What's the best thing about being British and going on holiday? Wherever we go, we take our culture with us. We like to make sure that when we get to our sunny destinations around Europe that we leave our mark, be that our football teams' colours, our national flags or our infamously carb-happy cuisine. Lanzarote is one of those places, and I have just had the pleasure of spending a whole week there.
A few months back my partner and I decided that we wanted to get some winter sun, so we booked an all-inclusive holiday to Lanzarote, the land of sand, beaches and extremely cheap English pubs. I had read (after Googling 'warm holidays in November') that it could be as hot as 28C, so I was sold. It just so happened that, whilst I was out there, England played Scotland in what had been billed as the biggest qualifier of the international break. I, like most of the other Brits on the island – of which there were many – was fucking excited for the game.
The day before the game I noticed that there were suddenly a lot more England flags on all of the local karaoke bars than before, along with a small smattering of Scottish flags. The Bulldog Bar right outside of our hotel was the first that I really noticed; there were shirts on the walls from almost every single team in the land, with Birmingham and Villa shirts directly next to each other in the front window. Strangely, it turns out that the place was owned by a West Brom fan. Still, this is Lanzarote, where the spirit of Birmingham football culture is transported to a place which is much, much nicer to go on holiday.
I thought I should really have a look around the area near our hotel to see which bar would be best to watch the game, and so came across some brilliant and bizarre places. One venue offered an all-day full English breakfast for a very reasonable €2, which is roughly the price of a packet of posh crisps in the average pub in Shoreditch. Then, there was a bar specifically for people from the Midlands called 'The Midlands Drinking Association in Lanzarote', harshly juxtaposed with the other buildings on this historic and beautiful island. I thought of going in, but it wasn't quite open at that time of afternoon, so I left the authentic Midlands-on-the-Canary-Islands experience for another night. I then stumbled across the Cutty Sark, which was covered ceiling to floor in England flags. There was also a sign next to the menu that read: 'Eastenders 7 – 7:30, Hollyoaks 7:30 – 8'. Ah, home sweet home.
Along with all the England flags, there seemed to be something else that the bars on the stretch of road I was walking down had in common. Rock & roll singer 'Scott McQ' was featured on quite a few posters. 'Great Show – Great Atmosphere'. Well, that was exactly what I was looking for.
In the end, we decided that we should try to watch the game in the Sports Bar that was part of our hotel. It looked friendly enough, and the bar staff worked in there so I thought we'd get special treatment and some free drinks. I was a Brit abroad, and so it was only right that I hid from the sunset, evening breeze and natural beauty of my surroundings in the local football-and-lager emporium. The channel they chose to show the game was a local station, as it turned out, so it was in Spanish (which seemed to annoy everyone, as we had ITV in our rooms). There was a small Scottish contingent in the corner of the room, but the majority were shirted-up England fans with pints in hand. The national anthems were sung with gusto, and the game got underway.
We got chatting to a middle-aged couple from Scotland, who had run away from their partners to have a holiday romance together after meeting at their school reunion only a month before. How romantic it was, I thought, that she was on her iPad whilst he was sat watching the football with a pint in hand shouting "YOU ENGLISH CUNT" jokingly at me every time Gareth Southgate's men scored.
As soon as the game was done, the stage was cleared for an ABBA tribute band. I'm partial to the odd ABBA song, but the performance lasted for an hour and a half. After about half an hour of the lead singer shouting in an indeterminate accent that people should "get up and dance," there was an influx of three or four football fans in England shirts. They were swaying drunkenly to Dancing Queen, and it was all a bit surreal and not quite the 'Great Atmosphere' that I was looking for. Maybe I should have gone to see Scott McQ after all.
Overall the experience was a positive, if highly culturally confusing one. I had travelled to what is officially Spain, but actually an island in the Atlantic, and been welcomed by people who I encounter daily in that greatest of nations, Great Britain. There were greasy kebab joints next to Indian restaurants and off-licences next to pubs that wouldn't be out of place in any town on our (much larger) island. Likewise, there was the glorious football, and England won an actual game.
Places like Lanzarote aren't for everyone, but if you enjoy being addressed as "geezer" by a Spanish waiter in a bar covered in England flags whilst having fish and chips, then it's heaven. Likewise, if you don't enjoy football, lager and tributes to the Midlands, then maybe go on a fancy city break instead.