I'm sitting opposite Gerald Cain, a man so angry I can feel the earth shaking under my feet. We're in the back room of the Crown and Garter, a room so exclusive you have to show your prison ink just to get through the door. I'm here to talk to Gerald, because it's now the only place anyone can talk to Gerald. Ever since the World
Cup he's been holed-up here, and I wonder how I can possibly broach either of the prickly subjects for which I need answers. One, I want to know how he feels – really feels – about England's shambolic exit from the competition, and two, I want to know whether that exit, those feelings of loss and devastation directly contributed to his deportation from South Africa.
I've tried to loosen his cogs with a couple of whisky chasers, but for men like Gerald Cain, these things are like water off a duck's back. He quacks through the drinks, no problem. As he does so, harsh summery light cuts through the St. George's cross which is draped over the back window, lending his face a red- white fearsome Duck Tales leer. As he clanks each glass down on the table he grinds his teeth, occasionally making jerky, head-the-ball movements with his bald, bowling-ball head. 'So is it good to be back in blighty?' I ask him finally, feeling my way in.
Gerald grunts, twitches, makes some kind of gargling noise at the back of his throat.
I try a new tack, gently coaxing: 'Looks like the flag in here is about the only one left in this country now, Gerr. You've not lost the faith like everyone else then.'
Gerald rumbles, grumbles, belches. His breath smells of Scampi Fries. I know for a fact Scampi Fries are all he
eats these days. Well, them and the peanuts. But Bokey, the landlord, tells me Gerald only eats the peanuts
because they're the ones off one of them boards, and with each pack down the gullet, more and more of the
naked woman underneath is revealed. Sexy, that link between peanuts and page three stunnahs.
'Okay... How was South Africa?'
'It was all white.'
'All... all white?' My mind automatically flicks back to the horrors of the apartheid era, the hardships I faced. How I couldn't eat bananas from South Africa or buy Queen records or even support Mike Gatting in the England team any more. The repercussions, it seems were still being felt. Maybe Gerald had seen behind the glossy twelve-inch trophy into something deeper, something I could really write about. Something Pulitzer-Prize worthy...
Gerald slams his hand down on the table: 'It was all wight, Gwwwawwwnt, not all white, you dozy muppet.' I go all white and stutter: 'You get to see Table Mountain, Jo'burg, Soweto... The history, the zoology, the...' 'Never saw none of that shit,' grumbles Gerald.
'Too much media work?'
Gerald nods simply. 'Dave TV booked me as one of their pundits. They roped in all these hard-cases from across the
shores, from all the way along the 1's A and M, they collected nutters and ex-hoolies like Panini stickers. They got
in Geoff Capes, Danny Dyer, Ross Kemp...'
I could only imagine this long-list of hardmen who walked as though they had carpets tucked under their arms, all
desperate to get to the World Cup by hook or by crook. Even if it meant going on Dave TV.
'Big Daddy,' continues Gerald, 'Ron Chopper Harris, Eric Djemba-Djemba (so good they named him twice, so skint
he said he'd do it for six packs of Carling), James Corden...'
'James Corden?' I ask, trying to stop the excitement from entering my voice. 'Yep. That fat waster pulled England in the draw. Fix if you ask me.' 'Well, we all got there and we did this draw, see. Everyone got a team what to follow in the World Cup and Corden, bleugh, he got fahking England, didn't he?'
'Figures,' I muse. James Corden is like a fat version of the plague, getting everywhere these days. But whenever I see his squidgy face my heart just melts.
'I got Serbia. I was supposed to be, like, the expert on Serbia...' Gerald stares around the room
despairingly, as though he wanted to shag or fight the tables and the beer mats, stick his balls,
clackety-clack, in the pockets of the pool table. 'We went looking for South African football factories,
hoping for aggro and tear-ups. The producers were convinced I'd find it with Serbia...'
'Hard luck,' I say.
Gerald stops me. 'No.' For a moment I think he is going to cry; something indescribable is going on behind those currant-bun wall-eyes of his. Then he continues: 'It was my good luck. I became a White Eagle. Even before we jetted off to South Africa, I felt it in my blood. To prove my loyalty, I renamed the wife's cat Nemanja. I trained him to become a fierce competitor in the war zone which
is our street. A streetfighter if you will. I trained said exotic creature in the fine art of winning the battle with Something even stranger is happening to Gerald now. The more he speaks, the more Eastern European he becomes. The tables have turned, suddenly he is the one undercover, identity all fucked-about with like Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco. I begin to understand why Gerald is holed-up: he is trying to rediscover his old self. Dave has done terrible things to the man.
Gerald fixes me with an icy glare and instructs: 'When I am being affectionate with my woman, I like to refer to her as Savo, in honour of Savo Milosevic, the one time Aston Villain and all time top scorer for our great nation. The, how you say, missus looks like David Mellor, but this I do not worry for as she has a handy left foot.'
'All this just as preparation,' I marvel.
Gerald grins, getting into his stride: 'In my front garden, I have a wooden sculpture of Radi Antic running in
the style of David Pleat (a Luton Town joke that) and this was lovingly whittled down from a large oak tree
in my spare existence. Every morning now, we bow to the statue and ask for the bounty of its love to come
'Before the tournament, I got to meet Nikola Zigic, who turns out for Valencia when he is not pulling that strange smile of his. I joke, of course, but the leggy twenty nine year old could well be my next lieutenant. He has a good touch for a big man and likes wearing jumpers with pictures of dogs on them. He lives for his dogs, Niko, he really does; wrestling about on the floor with them like he couldn't give one about injuries or anything else. Like him, his dogs are tall, and enjoy shopping. He was devastated when Woolworths closed down in Valencia.'
'What happened when you got out there? I mean was there any trouble?'
'I met the world-renowned Eagle Boyz hooligan franchise at the airport cafe in Cape Town. You will know the Eagle Boyz by our headbands and the small tattoo on our right kneecap. Also, our propensity for singing and drinking, even as early as midday some days.'
Gerald calls for more libations before continuing in his new bold-as-brass Serbian accent: 'I also met more of
the players and the manager, who I was instantly brought-in to advise on tactical formations. Go on, ask me
about four four two or five three four or any of the other formations and I can instantly picture it in my head,
as though I'm out on the pitch with my heroes. Ask me who will be the first to greet Zigic after a lovely goal
and I will know it instantly. True there are are some who ask I stay away from the training ground now, but
Nemanja Vidic has a large SocaSportz bag which I can climb in as well as Jose Morinho did when he hid
in that washing basket that time.'
I shake my head and try to rub the tears from my eyes. 'But what about England?'
Gerald narrows his eyes, gives a dismissive gesture. 'For me there is no England only Serbia. Go ahead and ask me why and I will tell you I have the flag in my blood. Cut me and I bleed red. I love them that much. I am like a stick of rock and written through me is the words to the national anthem. Give me ten thousand euro and I will quite happily show you around our training ground.' 'Do you know the words to the national anthem, Gerr?'
'Ah! Is a good question. As soon as I arrive in Africa, the Eagle Boyz enlist me to help write more uplifting national anthem. Something not played by, how you say, a brass band. We wanted the uplifting techno. You know, a euro-beat, pumping bassline, a woman singing like she having an orgasm. Unfortunately FIFA wouldn't allow that before matches, even though the players bought into it...'
'How would you describe your relationship with Serbia now?' I ask, hoping against hope that my mini tape recorder is
'My relationship with Serbia is complicated like a goose,’ says Gerald. 'Or an eagle perhaps. A white eagle. I am the
eagle's claws, or talons as some call them. I am its wings. And Radi Antic is its beak. We are one, Serbia and I.
Like a half sister you've never met before, who you see in the market and decide you quite like but then realise who
she is a little too late.'
'And now? After their World Cup first-stage exit?'
'Hah! I now have installed new cheese fondue system in house of the Wigan Athletic shot-stopper, Vladimir Stojkovic and let me tell you he was impressed with my all-round factual know-how of Serbia. He said, and I quote: ''You can wax lyrical about my darling side. As good as a three-legged donkey.' Which I did not comprehend however as he was threatening to overfeed himself on cheese. I laughed, slapped him on his back (felt the dampness of his man-sweat - he never changes out of his Wigan shirt, even when he’s at lunch at the Vale Royal pub which does a lovely carvery for only £4.99 - Vladi even takes a Tupperware container so he can have some for 'afties').'
Gerald swigs his new drink, deposited at some point on the table by the long-suffering landlord. 'Nemanja
Vidic and I now often go ten-pin bowling down at SupaBowlz in Altrincham and Vida and I have a lovely time,
even if he does always go for the ball with the biggest holes in, and he is making jokes about his penis.
Once we saw Dirk Kuyt, the Liverpool forward there, and there was a terrible contretemps until I managed
to split them up by promising to take Vida to play at Air Hockey (Dirk went off to play that game where it
measures how hard you kick the ball. Everyone there saw what he did when he replaced the ball with a
heavier bowling ball and got the high score. To celebrate he wheeled off with his shirt over his head shouting in a five year old boy's face that he had 'the high score' and 'beat that, chump.')' 'Chel-sea's Branislav Ivanovic is not so nice. He's terribly well read but he does, how you say, go on about it a lot. He's always making obscure references to minor characters in Ian Rankin's crime fiction or telling me that reading Harry Potter is not suitable brain-training for someone in my position and looking to climb higher. He says I can expect to be always installing cheese fondue sets for the rest of my life if I do not sharpen up my knowledge of Edinburgh murders and Glasgow gangsters. Mind you, Brani listens to that awful Gwen Stefani all the time, so what does he know?' 'How did you like being undercover, Gerald?'
'As I was saying to Brani only the other day, installing cheese fondue sets will only get me so far in life.
The rest will be decided by fate. And fate dictates that I shall write about my friends and their
adventures in Atlantis or wherever the World Cup is held in four years. I only wish the volcano was
still churning out its ashy concentration of lava in order that we all could have stay in South Africa...
Ah, I was the fly on the soup, the currant in the biscuit and the ear to the chalk-lines which mark
the edge of the pitch. Serbia and I... I see our mutual fates written across the volcanic sky.'
Gerald is crying now, so trapped in his new identity has he become. 'We were in the Group of Death,
Gwwwwawwwwwnt, but it should not have been death to Serbia, rather to Ghana, Australia and Germany. And we beat the Northern European powerhouses with a cold coastline and warm interior. We beat the Germans, Gwwwwawwwwwnt! We beat them even
though the tournament director's phone was be in danger of being called after a bore-draw first half. Platini hummed and harred and decided that both teams were actually trying, thank you very much, and will you please let him get on with having his elevensies in peace. It should have been name on the trophy.' Suddenly, I realise, despite everything, Gerald has not lost himself at all. He's still as deluded as even that very best of Englishmen, James Corden. He still believes in divine right. He is still my Gerald, my captain,