Music: Game For Fools - Jamie Lidell
So there I was at the crucial rugby game having just met up with my good friend Joe. If my team won they'd be safe. If they lost they could be relegated. I was as nervous as hell and so was Joe. I could sense it when he kissed me hello on my cheek... My colleague Mick had been winding me up and saying that Joe could be the perfect guy for me, and on paper he is. But at 13 years older than me I just didn't know. And I wasn't sure if I fancied him - even with his villa in Spain...
As I'd arrived at the ground just before kick off there was no time for me to have a nerve-calming drink. Instead Joe and I headed outside and assumed our usual position in the South Stand, just to the right of the touchline and behind the mini-orchestra.
The drummer banged his drum and the crowd cheered as the team line-up was relayed over the tannoy. The tension was building and I could feel it in the air. The cheer leaders dashed out onto the pitch with flags waving and pom-poms bouncing as the players readied themselves in the bowels of the stadium. The butterflies in my stomach were flapping in anticipation as to what would happen next. Only eighty minutes separated my team from possible relegation and the desperate feeling of disappointment that it brings. Not even a couple of text messages I received from my work mates Mick and Dan with jokes about “going down” were going to make me smile. Well, maybe a bit.
The crowd roared and everyone was on their feet as the team ran onto the pitch. Flags waved and chants circled the ground before being whipped away on the wind. Joe looked pretty nervous too, and over the next eighty minutes we lived and breathed every tackle, scrum and lineout, cheering our hearts out for the team we both love.
The first half began. Three successful penalties for us in the first 25 minutes. A score for them. We almost get a try but ball is knocked forwards.
At half time we were winning 12 – 3. It was a lead but I was starting to feel stressed. The half time entertainment didn’t do much to lighten the mood and the entire crowd was on tenterhooks. Whilst I watched the cheer leaders bump, grind and shake their thang, Joe disappeared off to the burger van and returned a couple of minutes later with two polystyrene cups of steaming hot tea. It’s as if he’d read my mind.
We chatted about the game so far and how we'd been playing pretty well, just as the players started to run out for the second half. I could see in their body language that they looked really up for it. I said a little prayer under my breath.
The second half started like a whirlwind, with the opposition throwing everything at us. A stupid mistake let them run in a brilliant try, which was converted to take the score to 12-10. I was feeling really uncomfortable now. Ten minutes left. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Joe jigging up and down. I couldn’t work out if it was from nerves or if he trying to keep warm as it wasn't that chilly.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
“Yeah. Well, no.” Joe replied. “This is torture. I can’t bear it."
“I know what you mean,” I agreed. “I kind of wish I’d just stayed at home and listened to it on the radio.”
Joe looked at me and pulls his most wounded face.
“No I didn’t mean it like that!” I exclaimed. “You know I love coming to watch the rugby with you!”
“Yeah, whatever,” Joe laughed.
We turned our attention back to the game.
“Come on Leeds! Get your tackles in first time!” Joe shouted anxiously.
I could tell by the look on his face that he was hating every second, so in an effort to try and calm him down I gently placed my hand on his arm and gave it a squeeze.
Joe diverted his eyes from the pitch and looked at me with a grateful smile. At least I think it was a grateful smile.
Five minutes of the game left and the score line was still 12-10. I could hardly bear it any more. The crowd cheered in time with the drum to try and lift the tired bodies of our players. If we could just hold on or score another penalty, that would hopefully be enough.
Just as I was silently praying for this, the opposition are awarded another penalty themselves. It was 55 metres out. Surely they aren't going to go for goal? The kicker pointed to the posts and the entire stand held its breath. A few people jeered in an attempt to put him off as he lined up his strike. He ran up, boot connected with ball..... And it was short! He missed!
The linesmen waved their flags to indicate that the kick was bad, leaving the score still agonisingly poised at 12-10 with just a couple of minutes left to play.
The butterflies in my stomach started to flip over and over and I just couldn't watch it any more. I turned to Joe and placed my cheek on his shoulder and linked his arm with mine, then faced the opposite way to the pitch.
“I don’t want to know what’s happening unless it’s another score for us,” I said into the wooliness of his jumper. “Please, please let us score.”
I really couldn't look.
One minute left and the crowd was still cheering and willing the team on, when all of a sudden the noise stopped and for a few seconds there was almost silence. I felt Joe’s body tense up before the crowd erupted into cheers.
“What just happened?” I shouted and span around to face the pitch.
Everyone is punching the air and the rest of the squad is running onto the pitch.
"It's over! We've won!" Joe yelled. "They tried to go for a drop goal, but we charged it down and kicked it out! We've won! WE'VE WON!"
I started leaping around and clapping and screaming. A few tears welled up in my eyes. Tears of pride. The atmposhere was amazing. Everyone was clapping and cheering. It was brilliant.
I looked at Joe and he smiled. Suddenly he stopped clapping and grabbed me for a massive hug. I was so caught up in the excitement of the victory it felt totally natural. And nice. It felt nice.
But it ended all too quickly when a drunk guy stumbled into us. Joe made sure I was OK then carried on smiling at me. I quickly turned back to the pitch and started applauding the players again.
What was that?
Was I imagining things or did he want to be more than friends? I was about to find out....