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The rugger buggers

We're way out west on the affluent edge of London and things are hotting up. On the lounge bar screen, men with thick necks slam into each other. Beneath it, men in corduroy and rugby shirts mix with women wearing navy-blue quilted gilets.

Although well-spoken, many of the men have been reading tabloids. They drink bitter and Guinness and shout at each other, even though there is no need to shout. Two of the men start to insult each other with, I suspect, forced bonhomie. Olly calls Benji an arse, Benji calls Olly an arse. Neither is wrong. Between Olly and Benji, a woman on a stool checks that her earrings are in place and keeps her eyes on the spectacle above, where an Englishman now stands behind the ball, at some distance from the goalposts.

“Look!" Olly points at the man who is about to take the kick, simultaneously running his other hand along the woman's back. It is an intimate gesture, though it could be interpreted innocently. Benji is not so inclined - from his demeanour, it is clear that something has happened between Olly and this woman in the past to darken Benji's world-view.

The Englishman kicks the ball, and it goes over the crossbar and between the posts. It is an unimpressive achievement, but the men cheer and beer sloshes from their glasses. Strange that a game which provides such an unsatisfactory experience for the sane spectator should be popular. Perhaps the answer is its social cachet - that other people, possibly those less blessed with corduroy and public school accents, want to be like the crowd in this room.

Among that crowd, Benji now rises, his brow clenched. Benji does not possess a soulful or expressive face but it is clear he is upset. He walks up to Olly and pokes him in the chest. Olly, who has been smiling, stops. Olly does not possess a keen or inquisitive intelligence but he understands that Benji is furious.

Olly pokes Benji back and the two roll through the door, followed by cheering men and the woman with the earrings.

Having presumed that public displays of rage are the prerogative of the poor, I am surprised by the violence and, stopping only to remove a glass of Pinot Grigio from the absent rugger buggers' orbit, I look out of the window to see the police have arrived already. There has clearly been an assault but the police do not arrest anyone and, after a few words, leave. The woman comes back into the bar, flushed and excited. Above us, the small, egg-like ball continues to bam about indeterminately.


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Michael Hodges writes the Class Monitor column for the New Statesman. He was named columnist of the year at the 2008 Magazine Design and Journalism Awards for his contributions to Time Out.

This article first appeared in the 14 December 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The Muslim Jesus