Black And White

Entry by: stevemar

5th May 2016

Raindrops dribbled down the coach window. Adam gazed out at the gloomy, northern streets as the drab rows of houses scudded by beneath a leaden, January sky. What a dive!
It was a familiar journey but he knew a thrill of excitement would shoot through him when they turned the next corner and the waiting crowd’s passion blew away the tedium of a drizzly, winter’s day. The passion from the terraces! It never failed to astonish him; the sudden eruption of passion from these stoical streets.
He looked around at the other men. Like him, they had made this journey many times and yet he could still see the tension on their faces as they drew towards the expectant throng. Those who had been dozing were wide awake; the group at the back who had been chatting and joking fell silent. Each man now sat alert and alone with his thoughts as their journey drew towards its goal.
Ronnie, nudged him.
“Relax, mate,” he said, grinning. “It’s just a game, really. Anyway, the pressure’s off now you’ve changed position. No one expects as much when you’re not a striker. The way I look at it is that it’s just a job like any other.”
“Aye, everything’s easy for you, Ronnie, isn’t it? But even in the north-east not everything’s black and white,” replied Adam.
“Yes it is, mate. You use your head too much, that’s your problem. You go too deep. Focus on the goal; on crossing the line. That’s all we need to do.”
A memory appeared, unbidden, in Adam’s mind. He saw himself rushing forwards, heart pounding, with fierce chants of “Attack! Attack!” from behind spurring him onward. It didn’t seem like “just a game” then. It wasn’t a game to those screaming at him. It was life! He understood this town and its people. He knew how they thought.
The coach turned into the next street and, as they drove towards the gates, the indistinct volley of chants became clearer – shouts of “United!” and boasts of never being defeated.
“It’s all kicking off!” scoffed Ronnie. “Listen to them! They’re willing to stand there for hours in the freezing cold just to get a glimpse of us.”
“It’s tradition, I suppose,” replied Adam, quietly. “This is the north-east and passions run deep.”
“Aye, well you’d never catch me shivering in my hat and scarf, watching a bunch of people who earn far more than me whistle past in comfort. That might be their idea of fun but I wouldn’t pick it. They’re idiots, the lot of them.”
“Charming,” muttered Adam, transferring his gaze back to the window.
“Howay, man, Adam. You know the score.” He nodded at the chanting crowd. “Let them see you hit the bar and they’d happily kill you.”
Ronnie came out with some foul attitudes at times but Adam decided not to tackle him on the issue. It would be pointless to create any division between them now. He didn’t really know why he was friends with him, save for team spirit, he supposed. Or lack of choice. He could hardly expect those in the waiting crowd to treat him as one of them. Money was such a barrier between people, perhaps the biggest one of all. At the end of the week, he’d pick up a wage packet those in the crowd could only dream about. Most of them had sweet FA. It didn’t bother him that his earnings were in a different league, but he knew how much it bothered them.
But it wasn’t just money, Adam knew that. It was about loyalty – the crowd wasn’t being paid for being there today; it was their fervour and loyalty to their upbringing, town and each other that brought them here. As far as they were concerned, Adam and the others were betraying their hopes. The seething crowd couldn’t contemplate the fact that they were going down. It was shocking, unthinkable. Adam knew that they didn’t have many defenders out there.
The gates opened and the bus drove through the clearance; the excited, heaving crowd held back by a defensive line of cross policemen. Adam was overwhelmed by the feverish, intense noise and commotion and, as always, was struck at his and his colleagues being the ones who were promoting so much unrestrained emotion in these normally reserved, dour men.
They passed through the crowd and pulled up. As Adam disembarked, he felt a tightening of his stomach and fought back an urge to throw it in; that momentary panic that replayed daily. He felt that he no longer had the balls for this. But the moment passed as he walked forward and drew towards the waiting manager. Behind, he could still hear the chanting… “United! Will never be defeated! The Workers! United! Will never be defeated!”
This and shouts of “Scab!” and “Blackleg!” accompanied him as he headed towards the welcoming pitch blackness of the mine. Adam might no longer be a striker but he was a very much a marked man.
“Don’t worry, Mate,” whispered Ronnie, as he passed, lighting up his cigarette and tossing away the match. “At the end of the day, it’s just a wind up.”
Adam hurried forward, pulling up his collar against the icy, northern blast.