Please note that this is a satirical short story, please read it with that in mind.
“Seventy seven quid.”
Gareth stared blankly at his train ticket lying in front of him, taunting him as he scanned the price over and over until it blurred into one blotch of ink.
Lime Street return to Euston Station. Gareth knew it was his own fault for not getting a coach ticket with his friends, but this one stung not only his wallet, it deflated his humour as well.
They had all agreed to go on at least one away trip together that year, and Upton Park was the selected venue. Unfortunately for Gareth he was out of cash after Christmas, and while the lads organised their away day, Gareth threw the last of his money on the match ticket, promising to pay for a seat on the coach as soon as he could.
Turns out he was too late.
“Tea or coffee?” asked a spotty youth hiding behind a hot water dispenser, no happier to be there than he was.
“No, thanks mate.”
The trolley squeaked on as Gareth resumed his blank stare towards his ticket.
“You alright, man?”
Gareth looked up. Across the row from him he seen a clean shaven man with a confused smile on his face, aimed towards where Gareth sat. He looked at the stranger for a second, pondering what brought on the question.
“Emm… Yeah, cheers.”
“You just seem a bit… Off. I presume you’re heading down for the game?” The stranger nods towards Gareth’s red scarf hanging out of his bag, the 5 Stars in full view below the feet of the Liverbird.
“Yeah, yeah” he replied, stuffing the scarf into his backpack, zipping it shut hastily.
“Ah good stuff, man! You’re more than welcome to join us here, if you like?” Gareth could hear the stranger wasn’t a Liverpool native. His accent was subtle, but he couldn’t pick it up exactly. “We’ve a couple extra cans here, if you want?” winked the stranger, possibly the last thing he wanted to see.
“Nah, you’re alright, thanks.”
“Ah come on for fucks sake, you’re on your own there, have a few scoops lad!” bellowed one of the other two men sitting in the company of this stranger.
Gareth knew where they were from. Ireland.
“Sorry but I’m really alright, thanks lads” he replied, lifting up his earphones indicating his certainty.
The man nodded, turning away with a defeated smile.
“Christ” Gareth thought.
He picked up his phone. 82%. Just enough battery to get him down and back without it dying, surprisingly listening to music had minimal drainage on power. He scrolled through the artists, ultimately settling on Elbow. Shuffle. He closed his eyes in an attempt to catch up on sleep he had missed the night before.
“Seventy. Seven. Fucking. Quid”
…What are we gonna do with you?
Same tale every time
What are we gonna do with you…
“What was that?” Gareth opened his eyes.
“JESUS CHRIST!” he leaped.
“Calm down lad, knock that in ya.”
The stranger and his acquaintances had moved into the booth with Gareth, as one of them slid a can of Bavaria across the table.
There were three of them, all in their late 20s. The one who passed him the odd blue aluminium canned beverage had a thick Irish accent, but Gareth didn’t know the region. Dublin, he guessed, the only part he really knew. He was sporting the last Liverpool kit Adidas had manufactured, with blue jeans and puma trainers. His eyes were friendly, but a mocking smile made Gareth uneasy. Of the triad of Irishmen, one was yet to speak. He looked like he had fallen backwards into Jack & Jones and come out the other side of the bargain bin. Gareth watched him chuckle as he sank into the stiff sponge that laced the hard plastic seats, covered in outdated upholstery. The last of the three was wearing a long grey coat, with sharp trousers and a business-like side-parting.
“Shut up you. Don’t mind him lad” said the stranger who sat across from Gareth, “he’s nothing but an arsehole. Get that into you though” he said tapping the top of the beer “it’ll wake you up.”
“Suppose I have no choice” Gareth scowled, removing his earphones.
“No ya don’t, now come on to fuck and drink it!”
Gareth was cornered.
“What’s your name, man?” asked the stranger, sipping his drink.
“Nice to meet you mate, I’m Eoin” he extended his hand towards him, as he responded with a limp hand shake, “this is Tom and James” pointing to his two friends. “Any reason you’re on your own? Seems odd to be off to an away game without someone?”
“I’m meeting my mates down there. They got a coach, I missed out on a seat.”
“Fair enough, fair enough. Sure you can stick with us till we get there. We’re off to a bar when we arrive; we should have an hour or two to kill before we’ll head into the ground. You can tag along, man.”
Gareth pondered the question, he wasn’t too keen.
“Nah it’s cool, my mates should be there when I am.” He ran his finger around the can, contemplating to drink or not.
“Ah, sure we’ll see what happens, eh?” replied Eoin, winking at him again.
“Can you stop doing that? ‘kin hell.” He took a large swig of the lager.
The train continued on as spatters of raindrops attacked the glass window, distracting Gareth from the situation thrust upon him. He wasn’t one for meeting new people, never had been. Eoin and James, the quietest of the three, began chatting among themselves. Gareth could sense Tom about to ask him something to break the awkward silence. “Please don’t” he thought, “please jus-…”
“Andy Carroll was fucking shite wasn’t he?!” bellowed Tom, half snorting to himself and gawking at Gareth, who’s eyes squinted in agony. “Shite! Never seen anything like him. And as for Downing, he couldn’t find Jesus with a cross, let alone that lump of shite up front. Fucking hell, today should be a good laugh anyway!” Tom slapped Gareth’s leg, continuing to laugh, as he pulled a Crunchie out of his shopping bag.
“What is this guy on about?” Gareth felt sick, he couldn’t have found himself in a worse situation. He took another large gulp of Bavaria. The drink was awful too, wincing as he swallowed it down.
“I know man” said Eoin, smiling “it’s shit beer.”
“Piss off!” replied Tom, “Germany’s finest that.”
“It’s all you could afford more like.” Eoin and James laughed. Tom shook his head, swallowing a huge lump of chocolate covered honeycomb without chewing.
“What do you do with yourself then?” asked James.
“Work in Argos, mate.”
“Ah you’re joking? My sister works for Argos back home” he responded, offering around a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. Nobody wanted them.
“Eoin is the only one in the money here” said Tom, slurping his can midway through his statement. “Big shot over in Liverpool, that right, Eoin? Not like me and James on the ol’ benefits.”
Eoin glanced angrily at Tom, clearly unimpressed with his friend’s hyena laugh to his own statement.
“Why, what do you work as?” asked Gareth, curious as to what Tom meant by his remark.
“I work for MSB Solicitors.” Eoin looked down as he said it, almost ashamed of his answer.
“Rolling in it aren’t ya?” said Tom, leaning across the table grabbing Eoin’s cheek, leaving a chocolate fingerprint on his face. Eoin forcefully pushed Tom’s arm away. Shaking the canister, he knocked back the remains of the drink and placed it in an empty plastic bag. Gareth continued to drink his own.
The rain began to yield, as chatter amongst the four broke out about today’s game. Liverpool had had a relatively successful season under Brendan Rodgers thus far, but mishaps away from home had cost them as the race for a Champion’s League spot gathered pace. Rumours of a Raheem Sterling ankle knock had began filtering through social media, and all four were hoping the young starlet would be fit for the tie. Surprisingly for Gareth, he had begun to enjoy the company of the three strangers, even though Tom had started doing awful impressions of Michael Owen. (You’d be surprised how dedicated a man is to snapping his hamstring on a train in the name of comedy.)
They finally arrived at Euston Station, although the rain had followed them down to London and fell heavier than before. The four of them, at this stage merrier than they should be for twelve in the afternoon, got Tube tickets for zones 1 to 3. “More money” Gareth thought. He took out his phone.
“Shite!” he yelled.
“What’s wrong, mate?” said Eoin puzzled, glancing over his shoulder as he shoved a twenty pound note into the ticket machine.
“I left me music playing the whole way down, I have fuck all battery now.”
“Ah sure it’ll be grand, what do you need it for anyway?” announced Tom as he flung his sweaty arm around Gareth’s neck. Gareth was annoyed. He checked his messages to see where his friends were.
“Stuck in traffic mate, should be in b4 the game” it read.
“They nearly here?” asked James as they made their way through the ticket barriers.
“No, weather and traffic has held them up.”
“Definitely no excuse for a few shneaky ones then, wha’?!” shouted Tom, as he began to chant ‘We Are Liverpool’ down to the Northern line tube. Eoin followed behind them, shoving papers into his satchel.
They took a southbound train to London Bridge, where they had to cross over to the Jubilee Line as far West Ham, and then finally onto the District Line to Upton Park. The journey lasted little over an hour.
They found a pub, ‘The Miller’s Well’, with a handful of fellow Reds who were easily outnumbered by the amount of Hammers there. They made sure to keep relatively low key, but banter between the two sets of fans was had as Tom made sure to thank each West Ham fan for taking Joe Cole, Stewart Downing, and Andy Carroll from their hands. While Tom and James attempted to reach the bar, Eoin and Gareth found a place to sit. Eoin placed his coat over his bag, and sat across from Gareth.
“Any reason you were so glum this morning?” he asked.
“No mate, just… The cost of the ticket down and back is expensive.” Gareth played with a coaster, glancing at Eoin who looked back at him. “I have a kid at home y’know, and it’s hard to get to an away game. Me and me mates agree to it every year though. It’s just something we’ve always done.”
“I know mate, it’s not cheap” responded Eoin, awkwardly staring back at him. “Couldn’t give it a miss this year?”
“No chance, the lads would kill me. They give me enough stick for moving in with me bird.”
“I see… And how old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“And how long have you been with your girlfriend?”
“A few years… Our daughter was born last year, been a bit different since then, y’know?”
“Yeah, I can imagine…”
They looked at the television screen as Jeff Stelling hosted Soccer Saturday, the conversation dying out with their attention fixed towards the screen. Gareth then remembered Eoin’s reaction to admitting where he worked on the train.
“What’s wrong with being a solicitor?” he asked, as Eoin turned around in his seat having looked towards the bar.
“Well, you acted funny when Tom said it to ye on the train.”
“Ah… They just like to wind me up about it. We’ve known each other since school and I went to college after, and they didn’t. We just have different lives. I left Ireland about four years ago now; we see each other when we can.”
“Why do they wind you up?”
“They like to make me out to be a different, they always have. Like to make me feel as if I think I’m better than them, which isn’t the case: I just have a different background to them both. I love them to bits though, they’re my best mates.”
“I know the feeling.”
Eoin’s eyebrows jumped as he made a half-hearted smile, turning back towards the television.
Tom and James arrived back with cold pints in hand, half spilling on the floor.
“Ta’ mate” said Gareth, reaching into his pocket.
“No, no it’s alright” said Eoin, “Tom, take this.” He passed him five pounds.
“What are ya’ doin’?” said Gareth? “I can pay for my own bevvy, thanks.”
“It’s grand man” said Eoin reassuringly.
“I said I can pay for my own fucking drink.” Gareth stared coldly at Eoin, as he then instructed Tom to give back the note back in exchange for his money.
Eoin winked at Tom, apologising for his gesture. Gareth relaxed, knowing his short-tempered reaction was a result of inducing alcohol into his blood with nothing but a ham sandwich resting in his stomach.
“Thanks but, it’s alri'” he said.
Gareth’s phone rang. It was Jack, one of his friends. He motioned to them that he was going outside to take the call. When he returned he was with two new faces.
“Alright lads, this is Jack and Si’, me two mates. Fellas, these are the guys I’ve been with.” He stood between the two groups, as his friends eyed Gareth’s company. Jack looked and nodded his head suspiciously.
“Alright chaps, are yas havin’ a few beers or what’s the story?” spouted Tom as he dribbled some lager down his chin, wiping it away with a chuckle.
“Hangin’ with Paddys now are ya’ Gar’?” said Simon, his expressionless face staring blankly at the table of Irishmen. Gareth looked shocked.
“What was that?” said Eoin, taken aback by the remark made towards him and his friends.
“Nah mate, they’re sound.” Gareth said reassuringly, looking towards Jack and Simon. He could tell his friends had consumed as much drink, if not more, than him.
“Fuckin’ Paddy wools, mate? Thought you were better than that.” Gareth looked at his two friends. Crippled with shock and booze, he stood in horror at the situation unravelling before his eyes. Tom stood up, his laugh erased with anger as his face contorted with rage.
“What the fuck are you on about?” he said.
“Fuck off, Paddy.” Simon stepped forward, blocked off by Gareth’s outstretched arm.
Suddenly, one of the bar staff cut across the pub to interrupt the scenario before anything could come of it.
“Think it’s best you lads were on your way” said the young man, ushering Simon and Jack out.
The duo’s eyes were transfixed on the three in front of them. Escorted out by the barman, they called out to Gareth. He looked at Eoin, as James persuaded an enraged Tom to sit down. Gareth grabbed his bag and left the pub as quick as he could, flabbergasted and disgusted at his friends’ behaviour.
“What the fuck were you doin’ with them Gar’, are you a complete fuckin’ whopper?” asked Jack, looking towards Simon who stormed along. “You’re really thick sometimes.”
“What was that all about?” he responded, slurring his words. “‘Paddy Wool’? D’ya think I’m a fuckin’ wool too?!” Gareth was furious. His whole life had consisted of being a ‘wool’. Growing up in Bootle wasn’t easy at times, since his family originated from Warrington. However, the torments had decreased as he got older.
“No, of course not mate” replied Simon instantaneously, shaking his head. “You’re sound, you’re one of us. But them” he pointed towards the scene they had vacated, “they’re pricks. They’re wools. Paddy fuckin’ wools. Comin’ over here and going to an away game now, as if ruinin’ Anfield wasn’t enough for them. They’re at the away games too?” Spit was flying from Simon’s mouth, his animosity consuming him. “We can barely afford to get here. How much did it cost you, Gareth? How fuckin’ long did it take you to save for this game, with your lil’ one at home and your missus breathin’ down your back?”
“Don’t speak about her like that.”
“And they can choose when and where they go, flashing their money like it’s no deal. I’m sick of i’.”
Gareth was confused. He could see Upton Park through the grey mist and rain, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted to go in.
“Look mate,” Simon stopped walking, and placed his hand on the shoulder of his friend. “I’m sorry if ya took that the wrong way, I just don’t like wools. Irish, y’know? Seen us win the European Cup and they’re like flies around shite! It’s just them, I’m sorry pal.” They stared at one another. Gareth nodded, accepting the apology to simply move on. The three continued walking, as Jack and Simon began shouting towards a group of Liverpool supporters they normally see on the coach to away games.
Having entered the ground they made their way to their seats, luckily not too far down the East Stand at pitch level. The fellow Liverpool fans were in full voice as usual. As Gareth, Jack and Simon approached their seats, an Asian couple, clad in the red of Liverpool, sat between them and their destination. They stood up to let the three pass, as Simon and Jack shuffled into their seats with Gareth between the pair. The couple sat down, laughing to one another two seats away from the trio. Gareth noticed their thick Scouse accents.
As the three grabbed their match programmes, out of the corner of his eye Gareth noticed Simon glance towards the couple they had just passed. Simon looked back at his booklet.
Gareth’s head dropped, his eyes staring at the interview with Sam Allardyce on the pages before him, blurring into a mass of black nothingness. It all became the same.
“Seventy seven quid” he thought.
“Seventy seven quid.”