Football, as a sport, is fine. Kicking things is fun, and teamwork is nice, and I’ve heard great things about exercise, but the world around the professional game just seems mad and confusing and boring and impossible to keep up with. So I don’t like football. I don’t like it, I don’t watch it, I don’t know anything about it.
Like, Game of Thrones sometimes gets confusing because of its huge cast and multiple sprawling plotlines, but compared to football it’s incredibly straightforward. Football is like if Game of Thrones was two hours long, broadcast ten times a week for nine months of the year (often on two channels at once, so you had to check what was happening in King’s Landing on your phone while watching what was going on in Dorne), with a cast of thousands, all men, mostly not very likeable and fairly similar-looking. And it was on season fucking 200. And none of the characters ever died, they just sometimes moved over to the Spanish version of the show, Juego Des Tronos. It’s incomprehensible.
The World Cup is fun though – there’s an easy-to-understand tournament structure, it only takes a month, and if you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland it’s fairly easy to work out who to support. Plus it’s a really good excuse to knock off work at 2pm to go to the pub and get drunk all afternoon, which is a wonderful thing. I’m looking forward to getting drawn into it.
If you’re a stranger to football, however, it’s all too easy to accidentally be a massive dickhead. Spare yourself some pain by following these simple rules…
DON’T REFER TO IT AS “SOCCERBALL”
Or “footsie”. Or “footer”. Or any other cute silly nickname designed to make it sound trivial and daft. And don’t use deliberately wrong words from other sports to show how aloof you are. It was funny exactly once, the first time, and hasn’t been funny since, and nobody has ever said “Oh wow, that guy just said ‘soccerball court’, I want to be like him, he’s so aloof”.
IF YOU’RE MAKING AN EFFORT, MAKE AN ACTUAL EFFORT
Don’t get to the pub before everyone else, wearing a full kit you just bought, make a big deal of getting the big table with the best view of the screen, then spend the match playing Words With Friends against your mum and asking people nearby how vaping’s going for them.
CONSIDER WHETHER YOUR EURO 96 ANECDOTE IS ACTUALLY ANY GOOD
“Hey, remember Euro 96? That was good. Paul Gascoigne, eh? He’s an alcoholic. If he’d scored that goal, England would have had one more goal, which would have meant they’d won that match against I can’t remember who. I watched it at my nan’s house. She was a nice lady. Cut her own hair. Kept old bits of carpet in the fridge. Good times.”
AVOID USING WORDS YOU DON’T KNOW
I’m almost sure I know what the word “nutmeg” refers to in a footballing context. That doesn’t mean I can use it. Almost sure isn’t sure enough. Plus, is it “a nutmeg” or “to nutmeg”? “A nutmegging?” If some nutmeg is actioned (and it is almost definitely not ever referred to as “some nutmeg being actioned”), which participant is the nutmegger and which is the nutmeggee? Nope. Stay silent. Speech is fraught with danger.
APPRECIATE THAT IT DOES ACTUALLY MATTER
People who aren’t me really, really care about this stuff. People’s whole summers can be made or ruined by one bunch of men getting a ball in a net more times than a bunch of men from a different place, because it means so much more than that. England have spent fifty two years – fifty, two, years – failing to win anything after their World Cup victory, getting excited every two years when another World Cup or Euros rolls around and letting themselves dare to dream that maybe this time it’ll happen. Even if none of that means anything to you (and none of it means anything to me, it’s a big load of rubbish), failing to acknowledge how important it is to millions of people is mad dickish, yo.
DON’T SHOW OFF ABOUT HOW MUCH YOU LOVE FOOTBALL THIS MONTH
It’s not a competition. Well, it is, it literally is a competition, it’s a football competition to see who’s the best at football, but watching it isn’t. Don't be the guy who brags about how many games he’s watched during the tournament but doesn’t know anything, or who’s never been into football before, but has it live on their computer while they work. That guy kind of just seems like he’s not taking his job particularly seriously.
DON’T BE A BIG OBVIOUS IDIOT
Yes, a lot of footballers have very silly haircuts. Yes, a lot of footballers have quite bad tattoos. They’re paid more than nurses, yes. A lot of people are paid more than nurses, in fact. A lot of chefs outearn nurses, but if you were enjoying a meal you’d been looking forward to for two years and someone kept interrupting you to point that out, you’d be pissed off. Maybe the thing isn’t that footballers are paid too much, but that nurses are paid too little. If so, your issue lies with Theresa May, not (*looks on Wikipedia for an England player whose name begins with D*) Trent Alexander-Arnold. Yeah? Yeah?
KEEP REMINDING YOURSELF DAVID BECKHAM ISN’T IN THE ENGLAND TEAM ANYMORE
This is just a self-awareness thing. If the only footballer you know about is the most famous man in the world, surely you can find it within yourself to realise whatever you were considering saying might, just might, be a bit shit.
IF YOU AREN’T ANGRY, DON’T PRETEND TO BE ANGRY
Faking passion is one of the rubbishest things a human being can do. Pretending to agonise over something you absolutely don’t care about is lying to yourself, lying to everyone else and completely unnecessary. Shouting "NO!" "COME ON REF!" or "GET UP YOU PANSY" at a pub screen at stuff you don't understand is a real asshole way to live. If something non-ideal happens, it’s fine for it to just be kind of a shame.
DON’T BE MEAN IF SOMEONE CRIES
There’ll very possibly be tears at some point. Actual tears from grown men. The only thing you can do when that happens is avoid eye contact and sit there quietly until everyone’s calmed down. Trying to console them will make them feel bad, and being mean is mean. Plus I cried like a tiny child at the end of the seventh Fast & Furious film. A tiny, tiny child. And I went for a pint afterwards with my friend Gary and we just cried and cried, and we don’t really hang out anymore, so I can never criticise anyone for any tear they ever shed.
DON’T ASSUME PEOPLE ARE HORRIBLE
Occasionally an international football tournament can bring out unpleasant nationalistic tendencies in a tiny but loud minority of people who probably aren’t really in it for the football anyway. It’s pretty rare, easily avoided and should absolutely not be seen as something to copy to ingratiate yourself with football fans. Xenophobic dick-swinging contests, both in the metaphorical and literal sense, are to be avoided.
REMEMBER FINANCIAL INVESTMENT DOES NOT EQUAL EMOTIONAL INVESTMENT
If you drew Switzerland in your office sweepstake, that doesn’t mean you support Switzerland. It means you might win £24. You aren’t Swiss now.
REALISE HOW LUCKY YOU ARE
Not giving a shit means you get to have your cake and eat it, in the pub. If England do well and everyone’s happy, awesome. Get drunk, party, celebrate, have a great summer. If England come crashing out horribly, whoops, oh dear, never mind, as you were. Get drunk anyway, party anyway, celebrate anyway. You get to cherrypick the good bits about being a football fan while cheerfully ignoring the heartache and anguish. That’s amazing.