Happier on the downlow

One of my favourite WW2 films is ‘A Bridge too Far’.

As many know it’s an ensemble piece, and aside from the spine-chilling score one of my favourite characters is Polish General Stanislaw Sosaboski, played by Gene Hackman.

Though he only appears in half a dozen scenes, he plays the clear outsider in the English / American led operation Market Garden. And what sticks with me the most are his first lines in the movie. For when asked for his opinion on the operation he replies that as he’s a minority, surrounded by British and American officers, he’s keeping his mouth shut over the whole thing.

This is how I feel at times being a Brit interested in (American) football.

I have been for years, and at the same time I’ve learnt to keep my mouth shut over the whole affair. Especially living in the pro-rugby south west of the UK. My highschool was understandable fanatical about the oval ball, sending multiple players to county and country squads.

I thought the All Blacks were cool, but that was about it.

The last few years, combined with the regular annual Wembley game, the NFL has been gaining traction in the UK. Not much, but more than they’d had in recent years. Which has led to more terrestrial TV coverage, above the usual Super Bowl broadcasts.

Most of my friends have Sky TV and they purchase the horrendously expensive sports package solely to watch the Sunday games and the playoffs every autumn. For the last two years it’s been awesome to be curled up with friends, log-burner crackling away, wine and pizza being consumed and half watching the game and half just enjoying the ambience of the season.

But this year I’m away from that. I’m in college, and finding a television, even a terrestrial one for the Wembley game was tricky. And not least of all because the Rugby World Cup is currently being played, so rugby fever’s at an all-time high, together with nationalism.

Though the latter has depleted a little bit following every home team getting bounced in the quarterfinals.

However saying you’re a fan of the NFL in the UK, outside your friend zone, you have to be prepared for The Comments. It’s just the natural order of things here, a form of acknowledgement presenting a type of sporting classism. It shows the NFL where it should insert itself on the totem pole of UK sporting acceptance. And that place is in the umbrella of minority exotic sport, somewhere around kabaddi, bowls or badminton, not true sport as the UK knows it.

Examples of The Comments are as follows:

  1. They [NFL players] can’t run as hard as rugby players, they’re just not as conditioned. They don’t have the pace. And look, they wear all that padding, no wonder they’re slow. They’re soft too. Rugby players don’t have to wear that stuff. And they never stop for a rest every second.
  2.  It [the NFL game] goes on for so long. It’s constantly starting and stopping.
  3. There’s too many rules, they substitute all the time, there’s no consistency.
  4. Americans have to invent a game that suits themselves because they can’t beat anyone else in the global games [like rugby or football (soccer)]
  5. Americans call it a “World Championship” but only let American teams play in it. They’re so stupid.
  6. They [NFL players again] are all thick. All they have to do is run a little bit, or hit someone, then stop. It’s simple.

There are multiple variations of these.

I’ve been receiving them since I was little. I just shrug and smile. You have too, it’s not worth getting into an argument with people over this. Apart from the fact that anything passionate might become unexpectedly heated, what are you going to accomplish?

Haters gotta hate, same as trolls gotta troll, same as commentators gotta comment.

It has made me a little uneasy at trusting people though. It’s not the main reason for my issues, but I can say it hasn’t helped.

I mean, I’ve just met you, if you’re gonna rag me about the NFL, how will you react if I tell you something personal about myself? About my religion or my sexuality, for example? How will you react then? Why should I open up to you about anything?

I own a dirty Steeler jacket. In the wintertime I often wear it every day, because it’s padded and warm. But over the last fortnight I’ve been asked twice if I’m a fan of the team, and both times I’ve ummed and ahhed, or I’ve denied it outright.

Why? Because I don’t want to hear The Comments.

It stops me being nationalistic. It has done since I was little. Like I’ve commented before on this blog, I live in the UK but for me it’s just a country. I’m thankful for the healthcare and the zero religious persecution but that’s it, really.

And I think my reasoning for such an attitude is because of The Comments. They told me, from a young age, that in order to belong you have to like certain things, and dislike certain things. If you don’t, then belonging will be difficult.

I like playing football (soccer), I don’t really understand all the rules though. And rugby… like I said, I like The All Blacks, they look cool, but their rules baffle me too.

But I’d never voice my opinion on the subject.

Because, like General Sosaboski, I am a minority, and it would be in my best interest to keep my opinions to myself on the matter.


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