All bar none but me: When it’s time to call time on the pub
While United got their backsides kicked, I didn’t want to watch Mancunians’ inhumanity to Mancunians
There’s a pub down the road here in London called the Dundee Arms, a proper East End boozer and a fine place to watch football. Even if you don’t really like football.
Get there less than 20 minutes before kickoff and you won’t get a seat. But there are three screens, plenty of standing room on the worn wooden floor, and not too many pillars and poles to spoil the view.
The beer tastes like something, and it damn well should: a pint costs the equivalent of R104.52 in Thursday’s money. Food? Toasted cheese, take it or leave it.
One of the bartenders is a beanpole of a bloke in a Mohican and earrings and clothes from the 1980s. Another, a skinhead, divides his time between the pub and working as a receptionist at a nearby yoga studio.
On the wall above the bar is a painting of a man, fists raised, who may or may not have been Daniel Mendoza – a bareknuckle boxer who lived a short walk away on Paradise Row in the 1700s. He invented the jab and the sideways step, and was reputed to be the first Jew to talk to King George III.
Those were the days, apparently. But there I was on another day – April 9 this year – to see Spurs beat Man City 1-0 in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal, and five days later to see Liverpool beat Chelsea 2-0 in the Premier League, and three days after that to see City win the second leg of the quarterfinal 4-3 but for Spurs to advance on the away goals rule.
If you’re a football fan you’ll know that I’ve missed a fair few games at the Dundee Arms in the past few weeks. You should also know that here in the trenches of the press there are only so many pints you can afford at R104.52 a pop. Besides, it’s not safe.
On April 9 I thought I might die there with “Mo Salah! Mo Salah! Flying down the wing!” thundering through my head. Eight days later I again thought I might die, this time when Fernando Llorente’s hip was ruled to have more to do with the ball ending up in City’s net than his arm. Minutes after that, the end felt near again, and with Raheem Sterling’s look of shock and disgust at having his late strike ruled out for offside by VAR as my last memory.
The Dundee Arms is in a building of a certain age and condition, and it seemed it could easily have come crashing down in the mad moments after Mohamed Salah calligraphed a goal of arresting beauty to put Chelsea out of their misery.
Who knew there were so many Liverpool supporters in the East End of London? Who knew they could jump so high, repeatedly, in celebration? Who knows how many of them were actually Chelsea haters?
An exponentially bigger explosion of ecstasy accompanied Sterling being denied the glory of putting City in the semis because a pitch-side gizmo said Sergio Agüero was offside. And he was. Even Pep said so: “The offside is offside.”
The English are weird. Invite them to a wedding and they stand around not looking at each other, even though they all know each other, until the DJ plays an awful song that they all know worryingly well and can sing at each other in some kind of celebration of their mutual recognition of awfulness. Ask them to vote on whether they want to remain part of the most successful peacemaking project in human history – albeit that the European Union has been hijacked by neoliberalism – and they get it badly wrong and spend years squabbling about whether or not they have got it wrong.
But put them in a pub where there’s footy on the telly, beer in the taps and cheese toasties on offer and they are suddenly as happily human as the rest of us. Which was why I didn’t go to the Dundee Arms on Wednesday to watch the Manchester Derby.
That’s too much humanity in one small, heaving place for me, and who knows where that humanity has been? Indeed, whether we can call what slithers to London from oop frozen bloody north human enough to be put into the same biological bracket as even Nigel Farage, the rightwing Brexit nutter wonderfully described in the Observer the other week as a “nicotine-stained man-frog”, is not at all certain. Whatever. Having experienced the surreality, in 2017, of being in a pub in Manchester trying not to laugh while United were getting their backsides kicked, I didn’t want to be around to see Mancunians’ inhumanity to Mancunians.
Daniel Taylor of The Guardian was not so lucky. He actually had to go rat-infested Old Trafford, where rain tips down onto spectators through the roof of the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand, to report on the match.
“Every season there is always one game in the title race when the team who are going to win the Premier League know it is going to be their year,” Taylor wrote. “One game when everything turns in their favour, all the hard work comes together and the supporters can think it is going to be a season to cherish.
“For Manchester City, was this that night? It certainly felt that way even if they still have to negotiate a tricky assignment at Burnley on Sunday before closing their season with a home game against Leicester and a trip to Brighton. City have made it 11 league wins in a row and if they can extend that sequence to 14 there will be nothing Liverpool, in second place, can do about it. No wonder there was such jubilation at the final whistle from the players in blue.”
In the same paper, Barney Ronay, who writes brilliantly about football and everything else because he writes about everything else except the football, had it thus: “Not even close. Not even close to being close. If there is an accurate measure of Manchester City’s domestic dominance over the past two seasons, and more specifically that combined 50-point lead over the creaky 1990s tribute act from across the way, it is perhaps the sight of Old Trafford at the final whistle of this room-temperature 2-0 derby victory.
“As the home crowd filed out in added time you could see the bones of this ground open up, its clanky iron clavicles exposed to the air. The only noise came from the sky blue corner where City’s fans sang ‘this city is ours’ and – a little prematurely: the bigger test of Burnley away is yet to come – a few late rounds of ‘Campeones’.”What was it like down the Dundee Arms? I don’t want to know.