This week I conducted an accidental social experiment. I got some school friends, university friends, and some colleagues together for a birthday meal and a night out.
With latecomers we numbered 19, and it turns out my friends are a diverse bunch. Around half had post or under graduate degrees in subjects like textile design, archaeology, history*, economics and fashion.
We were publishers, nurses, council staff, writers*, unemployed, and (whisper it) a lawyer.
We numbered Atheists*, Christians, Agnostics and Hindus, homosexuals, heterosexuals*, baritone choir singers, rockers* and house clubbers.
One went to public school, three private, two religious school, and the rest went to bog standard comprehensives*.
Most were from my native South East of England, but some hailed from New Zealand, Mauritius and Rochdale.
We may not quite have been the cosmopolitan height of modern Britain, but we were not far off. So we let our divisions unite us with talk of non league football.
There was some mention of Pilates and Yoga. There was more talk of house buying, relationship and job talk. We reminisced and bitched about old times and old friends, and speculated about when dessert would arrive.
But it was football that really divided us.
We largely split between West Ham, Spurs* and Arsenal, along with a lone Kingstonian voice in the otherwise Premiership crowd. The one Liverpool fan spent his time embarrassing a hen party at another table, and the sole Man City follower sobbed into her soup that Big Sam should have chosen them.
And so the conversation flowed.
We discussed the detail of Luton Town’s governance. They were owned by a bastard who stole their money until fans bought the club’s creditors. They then called in the debt while organising a boycott so as to take control of the club on the cheap. A new ground is finally being built and the new ‘owners’ have a contract that gives control back to the fans if attendances fall (under another boycott).
We discussed Chelmsford City’s large crowds since moving to the Melbourne Athletics Stadium. Last season they drew an average attendance of 1001 in the Ryman Isthmian Premier Division. That is the seventh tier of English football, putting Chelmsford as far behind Rochdale as Rochdale are behind Manchester United. Their travelling support even outnumbers the home crowd at some away games.
We discussed the upturn in fortunes at Exeter City where Spurs legend Steve Perryman is Director of Football. He lost a good manager to his former club’s youth academy recently but has seemingly replaced him an excellent new man in Paul Tisdale.
And we discussed Kingstonian, who sadly were not as lucky Luton Town fans when faced with a bastard in charge. They were subjected to high debts, the sale of their players, and were made homeless when AFC Wimbledon of all teams took their ground. They went on to be relegated three times from their Conference high to the Ryman Isthmian Division one South – one division below Chelmsford City.
And so with religion, race, sex, sexuality, class and hair colour to divide us, an Italian restaurant in Soho offered a glimpse of utopia. Everyone was happy and fed - and for one off-season afternoon there was no Premiership.
* = Margin's place in the crowd.