Its twenty past seven and I’m on a Kings Cross platform looking to take the Hammersmith and City to Liverpool Street one August evening. As I step into a carriage, which is reasonably full, a sickening feeling takes hold in my stomach as I make eye contact with a scruffy looking white guy, who is slouching in his seat. The guy is scrawny but muscular and dressed in a loose and worn light blue t-shirt and dark blue tracksuit bottoms. The words ‘bloody wanker’ ooze out of his sneer, which poisons his face and focuses on me as I step, reluctantly, into the carriage.
On seeing said sneer I immediately take myself away form his purview and the purview of his two friends, comparable in build, attire and posture, who at said moment are humiliating an African guy, who moments earlier had been offering knowledge of London underground, having heard them utter uncertainty about which stop to get off at.
The three amigos joke about the African guy, the content of what they are saying cannot be discerned, but the volume is deliberately indiscreet.
The African is trying to save face, undulating between bantering back as if its all a big joke, and beaming a desperate smile into the ceiling of the train, as if none of it was happening. He has everyone’s sympathy.
I turn my back on the three men, but hear an ultimatum, a declaration of war: ‘Any West Ham fans on the train. Let’s have it now!‘
Apart from the African the four nearest people to the three men are three Bengali ladies, each one very small, and a small but squat Bengali boy of around eight or nine, whose legs swing from the seat he is sat on. Beyond the Bengali contingent there is a man dressed in a suit, a Polish labourer, myself and a few women reading books. The Bengali ladies and the boy are all trying their best not to look like West Ham fans, peering into the darkness of the tunnel, as if the words shouted out by the men just a few yards from them, had no relevance or bearing to their existence, as if they did not even hear them.
But this doesn’t stop one of the three men from reissuing the ultimatum, the volume and aggression in his voice reverberates the eardrums of fellow passengers ‘Any West Ham fans. Lets have it right now!‘
Sniggers follow, accompanied by lewd remarks directed at one of the women sitting across from them reading a book. One of the Asian ladies moves down the train to sit next to me, the city man and Polish labourer look down the train.
Then comes the unmistakable cry of Tottenham fans, “Yid army! Yid army! Yid army!” followed by insults hurled at theoretical West Ham and Millwall, who might but appear not to be on the train.
The atmosphere is tense; no one wants to make eye contact in case they become the object of the derision of these three men.
The train stops, beeps pulse, pre-empting the opening of the train doors, and the men get up, much to the relief of everyone in the carriage, as they exit, in unison, they shout, “We are Oxford, Oxford United!” Two hours later, at half past nine they’re at Upton Park watching their team being dumped out of the League Cup, thanks to a goal by Scotty Parker.