What is a ‘European night?’ Why in the world are my friends discussing why fourth place is a trophy? Do your mates expect you to know that Barcelona is more than a vacation destination in Spain or that 'You'll Never Walk Alone' is much more than a show tune from the 1940s?
You aren’t really into football. You hope that your friends don’t discover this dark secret while you smile and nod when they discuss the away goal rule. It’s not something you want to get into either. It seems to have more lore than The Lord of the Rings and even Tolkien’s masterpiece didn’t add to itself exponentially every weekend.
So how do the uninitiated survive? Do you fade away into the night, hoping that one day your friends will also start watching Death Note and all will be dandy as you discuss how the Shinigami actually work? Or, more realistically, do you want to know just enough to get by and not be ridiculed instead of standing around, picking your nose and looking like you just got hit on the head with a blunt instrument of some sort?
If you chose the latter, then here are few things you need to know about to be a part of the bantz or banter.
#1 Know your role
Alas! Football is an alien subject for you. So you really do know nothing, Jon Snow! The best thing to do here is to pick a team, any team, and stick by them. Trust me, this is very important. There is nothing football fans hate more than someone who picks a new team to support every weekend. Unless you're a poser. But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
So you've picked Manchester United based on the fact that the red might look good on you and that most of your mates also seem to support this team. Great choice! The next part may be slightly tricky. Realise that you will never be the primary protagonist or antagonist in this story.
Stand behind your mates when the bantz starts and practice saying things like, 'Mata will come good next year,' and 'Phil Jones is the future of English football.' Any more than that and you will likely get questioned. And that will never end well for you.
Football is all about the tribal mentality. Your Manchester United supporting mates appreciate you having their back and the next time you are debating someone mano a mano about the basics of the String Theory, they will return the favour in full, even if you don't know your Gravitons from your Bosons. You will own that debate because they will sledge the other person out of the room.
#2 Slow your Roll
Don't be eager to take in too much too soon. After all, you don't want to become a real football fan. Learn the basics, but don't sweat the details. You will pick up the jargon as long as you're listening when the football is being discussed. Unfortunately, that part’s unavoidable. Instead, when it gets overwhelming, close your eyes and find your happy place. Picture yourself on a cruise ship in the Caribbean where the words Chelsea and Financial Fair Play are never used in the same sentence.
This relaxed approach will give you the inner strength and the confidence to engage football fans without stressing yourself out. You will absorb the important and learn that not everyone or everything is worth knowing about.
Your nirvanic state will allow you to respond to questions like, 'Do you know how many goals Samir Nasri assisted in 2009?' with a 'No one gives a toss about Samir Nasri,' of your own. This will be greatly appreciated by all as no one really does give a toss about Samir Nasri.
#3 Social Media in time saves lives
Twitter and Facebook are home to a certain section of football fans called keyboard warriors. They are in love with the fact that they know more than the average fan. What's important to know here is that a quick search for a keyword on social media will give you something topical to talk about at all times.
Are your mates discussing James Rodriguez? Search for him on Twitter and the first thing you'll probably say is, 'I think he needs to find a new club to really thrive and develop.' Your mates will look at you with a new found respect and probably let you have a slice of the pizza all of you ordered together; for a change.
Don't forget afterwards to send a ‘thank you’ into the universe towards @HalaMadrid26, who is the person to have actually come up with that James related thought. In fact, follow him because he will give you a lot of things to say about Madrid related topics. He probably tweets a hundred times a day and isn't Wikipedia too text-y anyway? Oh, and by the way, Hala Madrid is not the salute of a new Fascist Spanish state. Well, it is in a way, but let's not go there.
#4 A non-iconic icon
Before I explain what the subheading means, it's important to cross that bridge marked poser I had spoken of earlier. A poser is someone who claims to be a diehard fan of someone or something famous, but in actuality is not knowledgeable enough to appreciate or articulate about the same in full. Football fans hate posers. They hate posers more than they hate away fans in the stadium on match day. Didn’t get that last part? That’s why you need all the help you can get.
You will have to pick a player to faux adore. If you pick a legend of the game and it comes to light one day that there is a certain aspect of his life you don't know about, for example where his dog usually went number two in the afternoons and how much he (the footballer, not the dog) weighed in the Summer of '98, there will be murder in the offing. I'm not kidding. Football fans really do love the ol' bit of ultraviolence.
The wise thing to do here is to choose a player who most other fans don't care enough about. Google ‘Insert name-of-football-club-I-claim-to-love,’ followed by the words, ‘squad list 2010'. Find the players who didn't make many appearances (10 maximum). You'll know whether they're more famous than you actually want them to be by googling their name and finding out whether they regularly make Google's 'News' tab.
Note down the basics about this player and claim vehemently whenever possible that while he may have never fulfilled his potential, there was always something about him that you enjoyed watching. Might I suggest googling Alexandre Dimitri Song Billong or Laurent Robert? You are most welcome.
#5 Zero if you aren't Zorro
This means never ever let down your guard. When watching games live on the telly, cheer aloud when your friends do, time your groans so as to be in sync with theirs, and never ever try anything unique. No one is judging you based on creativity.
You're also going to need to buy merchandise and memorabilia. A lot of it. If you are going to pull this off, you're going to have to spend some money. Look for discounted items online and memorise the logo of your beloved club (which I'm sure you're beginning to hate by now) so that you can look for it in bargain bins.
The last and most important thing here is to never ever forget the fact that everyone associated with a rival club (clubs you play derby matches against and/or claim to hate because your friends do as well) are the worst people in the world. They are the enemies of humanity itself and the world would be a better place if they just got relegated (dropping down a division). Remember that you cannot appreciate anything anyone who was ever associated with that club does.
For example, If you claim to be an Arsenal fan then Gareth Bale is just a dude who schemed his way into the Real Madrid team. If you spend your days pretending to be a Manchester City aficionado then Eric Cantona was just a cocky Frenchman who played with his collar up.
There we have it. Abide by all these instructions and you should successfully get away with pretending to be interested in all things club football while dying a little bit on the inside every day. You wanted to be a part of the banter didn't you? As the old football adage goes, 'be careful what you wish for.'