We met at the Angel, we always do. We didn’t think this would be any different. The cold winter breeze bit my ears. John waved me over from the other side of the street. I told him he should have come to me, I mean we were going back that way after all. His face fell so I decided to keep my chastising to a minimum. I knew he was still thinking about Carys. The dirty bitch had strung him along until his heart was chained to her very existence. Then she fucked off with his cousin’s step-father. Talk about family drama.
“Can we at least enjoy the sodding game without you moping around like you’re in the dog house?” I said. He rolled his eyes at me.
“Buy me a pint and I’ll think about it.” I shrugged and headed back the way I came. His voice returned after a brief pause. “How’s Jamie, ‘en?”
Jamie was my boyfriend. At least that’s what I saw him as at the time. “He’s alright. Still a useless nobody but he’s a decent lay so I can’t complain, can I?”
“Too much information, Tir.”
We headed down the grey concrete ramp in the Arms Park which ran through the turnstiles and handed over our season tickets to the stadium employees. The tickets are always cheap as chips for Cardiff – they don’t get many people going these days. One year they tried moving to the Cardiff City Stadium but it has near around thirty thousand seats. Blues’ fans would never appear in those numbers. No chance.
The Arms Park is overlooked by the Millennium Stadium, the stadium where our national teams play. They changed the name to the Principality Stadium a couple of years back but I’m not having any of that shit. The large white spires are visible from all over the city. Cardiff’s little stadium is dwarfed beneath the Millennium’s renovated walls; the former only reaches half the height of the latter.
John led me to the front of the South Stand, the one that backs onto the heights of the Millennium. He found a space right at the front of the action and sent me off to get the drinks in.
“Guinness please, Tir,” he said. John’s voice was known for being of a soft monotonous nature. Rarely did much vibrancy affect his vocal expression. It changed when he was with Carys. If I was gonna give the chick any compliment, it would be that she brought the daft bugger out of his shell.
“What? You supporting Munster today, you filthy traitor? Off to Ireland with yah!” I received a middle finger in response.
I rounded the corner and covered the small distance to the bar. Really quite dangerous, isn’t it, how close rowdy sports fans can get to alcohol. They banned it in football, didn’t they? I can’t imagine a game day without booze.
“Tirion!” A shrill voice, loaded with the piercing jingle of Christmas bells, a promise of false charity, called my name. I knew it was Erin. It was nigh impossible to fail to recognise the saccharine falsity in her tone. It reminded me of the sugared coating upon the bland natural taste of Haribo sweets, a method of hiding the disappointment underneath. “How have you been!? How’s Jamie? You still seeing him?” Ah, yes, of course there was a motive. The bitch cut my fucking ponytail off in primary school. I think I was eight? Ruined my life at the time.
“Yeah, good, Erin, cheers. Still going strong.” I lifted my arm and half-assed a flex in a feeble attempt at humour.
“Oh, fab! Good to hear!” I wanted to vomit. “John looks miserable as fuck. Something happen with Carys?”
I sighed. “Fucked off didn’t she?” I thought everyone knew. I wasn’t going to discuss the intricacies with her prying arse.
“Sucks,” she said. I shrugged and picked up the drinks. The cool froth ran over the rims, down onto my already freezing hands. My nails went blue.
“I’ll catch you later, Erin.”
They’re always all over the place, the Blues. Sometimes they’re fucking phenomenal, sometimes they scrape a win and sometimes they’re a nightmare to watch. On this day they were sensational.
Munster are a decent team, but the more players I saw limping off the pitch, stretching to relieve their muscles of the tight ache of cramp, bent over in exhaustion, the more I believed they were decidedly inferior. I watched skin merge into skin, heads crash into other limbs and men throw their entire bodies in front of the unstoppable force of a man with a purpose. Players have to leave the pitch if there’s a blood injury, so it doesn’t get too graphic. But the odd drop of viscous crimson stained their headbands, their coloured shirts. You can see the pain, even if the adrenaline prevents them from feeling it in the moment. I’m sure they felt it the next day.
John is about six foot four. I keep telling him that he could pretend to be an injured player at one of the games to get us some clout but he always has to be miserable bastard and ruin my fun. He’s definitely bulky enough, his shoulders are wider than the damn Pacific. We’d been friends since we were four years old and fought over who had rights to the toy fire engine at the local nursery. Even then he was big. Either way, if you can picture an over six foot tall, athletically built figure at the front of a stand, you can understand why people get royally pissed off with John at games.
At this particular game, it reached half time before someone started on him.
“Eh, yah tall prick, move somewhere else, mah girl can’t see shit.”
I don’t know who said it. There were multiple drunken, surly, reddened faces when I turned to find the source of the aggressive statement. I’m not into confrontation. I’m not a big girl, it does nothing for me, especially with men.
John ignored the voice. He found that paying antagonistic people no attention benefitted him greatly since he liked to avoid being provoked. One of the red-faced crowd wasn’t having it. A large, bulging hand attempted to grip John’s shoulder in a measly play to pull him back to face the mob. John shrugged it off.
“Oi mate, I’m fucking talking to you. Move out of the fucking way.” The hand returned once more.
“Knock it off man, we’re all trying to watch the game he-” I was cut off by my friend elbowing me in the side. A sign to keep my mouth shut.
“Silence your bitch and let’s have it out.” The voice continued its violent tirade.
John took one deep breath. He turned and landed an impressively powerful punch on the jaw of one of the drunken fools. Knocked the guy flat out, didn’t he. Who knows which one. It was near impossible to tell. Without warning, the rest of the group, maybe three or four other men, smaller than John, descended on the giant. John received a few hits. His right eye was pretty badly beaten, I don’t think it opened for a good few weeks the bruising was so intense. He still has a small scar on the inside of his nose there, a memento of the occasion.
One guy fell and broke his arm. The bone jutted out of the skin like the jagged edge of a cliff, reaching for the tranquillity of the sky. This was where the fight ended. Security came over, escorted the man to the onsite medical staff. The others dispersed and feigned ignorance. John was lucky. The man he’d knocked out didn’t sustain any serious injuries. Could have been a GBH case.
John kept his arm firmly around my shoulder as we were unceremoniously escorted out of the stadium. I was pretty sure he didn’t need me. Maybe he thought that feigning need would comfort me. Regardless, I was relaxed, despite the fear of having our passes revoked sitting in a corner of my mind.
I waited for the traffic to abide and dragged him back to the Angel. It seemed like the best place to get a taxi; two streets intersect and become one on the corner of the illustrious hotel. John’s head lifted whilst I found the number for a taxi in my contacts and he spotted the leggy blonde his mind had been trying to erase. Carys was six foot, tall like John, and like him, also very hard to miss.
“Alright?” I was hesitant but I couldn’t let it be an elephant in the room.
His eyebrows furrowed and a strange flat smile divided his face. “Yeah. Don’t see the point anymore, Tir.”
I didn’t know what to say. Instead I hugged him for the first time in probably five years. I knew we’d be alright in the end.