Indeed, the pair had to be kept separate for several minutes due to the distinct possibility of a real fight ensuing.
This week's column is based on a curious incident that took place in a summer football tournament I played in with my team – an assortment of ageing Irish and Britalans sprinkled with a couple of offspring of one of the players, who were born here, and occasionally an old Catalan friend thrown into the mix. We play in a Monday night league and are known for being by far the oldest team but one that, despite its British and Irish footballing roots, actually tries to play “proper football”.
Anyway, I'm not going to ramble on about football, but about the incident, which took place on a balmy night in Sant Andreu and had an interesting repercussion, culturally speaking. Not to put too fine a point on it, one of the members of my team, let's call him Craig, could not look more “guiri” if he tried and is not the deftest of footballing talents either, hence his employment as a defender to stop anything and everything that comes his way, by fair means if at all possible. On the occasion in question, the means he employed may have been somewhat less than fair, as the referee awarded our robust and skilful young Catalan opponents a free kick after Craig's opponent came down rubbing the side of his head and claiming he'd been elbowed. His complaint very quickly escalated into full-on verbal abuse and even grabbing Craig by the throat.
What happened next led me to note the incident for the purposes of this column: far from being enraged by the clenching of a palm around his throat, what sent Craig truly ballistic was the language his opponent directed at him. And not because it was the usual mixture of insults regarding what he'd like to do to his mother's or ancestors' milk, always a truly bizarre insult for a foreigner to hear, but because he deemed the language used against him racist: “inglés de mierda”. Now, I must admit, I never thought I would see the day when a blonde-haired well-educated Englishman would claim to have been racially abused, and that it would actually inflame his anger to the point where he would have to be pulled apart from the abuser. Indeed, the pair had to be kept separate for several minutes due to the distinct possibility of a real fight ensuing.
All this led me to thinking that Craig's reaction to being the target of racism , something the abuser was distinctly oblivious to but very happy to discover provoked such anger, was actually a very English middle-class source of ire in this case and perhaps finally a chance to put the shoe on the other foot and feel victimised when people of Craig's profile have spent their whole life as the privileged white man. What made it more interesting, however, was when other members of our team later jokingly put his reaction down to “Brexit angst”, leading me to ponder whether this display of English insecurity may be a mere taste of things to come for my compatriots in the post-Brexit age.