The ex expat
Kate Birch succumbs to the fever that is the Beautiful Game.
I will be going to my first ever football match – Man City versus Man United at the Etihad Stadium – on Sunday. I’m not even a football fan, but my husband and seven-year-old son most definitely are.
While some women cry foul about being ignored during the season (August-May), since I’m back on the football-obsessed soil of the UK, I’ve decided to give the sport a go.
In a way, my conversion was almost inevitable the moment I gave birth to my son. His fate was sealed when he donned his first City sleepsuit.
You see my husband, who I met in Dubai, has had a long romance with Manchester City, despite the fact that for the first 40 years of his life, she was a cruel mistress. His love is unconditional. However badly it treats him, he is there waiting for a time when it will treat him well again.
At times I think it irrational – he once queued for 12 hours in the pouring rain to get a ticket; he also spent hundreds of pounds on a season ticket that allowed him the privilege of spending every other weekend sitting in the wind and yet more rain.
Yes, unlike that other bastion of Britishness, cricket – which is without doubt the most weather-sensitive sport on the planet (the slightest drizzle, or lack of sun, and play stops) – football plays through rain, snow or shine.
I could deal with the football fanaticism when we lived in Dubai where such passions were diluted by distance. I did accompany him to watch a few games on TV in Satwa, the last of which – the admittedly thrilling Premier League climax when Man City won the title with the last kick of the season – my husband actually stood on the table and cried tears of joy.
Thankfully, these uncharacteristic outbursts of emotion were far and few between. But now we’re living back in the UK, we are surrounded by equally football-mad people.
In fact, if you don’t fancy, for some strange reason, talking about the weather, you can fall back on football. From my experience, this only works with men, but slip in a few choice phrases and you’ll soon make friends.
The more complicated and riddled with clichés you can make your mantra, the better. That’s because football has a language completely of its own, which is pretty much impenetrable to the uninitiated outsider. Luckily, my thoughtful husband has written down some lines so I don’t make a fool of myself at the crucial derby game.
“Looks like Palace have got relegation written all over them already,” I quipped while reaching for the red lentils. “That David Moyes sure has some big boots to fill – he’s way out of his depth at
I take fashion advice from nobody… and the thought of having to comply with a dress code is putting me off
United,” I muttered effortlessly while stretching for the spaghetti.
So what’s the attraction? As a serial expat for many years, one of the main reasons for such obsession – pride in their home town – is alien to me. Before the advent of 24/7 sport on our TV screens and the globalisation of the game, people supported their local teams. If you were from Leeds you supported Leeds; all Newcastle fans would be Geordies. Nowadays, however, you are as likely to find a Chelsea fan in China or Chennai as you are in the swanky London suburb.
It no longer matters where you’re from. Twenty years ago, when my husband started going to watch City, football was a different game with different fans. Suddenly, it became cool to watch football. Prince William and Tom Hanks support Aston Villa, while Jackie Chan loves Arsenal, and Catherine Zeta-Jones follows Swansea.
This popularity and big money attracted outside investors and most top English teams are foreign owned these days – Manchester City being a prime example.
Since Abu Dhabi’s Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, took over, the club has enjoyed hundreds of millions of pounds of investment, and its first league title for 44 years. It has been fantastic publicity for Abu Dhabi and the UAE, too, and means I no longer have to explain to people where I spent the past 20 years of my life.
With those connections in mind, I feel like my trip to the Etihad is almost like a return to the UAE’s sunny shores. I will be surrounded by familiar names and 40,000 people wearing shirts emblazoned with the airline’s name.
So with my football banter memorised, as well as the words to City’s anthem Blue Moon, and a brief resume of key players like David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Joe Hart, I feel equipped for the match.
There’s just one snag: my husband is insisting I wear something blue. Now, while I’m quite happy to learn the lingo in support of my husband’s favourite pastime, I draw the line at fancy dress. I take fashion advice from nobody, especially a man, and the thought of having to comply with a dress code is putting me off.
“I’ll get you a scarf and hat,” offered my husband, clearly not understanding the folly of his own words. Maybe I will have to defect to United, at least they wear red, are very successful and it would also mean football would no longer be mentioned in the Birch house. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.
Overworked, overwhelmed and over there... long-term Dubai expat Kate Birch misses
her maid, struggles with small talk and is desperate for someone
to pack her shopping