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In which WordAssociation witnesses a psychic melding of footballer and fan

January 17, 2011

The Merseyside Derby at

Cubar, West Street, Brighton

CUBAR is a bar like many others: a bit of a dive, with constantly changing staff and a breeze from Brighton beach trying to hold the doors open. But on Sunday this dive was witness to a small instance of perfect behavioural choreography from Brighton to…New Brighton…

…Cubar does food. Not like a Wetherspoons does food. Not like any bar does food, really, unless it’s a pub from 25 years ago. Ham sandwiches, all laid out on the bar, and some ‘bites’ that I couldn’t investigate because some punter sat hunched over them drinking what looked like Vimto. Tuna, mayonnaise, sweetcorn, the bread cut nicely into triangles, arranged on platters. And nobody touched a thing. Nobody seemed that interested in the game, either.

I arrived at the end of Birmingham Police’s biannual crowd-kettling training session, to find a gaggle of (not terribly Scouse) Liverpool fans sat in near total silence. They continued to sit in silence even when Fernando Torres hit the post; they clapped politely when Raul Mereiles got his first Liverpool goal.

With their team in many ways seeming not to realise that this was a derby until 20 minutes from time, the spectators achieved an all too rare psychic connection with their heroes. Pitch and pub grew into a correlation.

The spark, it seemed, was Kenny Dalglish. Not in his management or in his statements, but because at half time the entire pub joined him in attempting to finish Kuyt’s chances that led to the opener, and his delight at the eventual goal.

As the game began to stretch and space opened up on the Anfield pitch, the pub grew more crowded. At half time, as Richard Keys cut off analysis in the Sky studio to promote Spurs v Man Utd, the retro Liverpool shirts were heavily outnumbered by people just waiting for the next game. An intellectual – he wore a hat and a snood – took most of the second half to get through a Guardian article on Avram being Granted a stay of execution.

Signs of psychically crossed wires grew. At the exact moment that Martin Kelly landed awkwardly on his neck in the build up to Everton’s equaliser, a stray child by my ankles started screaming. Not crying, like his sister had been doing regularly up to that point, just screaming. Loud, sustained, and with not a flicker of emotion on his face. His father, outside on the phone, and his mother, holding her daughter, performed the dancing and hand signals that a worried referee plays out with that physio who is urgently needed…not needed…needed with a buggy. Sorry, stretcher. No, sorry, I do mean buggy.

The spirit of Glenn Johnson, meanwhile, had passed into the lad who nipped out for a smoke. He worked ferociously at the door to re-enter, got to the bar by going along one wall, received a phone call, got out through the chairs and sofas, forgot his drink…excellent tracking back from his teammates spared his blushes.

It might have been Everton’s holding-on that broke the spell, but I doubt it. As Kuyt prepared his mammoth penalty run-up, at least one voice was raised to articulate Sky’s urge to get to White Hart Lane. One little lad, in a Man Utd shirt, started shouting, “Miss!….miss!…or at least just hurry up!”

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