Narrator – Daisy Cutter
‘Bloke’ – Manchester City supporters
‘Sammi’ – Samir Nasri, Vincent Kompany, Joe Hart, Aleksander Kolorov, Pablo Zabaleta, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Joleon Lescott, Edin Dzeko……
Most evenings down our local you’ll find a bloke sitting next to the jukebox quietly feeding it with pound coins and nursing his bottled beer. He mainly keeps himself to himself and his nightly playlist often includes an Elephant Stone or Time For Heroes so he’s alright by us.
Settled upon his face is a look that an outsider might mistake for sorrow but is more accurately disappointment, of a life that, until recently, promised so much; a life glimpsed and savoured before it was snatched from him. Such is his browbeaten demeanour an idle spectator may also be under the impression that this man is defeated. He’s not. He’s just sitting by the jukebox. Waiting. Keeping himself to himself.
He wasn’t always the bloke who sat next to the juky. Back in the day he was a lad, likeable and full of wisecracks and daftness. He’d be good for a pint when you were broke despite you knowing full well he was hardly flush. His mate’s mums adored him while his mate’s girlfriends didn’t trust him. He’d tell stories of his many fuck-ups that had you howling through the lock-ins.
That all changed one fated afternoon when a girl strolled confident and perfect into our world. Nobody had seen her before so her appearance, some might say, was out of the blue and such was her beauty and obvious status all mindless chatter on this and that was immediately hushed to a silent awe. Jesus she was stunning. Her clothes alone were probably worth more than every car parked outside combined. Her walk from the door to the bar, across the peanut-strewn tiles and oche with the faded markings may as well have been on a velvet red carpet accompanied by a phalanx of flashbulbs
This girl, oh let’s call her Sammi because that was her name and she isn’t very likely to read this, well Sammi ordered her drink in a soft sexy accent that evokes your favourite holiday and entirely against the run of play positioned herself next to the bloke. It was a development that seemed to perplex him more than anyone.
Drinking in the bar that afternoon were several single guys and a couple more not above claiming to be. One or two had rich parents and they would regularly boast of their father’s achievements while throwing his money around without a care. There were others with a bit about them, stylish threads and a general swagger who were never content merely to beat you at pool, it had to be done ‘the right way’. A couple more were just plain and simple handsome bastards.
Yet she ignored the sudden surge of testosterone all around her, the posturing and the posing, and sat next to him. The bloke. She flicked her hair and he was smitten. He was gone. It was love.
A relationship sparked immediately into life and it took a surprisingly short amount of time before this unusual coupling became the norm. They would walk in together and he would order his pint of mild while she would test the barman’s knowledge of exotic cocktails and oblivious to the jealous stares the bloke would proudly escort his beloved to a corner booth where they would whisper sweet nothings.
Begrudgingly I could see how they worked. He would make her laugh while she in turn made him taller and I mean that in a literal sense as his demeanour expanded, his back straightened, and he suddenly carried himself with a self-assurance that added inches to the eye. From self-deprecating tales of mishaps told to the floor with a sheepish grin he would now look you square in the face and tell of trips to Europe; how the Colloseum when floodlit looked picture perfect, how the ale in Paris somehow tasted better than supermarket Stella. He also – coincidentally or otherwise – began to beat everybody at pool. A lot.
As for Sammi we all got to know her over time. Despite every man-jack of us desperately hoping she would prove to be dull or thick or liked boiling up rabbits in her downtime to our dismay she was engaging, clever and just a minute in her company made you feel alive and brilliant. Yeah I know. I know how that sounds.
As the relationship strengthened I even recall hearing rumours of a forthcoming wedding. Then, incrementally, like a wall crumbling brick by brick, it all turned sour.
The bloke would appear on a Saturday night alone and when enquiries were made of Sammi’s absence he would poorly attempt nonchalance and shrug and say that he’d texted her several times without response. She’s been busy lately, he would say. A bit distant.
We would still see her at the midweek quiz, resplendent and beautiful and answering all of the questions with such an ease you suspected there was an encyclopaedia on her lap. But for the big nights – the engagement parties and retirement dos – she would simply not turn up.
Around this time the bloke’s demeanour changed and maybe this is understandable but seeing the return of his awkward air and hangdog expression made us feel better about ourselves to an extent. You would see him trudge through the doors with the weight on his shoulders and knock back the shorts with alarming swiftness, endlessly on his phone texting, endlessly checking for replies. Yet despite the lingering envy and knowing that he’d probably enjoyed better sex than a nymphomaniac’s crush it was still hard to witness a guy dealing with his first true love unravelling to the point of it becoming unreciprocated.
The excuses eventually stretched to fiction. The authority in his voice petered to that of near silence.
Over the following months we saw less and less of Sammi until eventually she became a story for any newbie who strolled in off the street for a livener. None of us were blessed with the right words to do her justice but we tried. She was something else we’d say, respectfully out of earshot of the bloke. She was magnificent on her day.
As for the bloke you’ll find him next to the jukebox quietly feeding it with pound coins and nursing his bottled beer. His shoulders are slumped but he’s not defeated, just waiting, as if there is an acceptance now. As if he somehow knows that his first big love was not his great love. That is still to come, around the corner forming in the ether.
He presses buttons on the machine and from across the room I spy a thin smile on his lips as he selects a couple of favourites. First the Roses jangle-crash into life with Ian Brown whisper-singing about bursting into heaven and kissing the cotton clouds. Next up inevitably is The Libertines. It’s Time For Heroes. Oh how he’ll cherish you.