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3 April 2016

In every beach bar on the planet, there’s a lone man watching the Prem

In the four different places I stayed, on Saturdays and Sundays, I was able to walk to a sports bar and watch a live game, any live Prem game of my choice.

By Hunter Davies

One of the things that the Prem is always boasting about is how many trillions it makes, from Sky and BT rights, shirt sponsorship from betting and financial firms with funny initials, selling repro tops, allowing lavatory paper companies to claim that they are official partners, and flogging coverage of games to every country on the globe. I groan and sigh when I read about the latest deal: why doesn’t it help the poor fans, eh, by lowering ticket prices or satellite subscription fees?

During my three weeks abroad, trying to escape the horrors of probate, I failed to buy a British newspaper, though I did watch the BBC World Service in one of the apartments I rented. The TV was stuck in a corner on top of a wardrobe and when I did climb up to see anything, it was total rubbish. I think the BBC World Service must be the most annoying channel in the world. It just repeats adverts for itself, all day long.

At one posh hotel, Cobblers Cove in Barbados, I got a four-page digest of the British news at breakfast, which was quaint. The football reports had obviously been sub-edited by some West Indian fan brought up on 1950s English football comics, for in every line there was a reference to the Toffees, the Irons, the Magpies, the Baggies, nicknames we fans still know but nobody ever uses.

In the four different places I stayed, on Saturdays and Sundays, I was able to walk to a sports bar and watch a live game, any live Prem game of my choice. They seemed to have access to every one, unlike back home, where you have to watch what you are given.

So, hurrah for the Prem, or whoever sells its wares round every corner of the globe. On the other hand, in every bar, there were never more than two people watching the game, including me. So the vast figures for the Prem’s global reach may be true but I doubt that the actual audiences are all that impressive.

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In Speightstown, Barbados, I watched football at the Fisherman’s Pub – where 20 years ago the other person watching it with me was Mick McCarthy, who had just become manager of Ireland. “I wasn’t a good player,” he told me at half-time, “but I knew how to stop good players playing.”

On Bequia in the Grenadines, I watched games at Papa’s in Port Elizabeth and at La Plage in Lower Bay, which is right on the beach. At half-time, I swam in the Caribbean, then came back for another rum punch.

I may have been on my own, crouching in a corner watching English soccer, but the bars were generally full of local people, shouting and laughing, pushing and shoving, banging their dominoes. Whenever the game started dragging, I found myself listening to their chat, to the pretend rows, the colourful stories, the studied insults.

In the streets in the English-speaking West Indies, you never hear swear words, as you never did in Carlisle in the 1950s, but in pubs, it is f***ing this and f***ing that, just like at cabinet meetings or among any other enclosed group of English speakers. “She read the Bible as if she f***ing wrote it,” said one to another, clearly having just come from church.

Some other local phrases I found hard, if not impossible, to translate. For instance: “Easy squeeze, make no riot.” What did that mean? Compliant victims do not complain?

“If better can’t be done, let worse continue.” I overheard this in St Vincent, where people were arguing about local politics, which is in the usual awful mess, but it might have been a cynical statement about the general human condition. If so, it could be seen as a vaguely positive observation – don’t commit suicide, just carry on.

I started writing down all of these overheard remarks, thinking I’ll amuse my wife with them when I get home, forgetting for a moment – which, alas, I still do all the time – that she is dead. But they proved a good distraction in foreign fields, along with watching English football. 

Hunter Davies’s memoir “The Co-op’s Got Bananas!” is published by Simon & Schuster on 7 April

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This article appears in the 30 Mar 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The terror trail