I never understood the point of football. No-one in my family watches it, and my only childhood memory of it is of the time a player from our local team came to visit my school. We were about 10 or 11 and everyone lost their minds and fought to get his autograph. I joined in, not because I knew who he was but, in retrospect, because I’ve always found other people’s excitment to be incredibly infectious.
I did not care about football for another ten years after that. I somehow surrounded myself with female friends who loved it, but I still didn’t understand the point of it; they would talk about the games they’d been to and I would smile politely.
In 2014, I understood the point of football. I was working on the picture desk at the Daily Telegraph and when the World Cup started, it suddenly clicked. Football was good because it allowed you not to do any work during work hours, in a way that wasn’t entirely frowned upon. Extra screens were put up in the newsroom and somehow it was acceptable to look at them more than at your own screen.
If given the choice between doing work and not doing work I will always choose not to do work; it is a lifelong commitment I take very seriously. Football would not have been my first choice but I had to stick to my guns; I was given the opportunity not to work, so I watched the World Cup.
It was entertaining in the way Eurovision is; for every game, I decided who to back based on which country I wanted to see lose more. Sometimes it was about the country’s government; sometimes about the people I knew who came from there, and whether I liked them or disliked them.
I didn’t really bother learning the rules because they didn’t really matter; what I enjoyed most was watching countries go up or get eliminated. It was a joy to watch England do so poorly, because I am French and I wanted them to crash and burn. It was nice to watch France do well, but I didn’t care that much. Mostly, I supported Iran because their players were beautiful.
At the final, I supported Argentina; I went to the pub with some friends and I wore a pale blue dress and earrings with suns on them, the closest I would let myself get to dressing like a football fan. I had backed them because of a holiday I’d had in Buenos Aires; it was a lovely place, so I felt it deserved to win. It did not.
When the World Cup ended, I stopped caring about football. I was grateful for the opportunity I had been given to slack off at my desk, but it was over. The Euros came and went; I had no interest in them.
2018 was different. Morocco qualified for the first time in many years, which my mother was ecstatic about; the French team seemed lovely as well, and I was suddenly handed two teams to care about. More disturbingly, perhaps, was the fact that the England team was lovely too.
Like many across the country, I went from not knowing who Gareth Southgate was to liking even his incrongruous waistcoat in the space of a fortnight. It was odd, cheering alongside British supporters. I’d enjoyed my teenage approach to immigration, of secretly being happy here but wishing England ill whenever I could, but eventually I suppose I had to grow out of it.
I’m glad I did; watching England beat Sweden, a country I dislike for no reason, was an utter joy. Doing so in a pub in Vauxhall then going up to Soho for Pride made for an idyllic day. Thinking about it now, it feels telling that this happened on a Saturday and I did not notice; at some point football stopped being an excuse not to do any work, and I am not even sure when it happened.
When France won, I was in a pub in the sun with my French friends. Some of them were the ones who liked football already when we were teenagers; they questioned my newfound enthusiasm, but not for long — there was a game to watch, after all. We sang Kylian Mbappé to the tune of Aux Champs-Élysées and we got very drunk together. When the game ended, the DJ panicked and did not know what to play to drunk and jubilant French people, so he played Je Ne Regrette Rien. We all laughed hysterically.
I did not think I would be caring about football again until 2022, but I started seeing someone who loves football and I found his excitment to be incredibly infectious. The Euros started recently and somehow I am watching them. I am backing France and Scotland and England in that order, as well as any country I dislike less than the country they end up playing against in any given game.
Yesterday there was a Scotland game at 2pm and at 1pm it hit me; I had been handed an excuse not to do any work, was I really not going to take it? I sprinted to the nearest pub and sat there, the only person in the room, drinking a bottle of gluten-free Peroni because it was 2pm. I realise that removing gluten does not make a drink any less alcoholic, but somehow it felt more virtuous.
I sat in this empty room for two hours, nursing my singular bottle of gluten-free beer, and I cheered on Scotland. I had no idea what was going on at any given point; for the first ten minutes, I did not know which team was which, or which goal was which. This is my third football tournament and I still do not understand the first thing about football.
At the age of around 4 I must have been told about goals; since then, I have not felt the need to build on that knowledge. At first it was because I was one of those people who proudly refused to learn anything about sports, as a general statement. After that it was because I was only watching football when it allowed me not to work, and soI did not feel any attachment to it.
2018 should have been the point at which I chose to learn more about football, but I didn’t. Instead, it is when I realised that I never would; I like football as it is. I like that football, the way I watch it, is incredibly straightforward; either a team scores goals or it doesn’t. Little men run across a field for an hour and a half and hopefully the ball will end in a net at some point, or it may not.
Because I have now watched a few dozen games, I can just about tell if a team is good or not; when Scotland kept trying to score yesterday, the Czechs kept stopping them, which makes me assume that they were good at defending. This is the level I operate on; it is heavenly. When so much of adult life is so tough and complicated, it is wonderful to have something that is so simple. The goals happen, or they do not.
I have no idea if that is what other people enjoy about football; I am sure there are more levels to it if you understand it properly. Then again, maybe there aren’t; maybe that is the point of football, that there is no real point to it. Ball goes in; ball doesn’t. What else could you possibly need?