feet and took a few steps towards a mounted police officer.
“Dad,” Jonathan warned. “Go easy.”
Simon placed his head near to the horse’s nostrils and yelled, “No love for the other side. Die fuckers!”
The horse twitched, whinnied and then reared up violently. The police responded by spraying tear gas from canisters, sending fans scrambling over one another, howling in pain.
Simon and Jonathan’s eyes burned and streamed with tears and it wasn’t long before they couldn’t open their eyelids at all. Screams continued to erupt from fans all around but then suddenly everything became quiet — no noise from the England supporters, no ruckus from the advancing police.
Simon yelled, “Johnny, reach out for my hand, I’m here!”
But in the pitch black, there was no sign of Jonathan and for a split-second Simon had the strange fear he would never see his son again.
Then there was light.
Simon and Jonathan found themselves in an empty soccer arena, dressed in waiter’s outfits replete with serving cloths and platters of food. Before them were two football teams — the English and the Germans — seated at tables by the halfway line, wearing tracksuits, sipping orange squash from plastic bottles.
Without being prompted, father and son served sushi to the footballers who tucked in with their hands, smearing soya sauce and wasabi paste across their faces. The footballers ate until they were stuffed and clutched their bellies from indigestion.
A voice from the tannoy addressed the father and son, saying, “You must have valid tickets to be allowed in the stadium. Please show them or you shall be ejected.”
“Oh, it’s like that is it you fuckers?!” Simon yelled, pulling out his tickets from his back pocket, waving them at the sky. “Here you go. But we won’t take this lying down. I’ll tell the British embassy! Don’t worry kiddo,” said Simon turning to his son, “We’ll get out of this somehow.”
“Doesn’t matter,” sniffled Jonathan. “I’ve had enough.”
“I know, I totally get it,” said Simon.
“Clearly you don’t,” the announcer said, as the players crawled off the pitch and proceeded to vomit into the dugouts. “Jonathan hates the so-called beautiful game and everything to do with it. Why can’t you see that?”
“Bullshit! Tell him that’s rubbish Jonathan.”
“You wanna know the truth? Ok, I’ll tell you the truth. Ever since I was born, I’ve been forced to choose — the team over my girl, the team over my music, the team over my mates. The truth is I want to kill myself with cigarettes and booze because I hate you, the queen, and everything to do with bloody football!”
As if waking from a lucid dream, father and son slowly prised their eyelids open, the crusty sleep in their lashes feeling like concrete. They were on a train shooting through the mountainous region of the Bavarian countryside with hundreds of other sulking England fans. They’d lost — defeated by the Germans.
Simon gave a muffled and dispirited rendition of God Save the Queen while his nose was jammed up against an old man’s flabby armpit.
Back at the hotel, Simon splashed some water on his face in the bar toilet, then got blasted on fourteen pints of English draught beer. Sitting on a stool he felt a lump in his back pocket. He reached inside and found a squished salmon and avocado maki roll.
As he played with the chunk of sticky rice between his fingers, his mind was ignited with memories of gluttonous footballers staining their football kit with puke and his son crying while dressed in a waiter’s outfit, and although none of it made any sense, he thought maybe he owed his boy an apology, or a tearful hug. After one last pint, that is.