As a bloke, I’ve committed one of the worst social crimes imaginable, I don’t like football.
To me the idea of eleven men chasing a ball up and down a field in a desperate attempt to kick it in the opposing side’s hoop is about as interesting as watching paint dry. In fact, I’d rather watch paint dry, there’d be more drama in it.
I think my dislike of football comes from me being absolutely shit at it, I mean really bad, and that I had an unpleasant football based experience back in my formative years.
Back when I was at school, I was ‘lucky’ enough to be picked for the school’s team and my dad couldn’t be prouder coming to watch me play, happy that his son had finally developed an interest outside of comic books.
His joy soon turned to red-faced embarrassment once the match began and I started to play, and by ‘play’ I mean get bored of the game after the first four minutes and start pretending to be a dinosaur instead.
The subsequent and well deserved ridiculing, soured my opinion on the beautiful game and I decided that footy wasn’t for me. However, I’m not unaware of the fact that some people quite like the football – actually not some people, most people – and that’s where things get tricky.
Football is basically like politics or religion, a hotbed of opinion and scorn which dominates a conversation whenever it’s mentioned.
And, unfortunately, it’s not taboo like the other topics so inevitably it will get brought up at some point, forcing me (and you) to develop tricks for living in a football obsessed world.
Let them do the talking…
The best thing about talking to a football fan is that, ultimately, they don’t care about your opinion in the slightest and all they’re waiting for is you to stop talking so that they can tell you their opinion.
This is your best defence – basically, all you need to do is say something vaguely non controversial like, ‘Manchester United have no finish’ and boom you’re away.
They’ll then continue to bore you to death with their nuanced opinion on grown men kicking a ball into a net.
If you’re feeling particularly bold, you can even try and rephrase exactly what they just said, and they’ll be so excited that you’ve validated their opinion that they’ll think you’ve actually got top ‘footy bants’.
Fan: The problem with Arsenal is that they lack any decent strikers.
Me: Yeah, their finish has been woeful this season.
The only issue is that most fans will pick up on the echo chamber technique pretty quickly, which is where my second tip comes in handy…
Drink will help…
One of the only good things about being forced to watch football is that it often comes in tandem with delicious booze, which acts as a nice mind-numbing balm for the otherwise dreadfully dull experience of seeing grown men chase a ball about for 90 minutes.
I find that after the first pint-and-a-half, most fans and non-fans are adequately ‘lubed up,’ so even the worst football based banter will work. Although, if you cross the line into two or three pints, then you are at danger of having a genuine chat about football!
If you should find yourself at this critical juncture, the best advice I can give you is to just ride out the rough waves of a sea of football gibberish and hope for the best.
Be a dick
Football fans are basically tribal folks and have a pervading fear of their rivals, which amounts to mostly being mean to everyone who doesn’t support your team.
A perfect team to pick on is Manchester City, who from my understanding used to be shit but got a tonne of money from a foreign investor who then proceeded to buy half the Premier League and changed the team into a force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately, he forgot to buy them any fans, and the one or two people who do support them get pretty sour about their supposed lack of support.
If you ever find yourself lost in the football wilderness, a sly dig at City will get you out of most jams, although be warned if they’re a City fan (they probably won’t be though, as we’ve established) as they can get very upset about shade being thrown their way.
Seriously just criticise everyone and anyone, that’s what most fans seem to do…
Up the blues!
If you have no idea who’s winning or what’s going on, you can always resort to supporting the side that everyone else is supporting. It’s a bit of dick move but, as I mentioned, football fans hate teams that oppose theirs almost as much as losing, so siding with the majority is an easy out.
Personally, I have a preference for shouting ‘up the blues’ whenever anything happens, it even works if the blues are losing, which I’m told this season they frequently do – or at least the Chelsea blues do.
As a side note, don’t try and be contrarian when it comes to football, people really don’t seem to like the guy who sides with the opposing team, and it’ll only get yourself ostracised from the group.
Even worse, it may lead to the real fans asking you for your opinion!
Stick to your guns
If all of my tips fail, there’s one last tried and tested method of talking football with real fans. Stubbornly stick your heels in and refuse to listen to their informed opinion on the game. I’ve seen plenty of fans suffer from this ‘football blindness’ at times.
For example, Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard (he still plays for them, right?) could literally hack the leg off an Everton player and I guarantee there are fans out there who would swear on their mothers’ lives that it was a fair challenge because he got to the ball first and the ref has clearly been paid off.
You can capitalise on this attitude and pretend that you’ve gone fan blind, tricking the pub football fan into thinking you’re just a dyed in the wool true fan.
And, if these tips haven’t been enough, here’s a few handy phrases I’ve picked up that you can drop into conversations to get you out of most sticky situations…
Ooh that’s a bad touch: If a player kicks the ball in a bad way, which apparently is a thing that can happen.
On your head son!: Whenever the ball is in the air.
Man on!: I honestly still don’t know what this means.
Play it into space!: Something to do with rockets?
Ooh Ahh Contona!: Only use at Manchester United games.
What’s the ref thinking? / He needs to go to Specsavers: Use whenever the ref or linesman makes ANY decision – good or bad.
X is the new Messi: Pick a player of choice and say they’re the new Messi, apparently he’s quite good at the game.
Liverpool live in the past: Whenever your chosen team play against Liverpool.
X bought their success: Again, I’ve never really got this one, but apparently buying good players is frowned upon?
They’ll be back next season: Classic defence if your team is utter shit.
Of course, if all else fails you can always rely on my personal favourite: “Up the blues!” Good luck!
More of a concept than a journalist, Tom Percival was forged in the bowels of Salford University from which he emerged grasping a Masters in journalism.
Since then his rise has been described by himself as ‘meteoric’ rising to the esteemed rank of Social Editor at UNILAD as well as working at the BBC, Manchester Evening News, and ITV.
He credits his success to three core techniques, name repetition, personality mirroring, and never breaking off a handshake.