The ex ex­pat

Kate Birch suc­cumbs to the fever that is the Beau­ti­ful Game.

Friday - - Society Living Leisure -

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

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