Well, if you follow football, you can’t have failed to notice that on Sunday night, Lionel Messi managed to edge ahead of Gerd Muller with respect to goals scored in a calendar year. The two goals away to Real Betis saw the Argentinean sneak ahead of the German and there are still a couple of games for him to go even further ahead.
Lionel managed to notch one of his goals for this year in Glasgow but in an us-of-yet unfinished novel, the two hit-men were being compared side by side in a Glasgow bar. In an exclusive chapter from a book that may eventually be called ‘Everything Flows’ when it is hopefully released next year, the spirit of Gerd Muller still manages to linger in the air.
The idea of a bar where everyone knows your name has developed a sense of resonance since Cheers was aired but in reality, most bars are not like that, especially in a city centre. Take Bacchus for instance, it tries to appeal to as many folk as possible, which is fair enough in tough economic times, but more often than not, this sees a bar missing all targets. However, the mish mash of people seems to work in its favour.
The shoppers seeking respite from overloading their credit cards, the clubbers looking for an early start on their revelry and bizarrely, football fans. The big screens dotted around the pub means that no matter where you sit or stand, you shouldn’t miss as goalmouth incident. It’s a bit bright but with cheery barmaids and cheesy nachos that are more akin to potato scones, it’s a great place to watch a midweek football game.
The Champions League is where it’s at in club football. A place where the haves are in charge and the have-nots are just about tolerated as long as they know their place in the grand scheme of things. You could probably fill a book with how the Champions League is a metaphor for the greed of the modern world but someone else can handle that one. For all its faults though, any tournament which lets you watch Barcelona versus Bayern Much has to be worth enduring.
Johnny had barely got himself to the bar when Pete came into the pub behind him. “Alright mate, pint?” asked Johnny.
“Aye great, I’ll grab the table at the back close to the big telly” replied Pete, making his way to one of the many empty tables in the pub, which was rather quiet for such a big night of football.
“Nice one, I’ll be over in a minute.”
There’s nothing more infuriating to bar staff than fulfilling an order only for one more pint to be added to bill. It was acceptable when Columbo used to turn around and say “just one more thing” before blowing the entire case wide open but do it too often in a pub and you’ll find yourself receiving the cold shoulder more often than an Icelandic physio. So Johnny left the change with the barmaid as he carried the pints over to the best seats in the house.
“Oh aye, Johnny Rockerfeller I see, keep the change love is it?”
“Aye, I don’t like mucking the lassies about, she got that tip because of you coming in after I had ordered.”
“She got that tip because you think she’s a wee hottie.”
“Here we go again, another dame I speak to so obviously I fancy her.”
“You’re far too easy to wind up mate, Messi would be walking through your defences.”
Johnny wasn’t really sure if this was a compliment or insult, “I can live with that mate, if I ever get so bad that Heskey walks through my defences, let me know…and anyways, she is a good looking lassie, nothing wrong with that.”
“Nothing wrong with that at all mate and as you ain’t got one of these”, as Pete points to his wedding ring, “you can keep chucking your money away on them…oh wait, I do that as well, £80 in Ikea at the weekend, on cushions. If you can tell me how the missus can spend £80 on cushions in Ikea, I will buy you rounds all night.”
“Yep, I’m an expert on the female mind so you’ve come to the right place for an answer. In that situation, it’s because, she’s mental. And no matter what question you asked me about whatever woman you could name, it’d be the same answer, they’re all mental.”
“All of them?” was the reply, with the sort of upward lilt in the voice which was obviously leading somewhere else.
“Oh aye, all of them. Some are a good mental, some are like an official mental that you should probably avoid and some have other attributes or personality traits that mean you can overlook the mentalness and get on with the task at hand.”
“Sorted! So, from what I gather from the things I read on facebook, I believe you are taken with a new young lady….are you finally going to get that old one out of your head and give a new girl a chance?” enquired Peter, knowing he was sure to rub Johnny up the wrong way with that question…still, if you can’t wind up your mates, who can you wind up?
“See, people keep saying that…” and just then the Champions League anthem kicked in and like Pavlov’s dog, the two men immediately responded, turning their attention to the big screen. This helpful gap was buying Johnny a bit of time to pull together an answer but he knew as soon as the handshakes were over, he’d have to come up with something.
“It’s not like that..I’ve just had one date with Jess and she seems really nice but I’ve been busy, she’s been busy so I haven’t gotten around to sorting out a next date” replied Johnny but he knew this wasn’t answering the pertinent part of Pete’s questioning. “It’s maybe I kinda use Katie as a barometer of judging girls and if they aren’t comparable then I don’t worry about them but you can’t say I’ve not been looking.”
Johnny always felt he could be more open with Pete on the subject of Katie, with Pete not really knowing the girl. The two of them have been at a few nights out together but they were from different parts of Johnny’s life. This usually meant that Johnny would unload on Pete the things he couldn’t on the friends he had in common with Katie so this sort of conversation was as common as Barcelona appearing in the Champions League! This meant Pete was usually prepared with an answer for Johnny.
“We all look, hey, I’m married and I look but I don’t go any further than that…and I don’t think you go much further than that to be honest, which is a nonsense, if you don’t mind me saying so. I think you just need to completely obliterate that lassie out of your head and think about the new one.”
This time there was no musical anthem to save Johnny and as the match kicked off, there was a silence between the two, both inwardly praying for an early spark in the game to provide a break from this sort of discussion. Sadly, it was a scrappy start with the silence eventually being punctured by Peter after the fourth throw-in in a row.
“Right, how about this…Barcelona, the team of the moment, pretty exciting and firm favourites to win, that’s Jess. Bayern Munich, a lot of history there, some great stories, some great tales and you know where you stand with them, for you, that’s Katie. Whoever goes through tonight, that’s who you focus on, do we have a deal?”
That’s just crazy enough to work thought Johnny. The odds were definitely stacked in Barcelona’s favour, the first leg in Munich finished 2-2 so even a 0-0 or 1-1 draw puts Barca through…and if Bayern can upset the odds at the Camp Nou then maybe all bets really are off and anything could happen.
“You know something mate, I’m going to take that bet. Yes, if Barca go through tonight, it’s all focus on Jess and no more doubts or waiting, if Bayern pull off a shock, we go with it. That’s a really good analogy you used there because to be honest, Katie was the Gerd Muller of my youth.”
“I’m sorry, what, you are likening some wee lassie you’ve fancied for years to Gerd ‘Der Bomber’ Muller, the legendary German goal-scoring machine…is there something you maybe want to explain here…I’m cool with you being gay if that’s what it is…..”
After the laughter died down, Johnny retorted calmly, “nah mate, as tight as the shorts were back in the 70s, it just didn’t do it for me. Right, put aside the fact that Muller was a man who often dabbled with facial hair, focus on what he did during a game. It didn’t matter where he was played or how he performed for the majority of the match, if you stuck that ball into the box when you needed it, Muller was there. He was deadly and without resorting to lazy stereotypes, he was ruthlessly efficient. He had a majesty and grace about him as well, of course he did, but at sticking the ball in the back of the net, Gerd Muller was better than everyone else.”
It was an explanation that clearly sounded crazy but love, like football, is something that can often defy all logic.
“Brilliant, you’ve explained why you have supposedly non erotic love for Gerd Muller, what has it got to do with Katie?”
“It’s obvious, Katie had the timing and the ability to be there when it mattered, just like Gerd. On a crap night out when you thought you’d be as well going home, she’d pop up out of nowhere and your night would be made a lot better. I lost count of the number of rubbish days at school when all I wanted to do was get out and head home and then you’d bump into her in the corridor or see her in the common room and she’d say the right thing and again, everything was alright. If you needed someone to rely on, she more often than not, got there when you needed her to be….she was Gerd Muller.”
“I think I’d understand you better if you were gay…” smirked Pete but at the moment, Xavi played a defence splitting pass in between the static Bayern backline where Pedro was arriving right on cue to slide the ball home for the opening goal. It was 1-0 to Barca but more importantly, it was 1-0 to Jess in the big result of the night.
“Right, Bayern have to get 2 goals now and then hope Barca don’t score another, you’re sorted Johnny boy, full focus on Jess from here on in.” This was an outcome that actually pleased Johnny, it was yet another piece of majestic football from Barcelona that created the opening goal, any football fan would have been pleased to have seen that but there was more at stake with that goal. Pedro may not have realised it but he may well have provided the impetus for Johnny to finally get himself into gear.
The match meandered its way to half-time with both sides seemingly unsure of how to set up. Bayern had to go for it but doing so against this team would leave you wide open to be counter-attacked. It was as if both teams were desperate for further tactics from their respective coaches before they would change their style of play.
Pete made his way to the bar and upon his return, remarked; “Do you fancy making the game a bit more interesting?”
“I’m not into having shots every time there’s a corner again mate, that ended really badly the last time.”
“No, right, there is one only score that will take the game to extra-time, if it ends 2-2, how about you ask the barmaid out?”
“So all of these bets are to do with me?” asked Johnny.
“Well, if you’re too chicken mate you don’t have to.”
Barca were 1-0 up at home at half-time and had been on top, the chances of the game ending in a 2-2 draw was pretty slim; “Yeah, let’s go for it” said Johnny with the inward confidence of a man who took on a bet that was never going to come up…”right, let’s settle back and see how easy Barca romp this game.”
Which was how it was always going to turn out, at least on paper but as a million brain-dead pundits and bedroom analysts of the game will tell you, these matches aren’t played out on paper. Being dead and buried at half-time probably suited Bayern Munich as it allowed them to throw caution to the win.
Switching to a 3-5-2 against Barcelona should be the sort of tactic that leaves you sacked or certified in the morning but by pressing a high line, the German side were clawing a way back into the match. And with that, booooommmm, 1-1 on the night, 3-3 on aggregate, Frank Ribery with a low drive from the edge of the box suddenly makes it all very interesting.
“Still nothing to worry about Petey boy, hopefully it’ll wake Barca up a wee bit but even at that, it’s still the outcome we’re looking for.”
And then just at that moment, the camera panned up to the main stand and taking their seats after congratulating themselves on the equalising goal was Frank Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller, both travelling with the official Bayern Munich party.
The slapping of the table was closely followed by the brutal and loud laughter of Pete “hahaha, brilliant, look who it is, oh you are finished mate, this is going to be one of those nights when disaster strikes!”
The fear that was starting to manifest itself in Johnny’s mind must have somehow been transmitting itself to the capital of Catalonia because the all-conquering swagger had disappeared from Barca’s play and Bayern had them fully penned back. With ten minutes to go, another ball was floated into the box and with Gerard Pique going missing; Arjen Robben was already celebrating before the ball hit the back of the net. The Camp Nou was silenced but Bacchus erupted with a mash-up of “hahahahahaha” blending with “fuck fuck fuck shit fuck” from the table at the back of the bar.
Of course, it was all a silly bet that didn’t mean anything, it’s not as if grown men let football rule their lives to such an extent that it would make or break relationships was what Johnny initially thought. Of course, sitting in Glasgow, it then immediately struck Johnny how stupid that opinion was because football was probably responsible for breaking up as many relationships as the combined forces of mistresses, drink and just being bored with looking at the same face every morning. With the clock ticking down and the home side still struggling to create chances, it was looking as though a miracle would be needed to get Johnny the outcome he thought he wanted.
Hope came on the 88th minute when Iniesta tumbled in the box and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. The Bayern defenders went mad at the referee, delaying the game by minutes, as all the while, Lionel Messi stood like the calmest boy in class before duly dispatching the ball into the bottom corner of the net. Barcelona had rescued themselves from being knocked out and while Johnny immediately felt his night had been saved, he remembered what the consequences were of a 2-2 draw that was never going to happen.
As the game restarted, Johnny and Pete instinctively looked over towards the bar as they knew what was coming next. Sadly for Johnny, he caught the eye of the barmaid and as she smiled at him, he couldn’t help but acknowledge her with a wave. This was going to get awkward but as he turned back to the screen, the fourth official’s board gave new hope. 4 minutes…if it takes a second to score a goal, you could score 240 goals in that time. Admittedly, there would be some time lost with celebrations and kicking off again but there was certainly time for one goal, which was all Johnny was asking for.
It nearly came when a thunderbolt from David Villa cannoned off the post but when that set up a Bayern counter-attack; Johnny wasn’t sure what was for the best. A 2-2 score-line would see the night ending in his slight discomfort by having to ask the barmaid out for a certain knock-back but if Bayern snatched a winner on the counter, his plans were in ruins.
The ball was swung in from the right hand side, beyond the slide of Carlos Puyol but also just beyond the despairing dive of Viktor Valdes only to be met with the outstretched toe of Schweinsteiger who directed the ball forward and off the outside of the post and behind for a goal-kick. The home fans had their heart in their mouths but they couldn’t begin to contemplate what Johnny was going through.
With time for one last attack, Barcelona found Lionel Messi in the Bayern half. A dip of the shoulder took him past 2 players, a one-two with Pedro took him to the edge of the box, a nutmeg got Johnny edging off his seat and a delightful chipped finish over the Bayern goalie spent the ball careering into the net and Johnny into the air where he collided with the barmaid who was bringing over two pints.
Johnny landed on the floor with the contents of one pint tumbler over him while the other soaked the table. The barmaid had managed to stay on her feet, she had clearly been taking the advice of the top TV pundits of the time but was certainly shaken by that.
With a beaming smile, Johnny leapt to his feet and immediately asked the barmaid if she was okay.
“Yes, I’m fine, sorry about that, I suppose an injury time winner is cause for celebration”
“Oh it wasn’t just that” said Johnny “that goal meant that I didn’t have to ask you out” and even before he had finished speaking Johnny was realising the errors of his way, virtually trailing off mid sentence.
“No, I didn’t mean that, well; it’s a long story, a really long story, involving two girls”
“Am I one of the two girls?”
“No, see that’s it, whatever team won tonight, that’s the girl I’m meant to be with but then we wondered what would happen if it finished 2-2 and went to extra-time and Peter here said I was to ask you out”
If there was ever a time for a floor to open up and swallow two idiots into the ground this was it but God, or the Devil, in their infinite wisdom no doubt decided that a bigger punishment was for Peter and Johnny to remain where they were and feel the wrath of the barmaid…..which strangely never came.
Wiping herself down with a hand-towel passed over by one of the fellow bar staff; “So you were going to ask me out depending on the result of a football match? Is that a tactic that often works for you?”
“I’ve never tried it before in my life” said Johnny, honestly but knowing he was making himself sound like a complete dick the more he speak.
“Keep it that way…..not many girls would feel flattered with that being the reason they were asked out…..if you were to ask a girl out for any other reason though, that may not be a bad thing” was the response, delivered with such a smile that only a fool could fail to see that despite having two pint glasses knocked out of her hands, there was a genuine sense of appreciation about the overall situation on behalf of the barmaid.
However, Johnny was quite the fool and with his pride battered as much as his shirt, he meekly responded; “I’ll bear that in mind. Look, we’ll head off, can I square you up for those drinks?” and Johnny handed over a tenner.
“Sure” was the slightly disappointed response; “let me just get you the change.”
“Please, keep it” Johnny replied as himself and Peter walked out attempting to muster up as much dignity as they could. Which was none but they did try………with a soaked top to get changed out of, it was decided to call it a night and as Johnny and Peter went their separate ways, Pete signed off with “remember Johnny, Jess won…don’t leave it too late or you may let history take over again.”