Class conscious

My background, as I've often intimated, is problematic class-wise. Am I middle or working class? Of course, there are certain litmus tests that can be applied, and one of them is my experience during a major football tournament.

In the case of Euro 2000, the reading suggests I am more middle than working. When, for example, I see, in my rear-view mirror, a large gentleman driving a white van with an England flag fluttering from the aerial, I feel no sense of kinship, but instead pull over quickly, before he can start accusing me of being "out of order" in some way or other.

And when I watch the matches in the soccer-oriented pub near my house, I just can't enter into the spirit of the thing. Everything that everyone shouts baffles me completely. Ten minutes into the game against Germany, for example, the square-shaped man next to me roared "Where's f***ing Phil Neville?" and looked straight at me. Now I'd barely even heard of Phil Neville, let alone been anxious about his absence from that particular sequence of play. Thankfully, I realised just in time that it was probably a rhetorical question.

This bloke kept bellowing other things that sounded good, but which I didn't understand. A substitution was made, and he said: "Yeah, pack out the midfield . . . makes a lot of sense!" I wished I'd said that myself.

The equally square man next to him, on the other hand, kept saying things that, in terms of content, were a bit threadbare. Whenever England did anything badly, for example, he'd shout: "Stop messing about!" But his tone carried conviction. Why? Because he said it in a really, really loud voice - much louder than I can ever even imagine myself shouting. The loudness of jubilant football crowds I find disturbing, to the extent that I always wish England could win without actually scoring. In the millisecond after Shearer scored against Germany, I felt a stab of actual nausea in anticipation of the noise. And when it was over, I wanted to say to the man sitting on the bar the words Bob Newhart mutters, sotto voce, to the exuberant singer in his classic skit on the "Banana Boat Song": "It's too loud, man!"

This article first appeared in the 26 June 2000 issue of the New Statesman, We made the people-smugglers rich