Hidden away at the bottom of your suitcase, intentionally covered by everything else - even your jeans despite going to a 40-degree country, but y'know, the missus wants you to have them for going to dinner in - you've delicately placed your football shirt. Maybe two if you were brave.
You know she doesn't want you to take them - "it's embarrassing," she says - but you've done it anyway. Hopefully it'll be safe to crack them out a couple of days in, once the full benefits of all-inclusive have kicked in and midday marks a few glasses down already. You can't not pack a football shirt, can you?
There's a few breeds of football-shirt-wearer-abroad: there's your England shirters, dressed to remind all other tourists that they're not from round here; there's the purpose-bought shirters, who are most commonly found on summer holidays, who before leaving, purchased their club's freshly-released offering for the upcoming season; and there's the football shirt connoisseur.
This most elite specimen is a master of their art; they've planned for this. They know what works and the other half knows deep down that they're coming out. Their arsenal is impressive and will most likely include their club's shirt from a bygone era and one from a holiday past. The shirts say, "I'm not one of these modern fans," and "I've been about, I've been places." It shows an appreciation of local culture for €40 of polyester; or if you bought it in Turkey, a tenner.
Wrapping them up is your beach towel. Your football beach towel. Oh yes, even when you're not at your lounger, it is of pivotal importance that people know the man who occupies this white plastic skin-pinching death-trap supports <insert club of your choice here.>
It's day three - two if you're fearless - and it's on. It is on your chest. You are wearing it. If you're smart - you're smart, aren't you? - your shirt is a size too big. You're on holiday where the sun is seemingly a thousand miles closer and almost reachable if you jump, so you know a shirt that barely fits you anymore would be a miserable choice. Or you're in denial.
So you're in your shirt, it's loose, it catches the breeze, and it covers the summer bod you did not bother attempting. "Are you going to put some sun cream on, Dave?" the wife asks. "Who's Dave?!" you reply. (Unless you're called Dave, of course). Anyway, you look up from your sun lounger and say, "Nah, I think I'lI keep my top on today." You packed this to make a statement, after all.
There's day trips, excursions, attempts to experience the culture so you can go home and tell your colleagues that you don't holiday like the usual tourist- you actually make an effort to get to know the country - but today you're having a day by the pool. It probably wasn't your choice, and as the wife reads some Jilly Cooper or Maeve Binchy, you're trying to weigh up whether a foray into the pool, as a fully-grown man, alone, is worth it. Or you have kids, in which case you're in there already, chucking them, and any other kid that comes close, ten feet into the air. You're the fun Dad, aren't you? On holiday in your football shirt, having a day by the pool.
But hang on a minute. That stupidly athletic member of 'entertainment' is parading around the pool and sunbathing areas coaxing men into signing up for something. He walks past your lounger, your empty lounger; your empty lounger because you're in the pool. You're in the pool in your wet football shirt, or with it on the side, one eye making sure it doesn't go walkies. He pauses and sees your towel. He looks rather quizzical, fairly confident it is a football towel, but having no clue what 'Sanderson' or 'Labbatt's' is. He looks up and scans the hotel grounds. You're not trying to keep a low profile now. You're out the water like David Hasselhoff. David Hasselhoff aged whatever he is now, though. A sprained ankle nearly occurs just hoisting yourself out. One of those awkwardly clumsy walk-jogs ensues because you're eager to get to Stellios or Pedro or whatever his name is, before he wanders off. You don't want to be chasing him round. It needs to look natural.
"What's going on then?” You ask in a way that suggests you don't really care. "A football tournament later on. Five pee em. You play?" Do you play? Just a bit, you think to yourself. "Yeah, alright, yeah, go on then." You knew it would pay off-your football shirt, your football beach towel from the 90s. You bloody knew it.
It's midday and now the rest of the afternoon is centred around 'five pee em.' The missus summons the family for lunch and you all, still dripping from the pool, make your way to the buffet. "That's not much, Dave," she says, looking at your half-full plate. "I'm still quite full from breakfast," you reply. It's a lie. You're starving - everyone is always hungry when it's sunny and it's all-inclusive, and that's just a medical fact - but there's a football tournament later and you're playing in it. Not that she knows yet.
You lean back in your chair a bit and glance around the food hall. Can you see any football shirts, you're thinking. You spot one, but then the bloke turns around and it's not a bloke; it's a 14-year old kid. Probably German, you reckon. "If he's playing, he's getting snapped," you say to yourself. Apart from you haven't said it to yourself; you've said it out loud. "What Dave?" You look at your partner confused. "Ay, what? Nothing. didn't say anything." She knows you did, you know you did, but it somehow goes unchallenged.
Back at the pool, back to Binchy, and back to whatever you're going to occupy yourself with. She's brought you over a nondescript cocktail and hands it to you. She looks at you. "Well drink it then,” her look insinuates, as if you're four and its calpol. "Thanks, babe.” Is it worth it? Will ‘Midnight Sunrise' affect you later? Wait. Wait wait wait. Wait. A look of horror has encapsulated your face.
"Are you alright, Dave?" You state blankly. "Yeah, yeah of course." You've just realised this football tournament's location was not specified. You've presumed it's on the multisport court. They had football goals, right? Under a basketball hoop. You're sure they did. But there's also the beach, just the other side of the trees and the spluttering showers you're obliged to use to avoid cross-contaminating the sea with chlorine or vice versa. Who knows. Global warming and that. Sea pollution. “I hope it's not on the bloody beach," you think to yourself, "that's not even football; it might as well be a different sport entirely." You'll still play though. You've got a point to prove. You're English, on holiday, and you've got your football shirt and club badge and retro sponsor emblazoned beach towel on the lounger. "I keep it simple," you tell yourself.
It's black, then it is bright, then black, then bright. And then there's Stellios looming over you. Fell asleep, didn't you, and as you're adjusting your eyes to the afternoon sun, a mild panic sweeps over you. “Have I missed it?!" you hurriedly ask, as if saying it quicker might make you in time. “No, no, no. Five pee em. Soon. Just reminding.” Sheer joy burns within your very soul, your very teenage soul, still 15-years old and at the park playing 'Headers and Volleys' with Ryan and Luke.
“What’s at 5pm, Dave?” You sit up, thighs burning where your shorts have risen, and casually reply. “Oh, nothing. Just a little football tournament he asked me to play in earlier." She smiles, knowingly. He asked did he? You lying toad. "You better not get into a foul mood like you did after the one in Tenerife!" You smile. "It was never a foul; the Italians always cheat." You stand up, stretch out, and straighten your beach towel, marking your territory in preparation for your absence."Have fun," she says.
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