It’s always embarrassing when dad comes to pick me up from rugby practice. I’d like to tell him to wait a few streets away so my posh friends don’t have to see the car. Nobody seems to take any notice but I can see it in their eyes, in their demeanour. The patronising pity or, even worse, the fake friendliness making them feel so good at having accepted the boy from the council estate.
‘See you Thursday John.
That’s Willum, our fly-half; very talented, quick on his feet. Almost as good as me. Willum is the only boy in the team who genuinely seems to like me. His dad’s a GP and his mum’s a professor of medieval history at Manchester University. I scorn his friendship and take the piss out of his stupid name whenever I can, and still he comes back for more. I don’t like myself for doing it, but it makes me feel good to be able to hurt one of these rich bastards.
So, I hear you ask, ‘Why do you keep coming to this club if you can’t stand the people?’
It’s simple really. I’m fucking good at rugby. I’ve got the size, the build, and the speed. When I’m playing, I can show these shits that you don’t have to be privileged to be talented. For my age, I’m the best out there and I make sure they know it every time.
It’s Wednesday, I’m bored and can’t wait for tomorrow’s training session. That twat Willum’s been ringing me and leaving messages which I’ve ignored just to wind him up. My phone rings. It’s him again. This time I decide to answer.
‘What do you want Willum.’
‘Oh, I’m glad you answered. I’ve been phoning you for days.’
‘Well I’m here now. You have my undivided attention.’
‘Ed Sheeran’s playing at the Arena tonight and my sister can’t make it so I’ve got a spare ticket.’
‘Well, I wondered if you’d like to come along. I know you’re a fan.’
At this moment I’m thinking fast. Yes, of course I’m a fan, and yes of course I’d like to go, and yes it’s very good of Willum to offer me a ticket. But, I can’t show him I’m grateful. Heart in mouth, I say:
‘I like Ed Sheeran but I don’t want to hang out with the rest of the bloody rugby team tonight.’
‘Don’t worry about that. It’s just you and me going.’
‘In that case, I’ll see you tonight at the Arena.’
‘Seven thirty. I’m really looking forward to it.’
I hang up.
The Manchester Arena stands before me in all its ugliness, but its architectural aesthetics play second fiddle to my expectations of seeing Ed Sheeran. This evening, the entrance is dominated by a neon sign proclaiming his appearance and his new album. It’s a garish pink and green, and colours the skin and hair of the fans ascending the stairs to the main entrance.
I’ve got to admit I’m excited. Ed Sheeran is the sort of person I’d like to be. He can hold vast audiences on his own without even a backing band, just a beatbox. His music is great and he is the centre. He doesn’t need anyone else’s approval.
Willum beckons me over and we ascend the stairs, the neon sign anointing us as we pass through the entrance and enter the massive space of the arena. We don’t say much, happy to breathe in the atmosphere full of expectation and suppressed excitement.
The support band is ok and we politely applaud their contribution hoping that this song is their last.
In the interval, Willum starts to ply me with facts about Sheeran. I don’t want to know that his dad was an art curator and his mother a jewellery designer. I definitely don’t want to know that he attended the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford. It kind of goes against the grain of my thinking he’s like me. To shut him up, I take out my hip flask filled with whisky I nicked from my dad. He takes a deep swallow, coughs and splutters just as the lights come on.
The performance is amazing. I just know the new songs from his latest album are going to grow on me and the old stuff is brilliant. We are out of our seats cheering, openly drinking from the hip flask. The audience is ecstatic and the last number ‘Sing’ brings the house down.
We manage to get away from the venue. We’re singing ‘Lego House’ at the tops of our voices, stumbling over the fast bits, arms around our shoulders more for drunken support that a show of camaraderie, I think. With great foresight, Willum has ordered us a Uber Taxi and we stumble laughing and giggling into the back.
The taxi takes us past the Arena and as I see Willum’s hair illuminated by the neon, he turns his head and plants a kiss right on my lips. I pull away.
‘Jesus Christ! What do you think you’re doing? I should smash your face in for that.’
Instead, I pull him towards me holding him tight and say:
‘Thanks for a great evening Willum.’
The taxi driver snorts his disapproval, but then he can go fuck himself.