The Euro 2020 final takes place in a little more than 48 hours, and if England come out on the right side of the result, pandemonium will break out across the country.
I’ve been reading in the news all about the workplaces trying to give fans a bit of time off on Monday morning, just in case, but there will be people working shifts Sunday evening who might miss the game. Let’s assume England do win on Sunday, and you haven’t got the time off, how tempted will you be to call in sick? I’ve already seen the news report about the woman who was sacked for attending the semi-final, and I thought I would pour some of my wisdom down upon you in this article. I’m not entirely proud to admit I have form in this area – lots of it.
Some of you will have read my book, Suited and Booted, and already know I have a bit of experience in the art of a sickie. My first negative football/sickie experience didn’t actually come from taking time off for a game. No, I wanted to go and see Faithless in Nottingham one Tuesday evening in January 1999. The next day, as you’d imagine, I had a sore head, so opted to take a sickie. To give it validity, I also took Thursday and Friday off as well. That was one of my techniques: add a couple of days on to your sickie, either before or after, so it felt more authentic. I guess I’m telling you now, on Friday, so you can’t make the mistakes I did!
The Imps played Burnley on January 30th that year, and surprisingly, I recovered from my Faithless-induced bender sufficiently to attend the game. I even felt perky enough to stay out on the sidelines for the entire first half. I didn’t always do it but it was a cold day and I didn’t fancy getting changed. It was the same day I got called offside by the linesman and asked by the referee to go in and get changed, another amusing anecdote you can find in the book (which you should go to Amazon and buy).
I’m not going to pretend I was the best version of myself in ’99 (or for that matter 2000-2011), so after the game, I went back on it and ended up with another heavy hangover. The after-effects of our win against Burnley, and the 24-hours that followed, were quite severe, so I skived work on Monday. I figured by joining two sickies together with those days off, I could pass it off as a week-long bout of flu. To all intents and purposes, I’d simply been off work poorly for a week, but now I was much better. How would they know, right?
The main flaw in my plan was that my employers had hired a box for the Burnley match, and I had been seen in all my glory doing my bit around the side of the pitch. They had even asked if I could go and have a picture taken with them in the box, but the message didn’t get down to me because I’d already been sent off by the referee. Having then had me call in sick on Monday, they began to doubt the validity of my claims, and they decided to act. I had already been given a warning for a few other misdemeanours, so I was fired.
After a few months unemployed, and humbling trips to the Job Centre, I vowed never to throw a sickie and after I started working at Polypipe in Horncastle, another clash occurred. This time, it was a fireworks display at the club, where I was asked to do Poacher. I had an afternoon shift (7-11), and couldn’t go. I made a big thing about the fact I was not going, making sure that my integrity wasn’t to be questioned. On the day, I played the marytr, as if I was doing them a favour simply for choosing work over Poacher. To be fair, it did feel a bit like it. Sadly, a foreman nicknamed ‘Daddy Bear’ didn’t like me and pulled me in the office to give me a rollicking for something completely different, bringing me right down to earth. The next day, pictures of Poacher holding Chloe Newsome in his arms appeared in the Lincolnshire Echo. I was gutted, I proper fancied her (I used to watch the soaps…) and meeting her would have been great, even in the suit.
Now, ‘Daddy Bear’ was a bit of an evil bastard. I can’t remember his real name, but he wore red overalls and we all wore blue which made him the boss and boy, did he let you know. If you caught his eye on a bad day he would let rip for something out of your control. My first week I’d made an error with the machine I was running and he’d torn a strip off me, even though I wasn’t trained on the machine. The problem was I came from a Grammar school and he had left school at the age of six to chew wasps or something, and he hated me for it. You knew if he was in a good mood because he’d blank you when he walked past, rather than picking a fight for no reason, although he never seemed in a good mood with me. I remember a lad nearly blinding me with that gritty hand cream you get (barrier cream is it called?): he put it in a crisp packet, offered me a crisp and when I went to take one crushed the packet so it went in my face. I nearly cried, but went off to clean up and when I got back, Daddy Bear had my pants down (not literally, he wasn’t that evil) for leaving my machines. All he wanted to do was break the Grammar school boy.
Anyway, not long after the fireworks display came another clash, a big one. The club called and told me AXA insurance wanted Poacher to head along to the old Wembley Stadium to shoot some footage for their adverts. They wanted us to have a bit of a lark on the pitch, come out of the tunnel, have some fun, and so on. I didn’t need to think twice about it. As a football fan, I didn’t even need to think once. They had me at Wembley.
Work would be a problem, I was on a 3-11 shift, but I figured I’d just call in sick. How could that possibly backfire? After all, they already knew I wouldn’t call in sick just to do Poacher, it was like double jeopardy in reverse. I had already proven on fireworks night that they took preference, now I could exploit that for my own ends. I’d be home and dry as my sickness record wasn’t too bad at Polypipe.
I got to Wembley and pulled out my BT Cellnet mobile phone, waiting until 3.05 pm to call. Daddy Bear was on 7-3 shifts, so I knew if I waited a bit, I’d get the other red overall wearer on the 3-11 shift, a big soppy bugger who I think might have been called Gary. He was a nice guy, but I could handle him. I got reception, then got put through to the factory floor and who answers? Daddy Bear. Bugger. He barely grunted at me and I knew I was going to get it, big time, on my return. Work didn’t know about the event though, so there was no tangible reason for me to skive, other than me being a lazy bugger, which Daddy Bear decided I was the moment he saw ‘QEGS’ on my CV, as if getting an education meant you didn’t know how to graft. I wish he’d met my dad, me and my brother were washing pots the minute we were tall enough to stand on a stool and reach the sink.
I got away with that, just, but a few weeks after came another big moment, one that’s not in my book. It was England v Portugal at Euro 2000, and I was back on the 7-11 shift. Sadly, the game kicked off at 7.45 (I think). I came up with a cunning plan, based on the fact we had to wear earplugs on the factory floor at all times. What if I had earache the week before, then got signed off by the doctor? It would be indisputable, right? For one week prior to the game, I moped around, taking toilet breaks, paracetamols, all sorts, prepping for the big charade. That weekend, I was meant to meet a lad I worked with for a drink, but called it off because of my ‘ear’. On the morning of the game, I went to the doctor and got my sick note, blatantly lying to the doc. I even paid for the ear drops he gave me.
I figured that I could have the day off, then go back in on Tuesday and say the drops had cleared up whatever had been bothering me. That was so I wouldn’t lose 25% of my wages, as I wasn’t paid any sick pay. I even stayed at home and watched the game with my Dad, thinking it best to keep out of the pub in case anyone from Wragby who worked at Polypipe saw me. Within 20 minutes, England were 2-0 up and without waiting for halftime, me and Dad legged it to the pub to soak up the atmosphere. It was 2-1 when we got there, 2-2 by half time and we lost 3-2 in the second half. To make it worse, I was spotted.
I tried to blag it, ringing up the next day to tell them I’d be in, but I didn’t realise a doctor’s note wasn’t something you could take back and Daddy Bear told me he’d see me the following Monday (at least I think that’s what he grumbled inaudibly). I was unfit for work and therefore couldn’t go back at all was the gist of it. I lost 25% of my money for the month and sat at home for four days miserable as anything with no cash. England’s next game was a 1-0 win against Germany on Saturday, which I had to watch at home as I knew I’d be skint, and on Monday I went back in. I hadn’t got through the door before that big bastard Daddy Bear collared me and dragged me in – I’d been seen in Wragby and it got reported.
He couldn’t discipline me because I had a sick note, but he let me know one step out of line and I was gone. Of course, I knew that every FA Cup game would feature Poacher the following season and I knew the grass from Wragby knew about Wembley (because I’d mouthed off in the pub like a moron), so I was done for anyway. I left the job before the summer was out. A few years later I saw Daddy Bear in Tesco in Horncastle, with a partner who looked halfway normal. He was following her around like a puppy, not quite as fearsome without his red overalls on. I still avoided his gaze, just in case.
There was another negative aspect to my Euro 2000 fail. I wasn’t great with money back then and losing my wages meant a big choice – pay a court fine I’d got for driving with two bald tires and no insurance, or buy two new tires and insure my car. I chose the latter, and within days of my non-payment, I was back in court where the fine was doubled and I was told failure to pay would result in sterner punishment. I’ll be honest, it shook me up: it is alright playing billy-big-balls in the pub at 22, but standing in front of a magistrate being told you risked prison was another thing entirely. I looked far too much like the Milky Bar Kid to go in the slammer, I’d be definite bitch material.
That wasn’t the end of my poor attendance record, but I had learned lessons. Firstly, I made sure I could afford not to be paid if I ever skived, and I never took time off if I was on a final warning. I’ll be honest, that made it hard at Jackson’s for a couple of years, where I got a final warning in my first four weeks for crashing a van twice in one day and lying about it both times for fear of the sack (another story entirely). Secondly, I always made sure that whatever illness I chose, was plausible and realistic. I do suspect that my boss at Jacksons, at least until 2007 when I got a decent job and stopped the idiocy, thought I had the weakest stomach known to man! Thirdly, and most importantly, I always made sure if I took a sickie I wasn’t seen down the local pub, or on the pitch as Poacher. Someone will always grass you up, 100% guaranteed. For every slacker like I was, there’s always a kiss arse looking to score points.
I know I chucked one in 2002 during the World Cup for the Brazil game, and luckily I was sick that day, violently, but only after starting drinking at 5 am for the early kick-off. I think it was the 2006 World Cup where I chucked one Saturday morning in for a day session before the Paraquay game, but living out at Newtoft nobody was ever going to know. By 2014, I was running my own depot (no idea how with my record), and at least one game clashed with work (Costa Rica maybe). I had four staff and two of them began to get rather mopey the week before, but I knew the signs. One was forcing coughs whenever I happened to be in earshot, the other skipping lunch because he ‘felt off’. I knew what the game was, you can’t kid a kidder. I pulled them both in, and told them I wasn’t falling for it, and if they both did successive Saturdays I’d let them take half a day each. After all, no builders really worked when England were playing anyway, and it meant I could have a lay in two Saturday’s in a row. Suddenly, one started eating properly and the other one stopped coughing and went back on the fags so he could have his five-minute break every hour or so. Magic.
By 2021, I’m no longer the guy you’ve just been reading about. I did have a few too many IPA’s this week and produced an article when I got Locatelli and Spinazzola mixed up, but I was working as I should be and my boss is extremely understanding. This weekend I shall be working, with a view to having at least a couple of hours to recover on Monday if we do win, but I’m now responsible and focused on my work.
Just make sure if you’re the guy in this article, not the one in the last paragraph, that you don’t end up getting the sack as I did. Or ending up with a week off unpaid, and having to face your own Daddy Bear. Or even in front of a magistrate.